Prof. Kenny Watson makes Aspen debut in MS benefit
ASPEN When Kenny Watson was in first grade, in central California, the teacher laid an array of musical instruments on the table and told her students to go at them. Little Kenny went for the trumpet that big shiny trumpet, that was very cool, he recalls some 60 years later but it was swiftly removed from his grasp.Oh no, your mother wants you to play this, Watson says, recalling his teachers disappointing words. And gave me a violin.A few years on in grade school, Watson met up with someone whose opinion on what instruments Watson should play was not so restrictive. Harry Buyuklian, Watsons high school music teacher, believed his pupil would become a composer, and thus needed familiarity with all the instruments. Watson took the advice to heart. In the Fresno Philharmonic, he played violin for five years (and also took the honor of being the orchestras youngest member ever, at that point, in the late 50s). When he joined the Marine Corps, Watson learned there was just one opening in the band on tuba. He auditioned, and was drafted into the Marine band. But after marching in the Rose Bowl Parade, hauling his tuba for seven miles, Watson was ready for a change. He learned there was an opening for a clarinetist in a band based in Okinawa and he found himself in the Pacific, playing in the woodwinds section.And on and on. There was the year as house bassist in a Vegas casino, then as bassist in the Latin jazz group led by pianist Juan Esquivel. In a group that would travel to hotel lounges across the country, playing dance and show sets, Watson hopped between trombone, trumpet, bass, violin and guitar. He played saxophone and guitar in the country group, Hot Wire. In the duo Boykin & Watson, the two members played 30 instruments between them.Watson has winnowed his repertoire down a bit. When he makes his Aspen debut Saturday at the Wheeler Opera House, in a benefit for Colorado chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Watson billed as Professor Kenny Watson will bring just violin, mandolin and trumpet.Which is not to say that the evening will suffer from being one-dimensional. Performing the show he has been doing for some 20 years, Watson will move through a jazz medley, classical passages, a Celtic fiddle number, show tunes, the bluegrass staple Orange Blossom Special, and Ants Marching, an early hit by rockers the Dave Matthews Band. Humor is also a major element of the show, though Watson cautions that he is not a Henny Youngman-style comedian, spouting jokes and one-liners. His humor is more musical and physical.The event will be rounded out with other forms of entertainment. Carbondale artist Majid Kahhak will paint Watson as the latter performs. And Aspenite Teddy Davis, who played the cruise-ship circuit for decades, will add his ventriloquist act to the show. (See below.)Watsons show emerged from his experience on the Disney cruise ship, the Big Red Boat. After seeing the acts that were on there, I figured with my arranging experience, all the instruments I could play, I could write a show, he said. And thats what I did.Watson takes the musical end most seriously, practicing two hours a day on his three main instruments. And his preference among all the instruments, all the styles?Im kind of a reluctant entertainer. Id rather be writing, said Watson, who lives near Orlando. But if I had a little club, with a little stage in the corner, and could play jazz all night on violin with a bass and drums, that would be heaven. I wouldnt even have to be firstname.lastname@example.org
ASPEN Teddy Davis had his act all planned: Whenever he got a $100 bill, hed stick it behind a photo of his hero, ventriloquist Edgar Bergen. When hed accumulated 12 bills, Davis would buy a dummy, name him Dudley OLeder, and imbue him with the persona of a stumbling drunk.And when Davis bought his dummy, around 1980, he learned a core lesson of his art: The ventriloquist doesnt have much say over his dummys character.I had a personality picked out for Dudley, said Davis. Then he arrives, and heres the spooky part: When he gets in your hand, hes got a character that you didnt quite envision. Dudley was supposed to be more of a drunken guy, always smelled, a nasty street bum. And when he got in my hand, he was a bumpkin, but hes smart. Quick-witted. Hell get the best of me a lot of times. He does like to drink his booze, but hes not a sloppy guy.Nor could Davis have imagined his own career path. He moved to Aspen in 1974 to take a teaching job at the Aspen Country Day School. He began fiddling with ventriloquism, and practiced on Uncle Fergie & Friends, a variety show on the local GrassRoots TV. After traveling the Gong Show circuit and attending a convention, he was convinced he could make a living at ventriloquism. Skipping the dark nightclub phase, Davis developed a big show with musical charts, and began a 25-year career on cruise ships. Full-time ventriloquism came to a halt when his daughter was born, 10 years ago.Davis is making a rare local appearance for a good cause. Three close relatives of his have MS. According to Basalt resident Tricia Pallatt, who works for the Colorado chapter of the National MS Society, Colorado has one of the highest MS rates in the country. In the Roaring Fork Valley, however, awareness of the disease is relatively minimal. Pallatt says MS, an autoimmune condition that affects the central nervous system, has a much higher profile elsewhere, and that benefit events routinely raise big money.Davis has been at ventriloquism long enough to know that the essence of the art is not what captures most of the attention the lips not moving but the interplay between human and dummy.If youre looking at the lips, youre looking in the wrong place, he said. Its all about the characters. I run through my script till Im blue in the face. My lips I dont think about that too much. Stewart Oksenhorn
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