Marching toward greatness
John “Jay” Watkins Jr.
Associate Director of Bands
Assistant Professor, School of Music
Director of The Gator Marching Band
John “Jay” Watkins Jr. might not have become director of The Gator Marching Band if he hadn’t been drum major of his high school band in Falls Church, Va., and met someone who would eventually connect him with the University of Florida.
While he was later studying the sciences and working as a research chemist, Watkins kept up his interest in music and his contact with John Laverty, who eventually became an assistant UF band director.
Through him, Watkins eventually became acquainted with David Waybright, UF’s director of bands.
Before coming to UF, Watkins became the director of the U.S. Navy Drum and Bugle Corps and later worked with bands in high schools and other universities. He started at UF in the summer of 2006.
As the new director of The Gator Marching Band, Watkins said he saw an opportunity to elevate the marching band to the same level of national reputation and stature as the university.
Accomplishing this goal meant constantly working toward being ahead of the curve and keeping the fans in mind, which leads to the question: “What are 90,000 people going to think is entertaining?”
“We are constantly working hard to be ahead,” he said. “We don’t want to be just another college marching band. We want to make it an experience for students and the fans, so we force ourselves to be creative with how we come up with concepts.”
Spending months planning and working with a creative team of band members to use popular culture to entertain fans plays an important role in the band’s performances, Watkins said. On game days, this out-of-the-box thinking has come to life. Last year the band performed Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” to commemorate the album’s 25th anniversary. This season they performed the “Summer of 1969,” which captured music from Woodstock, man’s landing on the moon and other significant events from the era, as well as a “Green Show,” which featured the entire band drumming on recycling bins. Watkins also created a movie-themed Halloween performance that took on the light and dark aspects of the holiday.
Although his degrees are from George Mason University and Valdosta State University, Watkins said he still bleeds orange and blue because there are so many great things about the school that make it easy and exciting to be here.
“I think I have the best job in the world because I get to work with a great cross section of the student body,” he said. “The band is one big family, but everyone works together for the good of the group. We don’t just teach marching band. We teach life lessons.”