ROBERT LEE WATT- was born in Neptune, New Jersey the 4th child of seven. His father, Edward Watt Jr. played trumpet professionally in a Jazz ensemble, “The New Jersey Squires of Rhythm.”
When Robert was eight years old he got curious about his father’s trumpet, kept high on a shelf. Too short to reach it, Robert conscripted his little brother Tony to help. But with Tony on his shoulders he lost his balance, causing both of them to fall to the floor, trumpet in hand.
Robert then attempted to fix the dents in the instrument by using a hammer.
The badly damaged trumpet was the way Robert’s father discovered his interest in horns. After a serious reproach, Robert’s father tried to teach him trumpet. However, it wasn’t until years later that Robert discovered the instrument he really wanted to play.
While helping his father clean out a room in the basement Robert discovered some old 78 recordings. The curious Robert gave the old recordings a spin. It was the “William Tell Overture” on hearing the French horns on that recording he asked his father what instrument came in after the trumpet. His father informed him that it was a “French horn” “A middle instrument that never gets to play the melody like the trumpet…why, do you like that horn?” His father asked. Robert replied, “It gives me chills when I hear it, I love it. That’s what I want to play.” His father informed the young Robert that it really wasn’t the instrument for him. Explaining that it was an instrument for thin-lipped white boys. “Your lips are too thick to play that small, thin, mouthpiece. You’d be better suited for the trumpet like you father.”
Upon reaching high school Robert seriously pursued the French horn. Approaching the band director of his high school in Asbury Park, Robert was again told that his lips were too thick to play the French horn. After being persistent, the band director gave Robert an old French horn that barely worked. Nevertheless, Robert advanced quickly and was soon winning auditions for honor bands and orchestras throughout the state of New Jersey, bringing great honor to his high school.
After high school Robert was accepted to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston where he majored in music and studied French horn with Harry Shapiro of the Boston Symphony. Mr. Shapiro took great interest in Robert pushing him hard. At the end of his first year Mr. Watt was asked to perform the Strauss Horn Concerto No. 1, with the Boston Pops Orchestra under Arthur Fiedler.
The following summer he received a fellowship to the Berkshire Music Festival at Tanglewood. Returning to the Conservatory for his third year Mr. Watt was informed by the president’s office that the Conservatory had financial problems and that all scholarships would be canceled for the coming year.
At the end of his junior year at the Conservatory Mr. Watt was informed by his French horn teacher that it was time for him to audition for a position in a major symphony orchestra. On the advice of his teacher, Mr. Watt chose Los Angeles and Chicago.
When Mr. Watt returned from his audition journey, he had made the finals at both auditions. Two months later The Los Angeles Philharmonic offered him the position of Assistant First Horn. Making him the first African American French horn player hired by a major symphony orchestra in the United States. Mr. Watt joined the ranks of only a handful of African Americans playing in symphony orchestras in these United States.
According to the American Symphony Orchestra League, that represented less than 2% of the total, out of twenty-six top orchestras. Mr. Watt held his position until 2007, a career spanning 37 years.
Mr. Watt performed several times as soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta and several orchestras in the Los Angeles area as well as the Oakland Symphony performing the Richard Strauss Second Horn Concerto
While a member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Mr. Watt has performed with principal and guest conductors that included: Leonard Bernstein, Eugene Ormandy, Eric Leinsdrof, Carla Maria Giulini, Pierre Boulez, Zubin Mehta, Henry Lewis, James De Priest, Michael Tilson Thomas, Herbert Blumstedt, Andre Previn, Marin Alsop, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Christoph Von Dohnányi.
Included among the many world renown artists he has performed with were: Yo-Yo Ma, Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras, Wynton Marsalias, Henry Mancini, Gladys Night, Isaac Hayes, Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Barry White, Rihanna, Paula Abdul, Herbie Hancock, Lalo Schifrin, The Carpenters, Benny Carter, Quincy Jones, Bon Jovi, Elton John and film composer, John Williams.
He has played on film scores of: Spiderman II, Rush Hour, Mission Impossible, Spike Lee’s “Miracle at St. Anna, Golf and many others.
Mr. Watt has played the music for the Twentieth Century Fox cartoons, The Simpsons, American Dad, Family Guy and King of the Hill for the past three years. He played on the five hour TV special “The Jacksons, an American Family” under Harold Wheeler, and played for several years for the TV program “Startrek Voyager.”
In the late 80’s Mr. Watt helped organize an African American Brass Quintet, “The New Brass Ensemble” which performed throughout the United States and abroad.
Mr. Watt has done public speaking lecturing on music and African history in the Los Angeles area. He was hired as guest professor at Los Angele City College teaching the course, “Music of Black Americans”.
Recently Mr. Watt executive produced a short film in memory of his friend Miles Davis. The film is based on the musical composition “Missing Miles” by Todd Cochran, commissioned by Mr. Watt, for French horn and piano. The short film was chosen by the Pan African Film Festival and the Garden State Film Festival.
Mr. Watt is a licensed airplane pilot with an instrument rating. He is a saber fencer and he speaks German and Italian.