Watkins, Julius, jazz French horn player, composer; b. Detroit, Oct. 10,1921; d. Short Hills, N.J., April 4,1977. A pioneering musician, his solos had a brilliance that would have shown on any instrument, but were especially suited to his chosen one. He took up the horn in school at age eight and later studied with Francis Hellstein of the Detroit Symphony. He wanted to be a soloist and decided he would have more opportunities in jazz than in classical music. He played trumpet with the Erne Fields band 1943-46, recorded with Babs Gonzales on Jan. 20,1949, and played trumpet and horn with Milt Buckner around 1949. In 1950, he settled in N.Y. where he studied theory and composition for three years at the Manhattan School of Music and studied horn with Robert Schultze of the N.Y. Philharmonic. In 1953 he recorded with Monk, toured with Pete Rugólo, and soon worked live or on record with Johnny Griffin, Kenny Clarke, Milt Jackson, and Oscar Pettiford. In 1955 he formed the Jazz Modes with Charlie Rouse, a colleague from Pettiford’s sextet; they first recorded in 1956 and disbanded for lack of work in 1959, which led Watkins to join George Shearing. He was in the Quincy Jones big band which was stranded when the show Free and Easy failed in Europe in early 1960. From that point on he mostly supported himself playing in Broadway shows and recording sessions, including numerous big band dates with Jones and with Gil Evans (1958-64 and 1969), and specific sessions with Coltrane (1961), Tadd Dameron (1962), Freddie Hubbard (1963), and Jazz Composer’s Orch. (1969). He worked with Charles Mingus at the Monterey festival in 1965 and in 1972 was a co-leader of the Jazz Contemporaries, which recorded live at the Village Vanguard with George Coleman, Clifford Jordan, and Harold Mabern. In 1994, an annual Jazz French Horn Festival was begun in N.Y. named in his honor.
Babs Gonzales Capitolizing, Professor Bop (1949); New Faces-New Sounds: Julius Watkins Sextet (1954); Julius Watkins Sextet, Vol. 2 (1955); Jazzoille (1956); Jazz Modes (1958); French Horns for My Lady (1961).