The smooth sounds of legendary jazz trombonist Bill Watrous filled the Roper Performing Arts Center on Dec. 3.

As a guest performer, Watrous shared the stage with local jazz group Swirl. He entertained an appreciative crowd with his melodic tunes and short stories from life in the Navy and on the road as a musician.

“We were so fortunate to have Bill here to play with us and to learn from him. As one of the world’s preeminent jazz trombonists, he is our living link to jazz history, having played with just about every great artist from the past,” said Mark Denison, head of Tidewater Community College’s Music program. “The stories he tells bring a special dynamic to jazz as a living and breathing art form, not just something we study in a book.”

Legendary jazz trombonist Bill Watrous with Music Program Head Mark DenisonDenison invited Watrous to TCC. “I’ve known Mark for years – he’s one of my favorites,” Watrous said. “He is a brilliant guy with a musical background, and he knows the trends for the future, too.”

Watrous began playing the trombone at age 4, when he picked up his father’s instrument and started his 70-plus-year journey as a musician.

“I play what I love and believe in,” he said. “I enjoy improvising; I’ve been doing this my whole life.”

“It’s God gift,” he added. “Those of us who can do this have been given something.”

Prior to Watrous’ performance, TCC’s Blue Moon jazz ensemble and the Trombone Jazztet performed a variety of selections, accompanied by vocalists Donna Gray and Sesil Jenkins.

Watrous also presented two master classes at no cost to students with the titles “Jazz Trombone: Working the Chops!” and “Workin’ with the Rhythm Section!”

“It was awesome to have someone like him come to a community college to share his talents,” said music student Tobias Waff. “It was a great experience.”

“If you look at schools who still have music education, you see higher grades overall,” Watrous said. “Music opens the mind in a lot of areas.”