Some of the life saga of John Jay Watson is suspect. As with many struggling to succeed in the free-for-all of the 19th century, he may have embroidered some of the details. Did he really gain mastery of the violin under the tutelage of Salem’s eminent Manuel Fenollosa? Did Ole Bull really invite him to spend a summer in Norway, and give Watson one of his own violins?
None of that is independently confirmed. What we do know is that, as a young crewman on the Gloucester schooner Rival, he entertained his crew mates by playing fiddle tunes. When the Rival was wrecked on Prince Edward Island, Watson had had enough of the fisherman’s life. He would become a musician. After early struggles he moved to New York as a music teacher and concert violinist. Becoming an impresario, he rented the Great Hall at Cooper Union time and again, and filled it with audiences for his musical extravaganzas. He composed parlor melodies as well. It was an era when low-cost pianos were the entertainment centers in homes across America, and J.J. Watson’s sheet music compositions were popular favorites.
As a musical performer, teacher and songwriter, John Watson managed to survive in the hurly burly of 19th century America. In later life he and his wife returned to a quiet life in Gloucester. But, all in all, it had been quite a cruise for the fisherman-fiddler.
100 pages with 18 illustrations
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