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Kenny Watson: Emerging Kansas City Drummer


For all the woe COVID beguiled the jazz community with, newly emerging Kansas City Drummer Kenneth Watson, Jr. was a true benefactor of chance and fate. “I was getting my bachelor's degree at McNally Smith College of Music in Minneapolis, which is permanently closed now. I had gigs lined up from April until late September 2020. It would have been the heaviest summer so far,” Kenneth noted. “I went from a summer of work to nothing at all. I got lucky with two mutual friends back in KC with the Reyes brothers.”

That connection to the Reyes brothers led him to an International Blues Competition in Memphis. That led to getting discovered for gigs in a much more COVID lenient Florida. Yet, all that work dried up, and Kenny made it back to familiar ground in Kansas City.

That’s where things picked up, but we begin with Knob Noster and how it all started.

“My father was in the military and we were stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base,” Kenneth said. “I lived there until I was 18. My brothers and sisters and step siblings were all into music.”

It was his godparents, his band teacher & the family’s church that fully baptized him in the ways of music and more specifically jazz.

“My godparents were huge jazz fans. I would spend the weekends with them and they would play classics like Dave Brubeck’s Take 5,” Kenneth said. “My godmother put me at one of her desks and she put paper in front of me and told me to listen to the music and draw what I felt.”Ultimately he said his dad taught him how to play drums in a practical sense, while his teacher, Mr. Rob gave him the academic sense and that lifestyle sense came straight from his jazz loving godparents. In this flavor-rich triad, he feels very lucky.

His road to Kansas City was rather by accident by way of moving in with his brother in Kansas City, Kansas. That led to driving by Kansas City Kansas Community College and looking into their award winning program led by the great Jim Mair.

“My godmother used to implore me with the history of Kansas City. I was mesmerized with it. I only thought that New York and Harlem were the jazz hubs,” Kenneth noted. “I had no idea that KC was a major stop into the route to the Harlem Renaissance.”

Once here in KC, he used to be asked quite a bit if he was related to the KC Jazz King in Mr. Bobby Watson.

“I was asking who Bobby was. I did my research and learned that I listened to him with The Jazz Messengers. I was shocked.,” Kenneth said. “I learned that he was leading the UMKC jazz program. I realized there is a lot of history here in KC.”

The best part of being in this current KC Scene that he keeps getting more and more involved with is the lack of exclusivity.

“Living in places like Florida, Minneapolis and Denver, it was really hard to get into their music scene. Especially with jazz.” He said. “I never had that issue here in KC. When I went to the Mutual Musicians Foundation and did the jam session for the first time, it was incredible. Everyone was inviting. Not having to fight to get into the scene was so refreshing.”

As Kansas City continues to evolve and grow on the world stage, Kenneth is beyond content with the prospects of this Midwestern jazz hub.

“KC is still continually changing and evolving. It’s not staying complacent. It’s always trying to better itself,” Kenneth said. “There are more venues opening and getting better. I’m super excited for the future of the city. What’s next? Should be our slogan.”

When it comes down to it, Kenneth is music and his mission is to keep the audience smiling. It’s that simple.

“I want people to know that music has always been a way for me to express myself. I want people to be happy. I love spreading happiness,” Kenneth said. “Music has been so influential for me and I want to use that to show the world that everything can always be better and happier.”

by Joe Dimino

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