Butch Watanabe

Region: Toronto Ontario
Nisei | Born 1923, Fraser Mills British Columbia
Died 2002


Jiro ‘Butch’ Watanabe was an accomplished jazz trombonist who played with numerous famous musicians and prominent large ensembles in Toronto and on various tours throughout the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.

Born in Fraser Mills, British Columbia, Butch was separated from his family as a young man by the internment, with family members sent to different labour camps in British Columbia and northern Ontario. Butch was reunited with his parents after the end of the war in Montreal, where he attended high school and met his lifelong friend Oscar Peterson.

Watanabe studied at the McGill Conservatory of Music in the late 1940s, and after graduating, joined Louis Metcalf’s International Band at Café St. Michel, a group widely said to be the first bebop band in Montreal and possibly in Canada. He later led his own band at the St. Michel, and then moved to Toronto in 1955 after touring Canada with vibraphone virtuoso Lionel Hampton’s big band. He also became one of the first faculty members of the Advanced School of Contemporary Music when Oscar Peterson opened it in 1960.

Watanabe worked with all of the major large ensembles in Toronto over the years, and participated in recording sessions featuring Duke Ellington and Oscar Peterson. He played at Expo ’67 in Montreal, and in 1979 toured Europe and recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland as part of the Canadian All-Star Sextet.

Watanabe toured extensively with Peterson and as part of Anne Murray’s band, both as trombonist and road manager. He was a member of the Trombone Workshop Octet in 1978 when they performed in the ‘Sound of Toronto Jazz’ Concert Series at the Ontario Science Centre. Japanese Canadian collaborations include an appearance on Roy Miya and Terry Watada’s album Saigon Dreaming.