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10 Jun

The reluctant rocker and devoted jazzman: Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones

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"The reluctant rocker and devoted jazzman: Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones" By Mihalis Yanneski  -  Charlie Watts, the drummer who became ultra-famous as a member of the Rolling Stones, was born on 2 June 1941.  However, it is not widely known that Watts is first and foremost a jazz musician and aficionado.

Watts is a self-taught musician who fell in love with jazz while listening to the music of his idol, Charlie Parker.  His music career started when he was 17 and by 1962 he was playing in Alexis Corner group «Blues Incorporated».  A year later he was asked by the Rolling Stones to join their band and, after repeated refusals, he finally accepted.  Despite the enormous success of the Rolling Stones, Watts never stopped playing and recording jazz.

As Watts himself mentioned in an interview in 1983, there is no substantial difference in the way one plays bass or drums in jazz and in rock.  Indeed, when the other Stones asked him to select their new bassist in 1993, Watts opted for Darryl Jones, someone who got his jazz «stripes» playing with Miles Davis.

Charlie Watts has recorded 7 noteworthy jazz albums so far.  The album that stands above all others is «From One Charlie», that Watts recorded as homage to Charlie Parker.  The CD has not been available for a long time, but many tracks have been uploaded on the web, such as «Relaxing at Camarillo» (Camarillo was the hospital where Parker spend many months fighting his heroin addiction), and «Bluebird» (videos below).

An unrepresentative rock star

In stark contrast with the other Stones,  Watts never sought the glitz and glamour of a rock star.  Always modest and unpretentious, his behavior both on and off stage was totally unrepresentative of a rock star.  He never got involved in the shenanigans that the other band members became notorious for, and stayed as clear of the limelight as was possible.

As a member of a jazz band, Watts makes every effort not to project himself. «I do not like to play solo drums, ... I prefer drummers who play as a member of the band» he declared once.  Indeed, despite the «pulling power» of his fame, he collaborates on an equal basis with the other jazz musicians in his bands.

From swing to boogie woogie

Watts was drawn to jazz in general and to drums in particular by listening to the rhythm of swing.  Indeed, with his ten-piece band he recorded a number of tracks that indicate this, such as «Take The A Train» that was made famous by Duke Ellington, and received a rapturous applause when the tentet played live in Ronnie Scotts’ in London (video below).

Watts has also been involved with Boogie Woogie to which, as he commented in an interview to the BBC, he was drawn by the rhythm of swing.  In 2009 he started collaborating with two pianists on the project «A, B, C and D of Boogie Woogie», that has resulted in some excellent recordings and performances.

Charlie Watts’ international fame as a member of a super-group like the Stones has overshadowed his jazz achievements, but he has always remained a musician dedicated to jazz.  After all, what is rock and roll, if not the evolution of lindy hop, that black Americans were dancing in the 1930s: a dance based on the rhythms of swing and boogie woogie.  As Watts’ idol Charlie Parker once commented, there are no boundary lines in music.



Last modified on Friday, 03 June 2016 10:39

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