It is 7:30 p.m. on a hot August night at Brent and Jessica Watkins' house. Brent Watkins is rehearsing with the 16 members of his big band for the next day’s performance. All the furniture in the living room has been pushed to the perimeter to make space for the musicians, their instruments, and their stands. Meanwhile, Jessica Watkins is preparing for the next day also. She is getting their four kids ready for bed on a school night. It is hard getting kids to bed. It is even harder when you are sharing 2,000 sq. ft. with a noisy crowd.
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A trumpeter belts out a solo. A bass player plucks his strings. A drummer hits the cymbals. There are times when things are clicking, and Brent smiles with satisfaction. When things aren’t working, he stops the song, stands up, and gives directions. He encourages this somewhat unruly bunch of guys to grab a pencil and take notes. He seems to have gained the respect of the other musicians, and he works to form them into a cohesive unit.
Like Brent, Jessica is also leading and directing amid a swirl of activity. Her little son Nolan would rather play than get dressed for bed. He twists and wriggles his body trying to run away as she pulls his pajama top over his head. Five-year old Jack brushes his teeth theatrically in front of a mirror. Her daughter, Allyson, searches for a book to read. It is hard to find books in the Watkins’ house because the family’s (mostly) free range bunny “Whiskers” has nibbled off most of the paperback book covers.
Her oldest son, Timothy, picks up the iPad, searches for a quiet spot, and sits on the edge of a bed. Polly, the dog, wanders around quietly looking for someone to give her attention. After several minutes of chasing kids around, Jessica checks off enough boxes to read a bed time story to her two younger sons. Finally, the younger two boys start to yawn and rub their eyes. They surrender to their fatigue. Allyson goes to bed, and her oldest son decides to read quietly for a few more minutes.
Jessica grabs a glass of wine and an apple. She invites me into her bedroom. We sit on her unmade bed and close the door. Dirty clothes are on the floor. A painting of a Mexican escaramuza hangs on the wall. Ear plugs are on the nightstand. A pair of brown and white men’s spectator shoes is to the left of the bed. We scoot together so we can hear each other speak over the music in the next room. She tells me about her initial impressions of Brent. They met in fourth grade when they both lived in Southern Oregon. They were part of the same home school community. She played violin. He played piano. She remembers how he would always close out recitals in which they both participated.
While attending Southern Oregon University, they both studied music. She saw flashes of brilliance in him. “He already knew everything that was being taught.” She noticed his sense of humor. “He was hysterical.” She had already observed his compassion. As one of seven kids, he was practiced at living a life that was other-centered. That’s a good quality to have when you end up married with four kids or the leader of a pack of super-talented, fellow musicians.
Jessica noticed early on that Brent didn’t seem to care what other people thought of him. His fearless personality and drive to live life in his own lane initially disqualified him as a love interest in her mind. He walked through life with unmatched socks, after all. Eventually, his boldness became something that attracted her to him. This fearlessness has served him well in the world of music.
“There was a need for jazz leadership in San Antonio. Brent was able to take that and not mess around with that. And not say no. And not be told that jazz isn't popular here. Brent doesn't buy that,” she said.
Brent is bold, ambitious, and hard working — mixing both creativity and strategic organization.
“He can believe in something that seems totally impossible. He doesn’t ever stop, and he never has an idea that he doesn’t act on,” she said. He loves the work that he does, even though it is hard work.
In the 10 or so years that he has lived in San Antonio, Brent has covered a lot of ground. He has performed more than 1,000 gigs in the last five years. He has formed five bands. He helped create an app that tracks live jazz music called Jazz Tonight. His trio performed at Carnegie Hall. He has had leadership roles in the Summer Dance Hall series at the Pearl Brewery, the Empire Series, and the San Antonio Cocktail Conference. He has also been a staple at Bohanan’s, performing every Friday and Saturday night. Finally, he has recorded three albums in the last year alone.
Jessica values her husband’s work and celebrates his success, yet she is aware of danger of unbridled ambition. She said religion keeps Brent’s creative fearlessness in check.
"Since he knows Christ, he knows the fragileness of his situation," she said. "Jesus and the responsibility of having a family" have channeled and refined Brent’s creative gifts and ambition.
Although Brent has become more of a public figure in our community and the wider world of music, Jessica has remained an introvert. She is confident in her quieter temperament and doesn’t feel overshadowed by Brent’s public persona. She admits, though, that she is at times fearful that Brent’s love of work for any given project will eclipse his love and passion for her.
With Brent, “whatever I see, I believe what I am seeing,” she said. Brent isn’t romantic in the canned, stereotypical sense. “The most romantic thing about Brent is that I believe him. When I bring a fear to him (like the fear that any one of these projects will be more important than me), he puts those fears aside. His words are believable.”
This credibility — both in relationships and work — makes the chaos in the Watkins house beautiful.