Stanley Watson

Stanley Albert Watson 1926 -1978

Guitarist & Composer,


Originally from Canada, Stanley Watson grew up in England. Stanley started playing at the age of 3 and then on to the guitar. He then went to Spain, Italy and around Europe in the late 1950’s in search of guitar instruction, music, folklore and adventure and found it wherever it presented itself. His first and favourite teacher in Spain was a man who was a potato farmer by day and a guitarist at night.

This eventually lead to studies with other teachers, including Andres Segovia. Along the way Stan attended master classes with cellist Pablo Casals to help develop left hand techniques. In France he followed Django Reinhardt around to learn jazz and right hand picking methods. He worked with dancers and artists in Paris and travelled to Portugal and Greece to soak up the music and culture.

Stanley and his sister arrived in England with their parents in 1933 and settled in Palmers Green, North London. Both his parents were musically inclined. His dad played the banjo and his mum had a good ear for music and was a fine singer. He was always musically talented and was playing on a ukulele of his dad’s at the age of three. He soon outgrew this and progressed to his father’s banjo, eventually taking up the guitar.  When he was about ten, he and his sister would go around the locality earning Christmas pocket money, usually ending up in a street called Broad Walk. This street was about a mile long and had red tiled pavements, was lined with trees and was the millionaire’s row of that part of London. They would be invited in to some of the big houses and asked to entertain, usually standing on the table in the centre of the room. They were sent on their way with gifts of food and money and did quite well when times were tough in the thirties.

KingsHeadCrouchEndAt this time Stan and Gladys attended Arnos Grove School in North London. All the time Stan was listening to the sounds of jazz and big band music played on the radio, also buying jazz and classical records when he could. At about age 13 he met up with a young lad around the same age called Laurie Morgan. He heard Stan practicing behind the cricket pavilion in Arnos Park; they became great friends, and it was as a result of this meeting that Laurie took up drums and piano and went on to become one of the leading figures in the development of Be Bop in London in the 40’s and is still a respected figure to this day, playing up a storm every weekend as of this writing (‘04) at The Kings Head jazz club in Crouch End, London. At the age of 85, along with an another legend, Coleridge Goode, on double bass (90+); they can still show the young Turks the way home.

As the 40s approached and WW2 was imminent, many of the children were evacuated to less dangerous areas. Stanley Sr., being a conscientious objector, decided that the family would stay in London and take their chances, which they did and were bombed out twice in the course of the war. This reinforced Stan Jr’s attitude on the futility of war and eventually led to him not registering for National Service at the age of 18, which was compulsory at the time.

StanleyWatsonWhen Stan was 15 he passed exams to go to Tottenham Technical School to study building and architecture His dad was hoping to have him enter the family business. This was not to be, however, as music got the upper hand. Stan and Laurie along with Don Rendell, tenor sax, another future giant of British jazz, and Denny Termer, later to be Shirley Bassey’s accompanist, all just about 16 years old, started in the business together playing in the pit band at Collins Music Hall in Islington, North London. Stan then went on to play in a band led by Duncan White who held a residency in one of the London hotels. Stan also was one of the 1st guitarists on the jazz scene in London to start playing amplified (electric) guitar. I believe that he had his own instrument, a big, black, wonderful Maccaferi guitar modified for this purpose.

Don Rendell took part in a jam session with Stephane Grapelli in 1942. Rendell was still at school and playing alto sax. He had formed a band with friends Denny Termer on piano, Stanley Watson, guitar and drummer Laurie Morgan later to take part in the formation of Club Eleven. They gigged locally until Termer’s uncle took them into his show band playing variety theatres all over the country. Later they worked in night clubs and US army bases and by 1945 Don had switched to tenor sax.


‘The Rhythm Rackateers’ at the old Collins’s Music Hall Islington in 1942. See the state of the art mike.  Denny Termer Piano. Don Rendell Tenor. 16 yr old Stan Watson Guitar. Laurie Morgan Drums. Laurie and Don are still playing.  Laurie on Sundays from 2-5 at the Kings Head, Crouch End London 

The Fullado Club (Don Rendell)…
The fountainhead of the ‘modern’ movement in this country is usually said to have been the Club Eleven, which existed in the late 1940s. Actually, though, things started happening a little earlier at a club in Old Compton Street, known then as the Fullado Club, where jazz was played non-stop from 3 p.m. until midnight. Most of the musicians who were associated with the Club Eleven used to play there. The difference being that, at the Fullado, we played only for kicks, not for cash!  I spent most of my spare hours there. I was working with Duncan Whyte’s Band at the Astoria, Charing Cross Road, and at the end of the evening I used to go, with guitarist Stan Watson and other friends, down to the Nut House, a night club in Regent Street. Which was where, as a kid of 18, I counted myself extremely lucky to get some chances to play with several great American musicians

At this time the nucleus of what was later to become the vanguard of British Be-bop were meeting and jamming in small clubs and sometimes each others houses, influenced by the music the American servicemen were bringing over. After the war, the clubs and cafes in Archer Street in Soho, London, were becoming the meeting places for musicians to socialise and pick up work which Stan as a typical jobbing musician did, picking up work and deputising for other musicians. The area was also the breeding ground for the burgeoning interest in Jazz with musicians jamming in the clubs after hours and honing their be-bop skills.

In the mid 40’s Stan became eligible for the call up which was then compulsory. He was a conscientious objector and managed to dodge the authorities for a couple of years until they finally caught up with him and promptly incarcerated him in a military mental hospital in Banstead, Surrey for 6 months, as they figured that he must be mental not to want to kill people instead of playing the guitar.  In the early 1950’s Stan was playing with E.N.S.A. as part of Marion McPartland’s group of musicians entertaining troops in Europe. This was what inspired Stan to expand his musical knowledge into other aspects of the guitar repertoire, as he felt restricted by the jazz format.

In 1954 Stanley recorded four tracks on Esquire Records with Victor Feldman before Feldman emigrated to the US, with Stanley and Ruth going to live in Spain so he could expand his study of the guitar, feeling that jazz was not allowing him to take his playing to the levels he was striving for. Ruth returned to England after a few years as their relationship had broken down. He lived in Spain for 6 years studying under Segovia and other masters including Pablo Casals. He became musical director for one of the top Spanish female artistes. Before returning to England he had met Diane Haverlak who was to eventually become his 3rd wife

StanleyWatson4By the time he had made his way to Rochester he had married, started a family, was deeply immersed in composing and was sporting a handmade Ramierez guitar, “rare in them parts and them days”, and he had endless stories to tell. He embarked on a teaching and performing career in Rochester where he came in contact with Chuck Mangione. He can be heard on Chuck’s Mercury Records albums Friends And Love and Together. Stanley frequently played at local clubs, coffee houses and on radio and television. I’ll never forget Stanley opening a show to a packed house at the Rochester War Memorial for John McLaughlin and Frank Zappa! He seemed to be at home anywhere.

My classical guitar teacher, Stanley Watson, had a guitar made out of a guitarron.  You held this huge guitarron, but it had an 8-fret guitar neck with 6 strings. That was probably the greatest guitar I’ve ever played.  It knocked down walls, but you could be as delicate as you wanted on it.  Maybe one of your readers knows where it is.   I think it belonged to one of the Buskin & Batteau duo.  I don’t think it had a brand name.  I was just an experiment.  Leo Kottke

Robin Batteau – guitar, mandolin, and electric violin

StanleyWatson3Kevin Morse was the protégé and premier exponent of a legendary guitarist named Stanley Watson (1926-1978) who was one of history’s most interesting guitarists.  He met his mentor at age 13 while living in Rochester, New York. The 2 bonded quickly as Watson recognized the young student’s unique talent and desire to play the instrument.  Watson’s demanding physical approach to technique suited Kevin very well as he was a serious athlete. In fact Stanley Watson developed a systematic, progressive method of learning the guitar that transcends any previous methods and will guide the dedicated student from the painful steps of early apprenticeship to the heights of mastery. Kevin recognized this at an early age and committed his life to Watson’s methods and pedagogy. He spent 10 years working closely with his mentor before Watson untimely death at age 53

His teaching was focused. You had his undivided attention. His music was transporting, vivid, personal. While travelling and living in America Stanley kept a kind of musical journal of people and events that touched him or seemed important. He often said that if he hadn’t been a musician he would have been a painter. Stylistically his music was neither classical nor popular, rather a peculiar combination of both and more, uniquely his, drawing on earlier studies and experience.

By 1976 Stanley had left Rochester, continuing his travels. Sadly, in 1978 he died from injuries suffered in a car crash on Rte. 95 near Portland, Maine. He is sorely missed, and is still remembered in music circles in Rochester. – with thanks to Richard Watson

Stanley Watson Composition

Dance For Two People (Davy Graham) – 2:13
Dedicated by Stan Watson to his 2 children, Naomi and Heironmous, and played on nylon-strung guitar, the E string tuned down to D. I like the way the pleasant acidity of the discords in the treble echoes the often-anomalous relationship between siblings.


Guitar mentor, Stanley Watson.   That the real job of a teacher is to teach the student how to teach him or herself.  Stanley’s job was accomplished because the next 10 years were largely spent independently learning Classical Guitar Technique and composing pieces and studies as well as transcribing music for the Classical Guitar from various sources.

Stanley was my 1st real Classical Guitar teacher back in the 60’s but I still wonder about what exactly his influence was, because in many ways, he was more a composer for the Guitar more than a “Standard Repertoire” player.  Maybe that’s where I got my love for playing just the pieces  I want to and simply ignoring the rest.   Although reputed to have studied with Segovia,  my recollection is that he in fact did take a lesson or 2 but that he wasn’t the right teacher for him.  Stanley was however, the perfect teacher for me, imparting a real love for the instrument and a real support system for my potential.  His wife used to sit at their Kitchen table as I left often saying I had a look on my face, “Like I never wanted to leave”.  She was right.  Stanley was infectious with his enthusiasm for the Guitar and all that life had to offer.

Before my lessons with him, as he was always running long with the previous student,  I would play chess with his pre-teenage son who was very skilled at the game and I always lost.  By the time my lesson came around, I wasn’t thinking Guitar any longer but he would listen to me play a bit and then tell me, “For next week, I want you to compose a piece for me and play it from memory.  This weekly assignment occurred for many weeks, and then he gently encouraged me to give up my Guild D-35 steel string guitar and trade it in for a Classical Guitar and Oh, I had to hold it differently than what I was used to .  It was a magical time for me, having this Englishman point me in a direction so convincingly.  He made all his students feel as if they were going to be the greatest guitar player ever.  Stanley was a gypsy at heart and no doubt enjoyed the colour of his travels more than just about anything.

One of my favourite pieces of his is the simple but elegiac “Echoes”, which he composed while sitting in front of Rodin’s famous statue, “The Thinker”. The piece evokes the imagery of what it would be like if “The Thinker” could break from his frozen state and dance freely around the gardens of the Louvre.  A  few examples of his playing can be heard on Chuck Mangione‘s  “Friends And Love,” and “Together” albums.

The last time I saw him, I was taking a four hour lesson from him.   It was about composition, life, playing and lengthy explanations about how everyone has a talent that should be vigorously pursued, even if it is sweeping floors.  He energetically proclaimed,  “If that is your talent, then you should become  the best floor sweeper in the world and society should embrace your desire to achieve it.”  In my last lesson with him, I played several of my transcriptions I was working on at the time.   He stared at me, as if he was examining my soul like a surgeon looking at an X-ray,  and said, “Sakari, you should take the next 2 years, pitch a tent on some beach somewhere where its warm year ’round and master your technique because someday you will offer the Guitar world a very unique insight.”

Stanley Watson on Guitar