Calvin Watkins had been around the circuit for a long time, playing the jazz clubs in Chicago, and Cleveland. He even made it back home to Buffalo to serve up his sweet trumpet sound at the Colored Musicians Club. He recalled the nights he had spent in the smoky dimness listening to the likes of Ellington and Basie, Ella and “Lady Day”. His big break came the night Art Blakey invited Calvin onto the platform to fill in for his horn player. Blakey picked him up for the tour, travelling down South on the “chitlen’ circuit”. Calvin had stories to tell, for sure.
But his biggest accomplishment came when he met up with William “Boney” Claxson, who along with Claxson’s cousin, Edwin James, formed the Calvin Watkins Trio. Three musicians steeped in the roots of jazz, tempered in the blues, and honored countrywide for their smooth and soulful sound. They didn’t just make music. In a way, they reinvented it!
Eventually, the sounds evolved in many ways. And the fifties started to toll the knell for musicians such as the trio. The small intimate clubs started to disappear, opting for larger venues. And people wanted to hear the “new music”. The rock and roll train was catching steam, and although having had its roots in old gospel, rhythm and blues, it steered away from its origin in many ways.
The trio had a good run. But they had seen better days. Calvin still frequented the clubs that remained, resettling in Buffalo and the CMC. “Boney” joined him years later when James had been killed in a drive-by shooting while exiting the corner store. Edwin’s luck had run out as he clutched his lottery tickets, slumped on the pavement in a pool of his blood. He was dead before any response had been affected.
Calvin and “Boney” would sit on the bench outside of the club and reminisce. They traded stories about the great musicians they had known, and the clubs and the discrimination that they faced both as black men and musicians. They’d play their version of “Name That Tune”, whistling melodies from the day. But mostly they would sit and watch the world go by. And Calvin and Claxson never let a day go by when they would not pay homage to Edwin James and the talented men and women of the Colored Musicians Club.
Their memories brushed the same years. “Brothers” who battled their age and their fears. Oh, what a time it was…