Gilbert Watson And His Orchestra 1925 To 1942

Most Canadian jazz collectors of the 1920’s would say that the Gilbert Watson Orchestra, was the first to record jazz. Gilbert Watson was born in Glasgow, Scotland on October 31, 1896, and died in Peterborough, Ontario on August 12, 1959. He studied piano with Michael Hambourg and Harvey Robb, and played at the Allen Theatre in Toronto, Ontario. He worked for several music retailers in Toronto, including Mason and Risch (in the Victrola department) and Whaley Royce (as store manager).

In the mid 1920’s he formed his own dance band, which played at the Prince George Hotel, where he was heard on the Toronto radio station and, from 1935 to 1942. The band also appeared in dance pavilions around Toronto. In 1929 the orchestra also performed a recital at Massey Hall in Toronto, a first for Massey Hall. The seven or eight musicians made a total of nine sides for the Compo Company of Lachine, Quebec, first recording on July 12, 1925 and then again on November 15, 1926. Six sides released in 1925 appeared on the Apex and Starr labels, while the three sides made in 1926 appeared on the Domino label. It is not clear if any of the recordings ever showed up on other Compo labels such as Lucky Strike and Microphone.

Watson retired from music in 1942 after the Old Mill band broke up, and opened a Summer resort, Gil-Mar Lodge, and a dance hall at Sturgeon Lake in the Kawartha region of Ontario. Below is a photographic history of the Watson Orchestra, some pics are seen here for the first time! The first set shows the band in 1925 and 1929, and the second line shows The Old Mill Orchestra, along with some personal photo’s of Gilbert Watson and sheet music.

Most of this information has been provided to me by Gilbert Watson’s son, Doug, for whom I am very grateful. I hope to upload some recordings of the Gilbert Watson Orchestra in the near future.


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One Response to “Gilbert Watson And His Orchestra 1925 To 1942”

  1. Sue Staldegger Says:

    My father is the 5th from the left playing the saxaphone. His name
    is Ed Culley

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