Bijon Watson ’86

Bijon Watson, BYSO ’86, is a full-time musician who has performed and/or recorded with the likes of Natalie Cole, Michael Buble, Justin Timberlake, Harry Connick, Jr., Diana Krall, Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, and many more. He has been playing the trumpet since 8 years old, and was a member of the Disney All-American College Band in 1994 and 1995. This season, BYSO celebrated the 20th anniversary of ICP—20 years of commitment to diversifying the future of classical music. As we end this historic season, we spoke to one of (G)BYSO’s earliest students of color.

Bijon has had the opportunity to perform both on stage, and in the recording studio, recently playing on the soundtrack for The Secret Life of Pets, and playing the trumpet on-screen in the recent film La La Land. Asked how live and studio experiences compare, he notes that “it is very intense for a short period of time – we recorded The Secret Life of Pets soundtrack over the course of 4 days, but for 6 – 8 hours a day. You still have to keep up the energy, even after a long day, in order to produce a fun-loving, energetic score.”

“In La La Land, I did not record on the soundtrack, but I was an on-screen performer in the film. Since a huge pet peeve of mine is when people on-screen are not playing with the score, I transcribed the music to make it authentic.”

“I actually got asked to be in the final scene of La La Land too, but had to turn it down due to a prior commitment. I wish I had known it would be such a huge success!”

Although Bijon has had many amazing opportunities as a full-time musician, one particular moment stands out to him as special. “Shortly after recording an album with Diana Krall and the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, John Clayton asked me to perform a solo arrangement of A Foggy Day at the Hollywood Bowl, in front of a sold-out crowd. I’ve never been more nervous in my entire life, but it was a huge success!”

“I’ve also had great experiences on tour with Harry Connick Jr., who does all of his own arranging, and is very musically hands-on. Natalie Cole was also one of my favorites, and as part of her tour I would be featured with her as a duet trading solo riffs together as an encore.”

What’s next for Bijon? “Winning a Grammy would be really nice. Although it’s not the only form of validation in this field, it’s a dream to hope that your body of work would be appreciated on that level. To put so much work into something – for me, 43 years of work – it would be pretty great recognition.”

Bijon also hopes to see more diversity in classical music in the future, and is happy to hear about what ICP is doing for underrepresented communities in classical music. The Intensive Community Program (ICP) provides resources such as weekly lessons, use of an instrument, financial aid, and positive mentorship to students from populations traditionally underrepresented in classical music such as low-income backgrounds or communities of color. “I never felt any type of negative vibe at BYSO, and it was always a welcoming space for everyone, but I’ve heard horror stories from other people of color in classical music. I always felt that at BYSO, we were all on a level playing field, and it was a great sense of comradery that encouraged us to work even harder.”

“Now as an adult, I hope to continue to see growth in diversity in orchestras. Although ICP is a step in the right direction, there is more work to be done in this area. Often when I’m performing, I will be the only person of color on stage – but I want kids to have more people like me to look up to.”

Bijon’s advice to current BYSO students is to build relationships. “Be respectful and kind to one another. You never know how it will impact your own future down the road. How you treat others matters!” He also wants parents to be supportive of their kids. “I was lucky to have full support from my parents. Ultimately, the experience that they’re getting here at BYSO is useful in any field, so always encourage them to do their best. Whether or not they go into music, this mindset will take them far.”

To find out more about Bijon Watson, you can check out his website at www.bijonwatson.com.

Are you, or someone you know, a BYSO alum with a cool or interesting story or life update to share? Contact Jessica Chen, Development & Alumni Relations Associate!