PEOPLE POWER BLP A Regular Bayonne Guy

Unsung hero has been flying under the radar

Photo by Joel Hannigan

Bayonne native David Watson has played backup for some pretty fancy musicians. The limelight and the spotlight never shone on him, but he was fine with that; he also loved teaching music at local schools.

In the late ’70s he emerged from what was then Jersey State with a BA in Music Education.

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Right out of college he teamed up with pal Darryl Dixon to form the Chops Horns. Watson plays sax and flute.

In the tradition of “Twenty Feet from Stardom,” they were hired by the likes of Savoy Records and hooked up with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, later touring with The Police in 1981 and ’82. They were the in-house horn section for Sugar Hill Records.

Watson figures they’ve played every genre except classical: funk, R&B, soul, country/western, and gospel.

“We did studio work for the Rolling Stones,” Watson relates. “Mick [that Mick!] promised us a tour that never happened, but fortunately I had a teaching degree.”

Hello Mr. Watson

“I said, let me do substitute teaching at Bayonne High School, the school I graduated from,” Watson says. “Lo and behold, they’d just fired their band director. I wound up not going back on tour, teaching full-time and doing session work on the weekends.”

He thought he would stay for three years but stayed for 10. “I was in charge of the entire music program,” he says.

This prepared him well for a later gig at Harrison High School, where he was the only music teacher.

His own teacher at BHS, the late Zavan Mazmanian, had a “profound influence” on him. “Maz genuinely cared about us,” Watson says. “He would take small groups to Carnegie Hall to hear different music, help us with college auditions, and got us involved with summer camp at the Manhattan School of Music.”

Maz was single and treated his students like his own kids. “I carried on the Maz tradition and emulated the things he taught,” Watson says.

Basking in Glory

Watson’s career has been a satisfying mix of teaching and performing.

The Chops Horns backed up most of the major Motown artists and toured with Alicia Keyes, who was introduced to them by Ray Chew, the musical director for the Apollo Theatre. They also did Dancing with the Stars gigs and the Prince Tribute Show in L.A., as well as the gospel celebration for Black Entertainment Television. They played behind Chaka Khan and backed up Whitney Houston’s last TV performance before she died.

Despite all this backup, Chops Horns has found time to do its own recording, Chops n Soul, which dropped on iTunes in mid-November.

Watson has lived in Bayonne since he was 5. He stays because it’s close to New York City, and he loves the park. He has no eyes to move. He and his sister bought a two-family house on 46th Street.

He says, “As a freelance musician, I’ve done everything from local jobs”—he plays at the Chandelier—“to TV shows in L.A. But I didn’t have to move to California.

“I’m part of the Bayonne fabric.”—Kate Rounds