Alto saxophonist Bobby Watson says that his career always has been about maintaining personal relationships -- including with the audience -- and not just playing and writing music.
That formula has worked well over the years. Now he's bringing Horizon, somewhat of a jazz collective as opposed to merely a band, to the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild Jazz Concert Hall Saturday. Mr. Watson worked with MCG Jazz executive producer Marty Ashby years ago.
The guild shows represent the last leg of a limited 30th anniversary tour that also has visited Portland, Ore., Minneapolis, Kansas City, Mo., and Wichita, Kan. It doesn't play that often these days.
"It's hard to get everyone together; everybody's doing their own thing," Mr. Watson says. "It's just great to see them grow, and I'm trying to grow myself."
Mr. Watson, a native of Kansas City, Kan., spent his teens in Minneapolis and returned to that area after living in New York for many years. He studied composition at the University of Miami at the encouragement of Pat Metheny. While in South Florida he worked with the likes of the Dells, Nancy Wilson and Redd Foxx.
"Our teachers were gigging on the beach; our professors were first-call," Mr. Watson recalls.
After graduating in 1975, he moved to New York.
"I played bar mitzvahs, did parties, played for dances -- anything that kept my horn in my mouth."
At the end of the next year Mr. Watson met drummer and Pittsburgh native Art Blakey at the New York club Storyville and in 1977 joined Mr. Blakey's "graduate school" known as the Jazz Messengers for 41/2 years.
"I learned a lot about being a leader."
After being kicked out -- "I outgrew him; that was his method" -- and working with other musicians he formed Horizon.
Although the group has recorded eight albums of primarily original music, some of its material has resonated with its fan base more than others.
They want to hear the songs that put Horizon on the map -- "In Case You Missed It," "Heckle and Jeckle," "Wheel Within a Wheel" and "Love Remains," Mr. Watson says.
"We have people who request things, and we try to accommodate as many of these as we can."
Making connections on a personal and business level is really important for every young musician, says Mr. Watson, who since 2006 has taught at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, because music is a social art form.
Indeed, at times, "The hug means more to people than what you play."
The rest of the group includes pianist Edward Simon, trumpeter Terell Stafford, bassist Essiet Essiet and drummer Victor Lewis. Peter Washington is replacing Mr. Essiet for the guild shows because Mr. Essiet is recording an album in Europe.
And that relationship aspect even extends within the group.
"It's like family -- we know each other's children. We know each other on a personal level as well has a professional level."
Rick Nowlin: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3871.