Born: October 10, 1921 | Died: April 4, 1977 Primary Instrument: French horn
Julius Watkins was an American jazz musician, and one of the first jazz French horn players. He won the Down Beat critics poll in 1960 and 1961 for miscellaneous instrument with French horn named as the instrument.
Watkins was born in Detroit, Michigan. He started playing French horn when he was nine years old, having played the trumpet, the recognized jazz instrument, for the Ernie Fields Orchestra in the mid-1940s. By the late 1940s, however, he had played some French horn solos on Kenny Clarke and Babs Gonzales' records. After moving to New York City, Watkins studied for three years at the Manhattan School of Music. He started appearing in small-group jazz sessions, including two led by Thelonious Monk, featuring on Friday the 13th on the album Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins (1954).
Watkins recorded with numerous jazz greats, including John Coltrane, Freddie Hubbard, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis and Gil Evans, Phil Woods, Clark Terry, Johnny Griffin, Randy Weston, and the Jazz Composer's Orchestra. He co-led, with Charlie Rouse, the group Les Jazz Modes from 1956 to 1959, and he toured with Quincy Jones and his band from 1959 to 1961.
He died in Short Hills, New Jersey at the age of 55. From 1994 to 1998, an annual Julius Watkins Jazz Horn Festival was held in New York, beginning at the Knitting Factory, (NY Times, January 27, 1994, A One-Night French Horn Festival) honoring his legacy. After an eleven-year break, another Julius Watkins Festival was held on October 3, 2009, in Seattle, Washington, at Cornish College of the Arts. On September 29, 2012, the most recent (7th) Julius Watkins Jazz Horn Festival was held at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia.