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Ridgefield resident, jazz musician David Watson shares his experiences, talent in film, with band

The Doctor of Bebop guest speaker for Feb. 27 screening of ‘Soundtrack for a Revolution’

By , Columbian Arts & Features Reporter
Published: February 22, 2019, 6:04am
8 Photos
Jazz singer David Watson, “The Doctor of Bebop,” lives in Ridgefield and performs frequently in and around Portland. He will speak about music and civil rights Feb. 27 at the Old Liberty Theater, after a screening of “Soundtrack for a Revolution.” (Contributed by David Watson)
Jazz singer David Watson, “The Doctor of Bebop,” lives in Ridgefield and performs frequently in and around Portland. He will speak about music and civil rights Feb. 27 at the Old Liberty Theater, after a screening of “Soundtrack for a Revolution.” (Contributed by David Watson) Photo Gallery

RIDGEFIELD — David Watson is the kind of guy who calls his buddies “cats.”

Cats like Dizzy and Miles. Monk and Hawk. Nat and Frank. Watson met all those famous cats, he said, and played or sang with many of them. The one jazz legend he really wished he had met, but never did, was Ella Fitzgerald.

Watson was just a child, growing up with a singing father in a musical household, when he heard Fitzgerald’s peerlessly acrobatic scat singing. Scat singing means transforming your voice into something like a saxophone and bebopping your way all over a melody, just like an instrumental soloist. Fitzgerald’s famously fast, fearless, joyous jazz explorations inspired Watson’s own scat singing as he grew into the nickname he now wears proudly: “The Doctor of Bebop.”

Watson grew up in Philadelphia, served in the Army, returned and tended bar at the downtown Showboat Jazz Theater. It was the chance of a lifetime, he said, where he not only hobnobbed or jammed with all those jazz cats, he even stole some moments behind their drum kits.

Some of the greatest drummers on the planet — Max Roach, Art Blakey, Tony Williams — “Anybody who played at the Showboat, I played their drums during the daytime,” Watson confesses in a short interview film made last year by Steve Anchell for the Northwest Jazz and Blues Project.

If You Go

What: Screening of “Soundtrack to a Revolution,” with special guest Ridgefield resident David Watson, “The Doctor of Bebop.”

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Where: Old Liberty Theater, 115 N. Main Ave., Ridgefield.

Admission: Free.

To Learn More

David Watson scat sings and reviews his life in a short film by Steve Anchell:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=LL9W5YbtKkA

Watson’s own website:

www.re-birthingthecool.com

“I have great, warm, wonderful memories of some of the greatest musicians. I got to hang with them. It was a wonderful life,” he said.

Love and art

Wonderful but hard, too. Watson will discuss his philosophy of overcoming racism with love and art when he appears as guest speaker after a film called “Soundtrack for a Revolution” screens Wednesday at Ridgefield’s Old Liberty Theater.

“Soundtrack for a Revolution” is all about the music of the civil rights movement. It features historical film footage and performances by talents such as John Legend, Ritchie Havens, the Roots and the Blind Boys of Alabama. This free screening is part of Meaningful Movies, a Seattle-based effort to bring social-justice documentary films and discussions to neighborhood venues. In Ridgefield, pediatrician and mom Megan Dudley started bringing Meaningful Movies to the Old Liberty in 2017.

“I’ve been through the whole civil rights thing,” Watson said. “I went through extreme segregation. What helped a lot of us was the arts. Music has always been on the forefront of change, in this country and all over the world. When things need to be changed, music is there.”

Watson is still busy singing for social justice, he said. A few weeks ago he sang at a Portland rally to ban the sale of assault rifles. Guns were still on his mind when The Columbian visited his home the day before Valentine’s Day — which was also the day before the anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.

“Gun culture is killing our kids,” Watson said. “It needs to stop. Those kids from that school, the ones protesting — I love those kids.”

Cats and good old boys

Back in the day, one of those friendly jazz cats encouraged Watson to step out from behind the bar and take up both the microphone and the drums for real. Watson has been a professional jazz musician ever since, he said. His career has taken him all around the nation, and he’s always had a spiritual sense that wherever he lands, that’s where he’s meant to be. 

He met his wife, Sarah, and started various music-related nonprofit projects while living for 18 years in Sonoma, Calif.; then he and Sarah took refuge from burnout with eight years of “spiritual healing” in Hawaii, he said. But he continued flying to the mainland to perform and record, he said — and it was during a layover in Portland that he discovered the jazz club Jimmy Mak’s, and Portland’s thriving jazz scene.

Watson struck up a warm, working friendship with the owner of Jimmy Mak’s — who died in 2016 — and he and Sarah started exploring real estate in Portland. After they discovered Oregon’s income tax, though, they wound up north of the border, near downtown Ridgefield.

Watson said they had the strong impression that their arrival in Ridgefield doubled the local African-American population — from two to four. “I was wondering, why am I here?” Watson confessed.

Ridgefield supplied the answer. One day Watson took his car to Bob’s Auto Shop downtown, and “up popped this friendship” with shop owner Bob Ford, he said. Ford is not the kind of guy who goes by “cat.”

“He’s a good old boy,” Watson laughed.

What they have in common, Watson said, is service to local veterans and others through the auto shop’s resident American Legion post, which Watson, a veteran, joined.

Some of the post members “are real right-wing, and some are as liberal as I am,” he said. “None of that matters. These guys are real genuine about service. I don’t go for all the flag waving, but I love the service.”

The new guy

Now that he’s in his 80s and supposedly retired, Watson is “working all the time,” he said gratefully. Watch for his gigs with Rebirthing the Cool, an 11-piece band, at Clyde’s Prime Rib Restaurant in Portland, the ilani resort and casino in Clark County and Christo’s Pizzeria and Lounge in Salem, Ore. Rebirthing the Cool also has a concert scheduled for May 24 at the historic Old Church in Portland.

“I’ve got this 11-member band with some of the best players in Portland — and around here, I’m just the new guy,” Watson said. “For a guy my age to be doing what I’m doing, it’s really something.”

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