Charlie Watts: a rock ‘n’ roll legend whose true love was jazz | Charlie watts

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Eeveryone knew that the heart of Charlie Watts has always been in jazz. Even as he grew his hair long and wore hippie clothes as the Rolling Stones went through their time of satanic majesty, he was still the cool bebopper who could see through the nonsense surrounding his group and the raging egos at his heart. .

Wisely, he never let his true musical allegiance shine through in his game with the Stones. When they recruited him from Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated in January 1963, shortly after apprenticing in traditional jazz bands, he listened to records by Jimmy Reed, Howlin ‘Wolf and Muddy Waters in order to s’ imbue with how master Chicago blues drummers such as Earl Phillips, Fred Below and Elgin Evans kept it simple, quickly realizing that simplicity is often the hardest thing to achieve.

His personal adaptation of their low-key approach, focusing on a firm backbeat and avoiding any form of decoration, proved to be perfect for the Stones as the volume grew and the places got bigger, but he could hardly to be further removed from the styles of the great modern jazz drummers that he had grown up adoring. Artists like Max Roach, Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones and Elvin Jones had freed the drums from their subordinate role, allowing them to become full participants in the music, adding continuous commentary to the improvisations of horn players such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane, sometimes even as an equal partner.

Growing up in a post-war prefab in Wembley, Watts had saved up money to buy 78s from Jelly Roll Morton and Johnny Dodds, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. When given his first complete kit, having started by disassembling a banjo to use the body and vellum as a makeshift drum, he painted the name “Chico” on the front head of what was known to the era like the bass drum. It was a tribute to Chico Hamilton, a drummer from Los Angeles who had performed in a famous quartet with Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker in the early 1950s before launching his own adventurous quintet, which gained popularity by the end of that decade. decade and appeared on the screen. in the 1957 film Sweet Smell of Success.

Never ashamed of his hero-worshiping streak, Watts showed his colors in his first act of independent creativity. Ode to a Highflying Bird, released in 1964, when the Stones reached No. 1 on the UK charts with It’s All Over Now and Little Red Rooster, was a small volume of words and cartoons in which he used his skills as a skilled graphic designer. to illustrate the story of Parker (which he later took up with his quintet), nicely interpreted as a kind of children’s fable.

His soul mate in the Stones’ first incarnation had been Ian Stewart, a pianist who loved boogie-woogie and other forms of jazz, but was quickly taken out of training due to his appearance and persuaded to return to work. of route manager instead. In the late 1970s, Watts performed in Moonlight with Stewart in Rocket 88, a boogie and jump-blues band whose changing lineup included guests such as Chris Farlowe, Zoot Money, and Jack Bruce.

Always finding jazz clubs more sympathetic than the stadiums where the Stones played, in 1985, he filled the stage at Ronnie Scott’s with a big band of 32 musicians from the cream of London jazz musicians. An extraordinarily eclectic lineup ranged from veterans of the bop era to Courtney Pine, a 21-year-old stranger at the start of his career, who sat alongside fellow tenor saxophonists Danny Moss, Bobby Wellins, Don Weller and Alan Skidmore. Jack Bruce played the cello – his first instrument – and Stan Tracey was at the piano. Watts happily sat in front of his kit between two other drummers, elder Bill Eyden and younger John Stevens, as they performed arrangements of classics such as Lester Leaps In, Stompin ‘at the Savoy and Prelude to a Kiss. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were in the house applauding what Watts called making a childhood dream come true.

He was able to subsidize the project, which toured the United States the following year, from his earnings as Stone. Years later, he took advantage of the group’s significant downtime to return to Ronnie Scott’s and other venues with smaller bands and in 1996 record a beautiful album of standards, Long Ago and Far Away. , played by his quintet, a small orchestra and singer Bernard Fowler. These warm and relaxed versions of songs such as Stairway to the Stars and In a Sentimental Mood, with Watts’ presence recorded only by the soft background rustle of the wire brushes, were about as far away from Sympathy for the Devil and Street Fighting Man. to get music, but they were clearly sincere.

He was never condescending about the music he played with his fellow Stones, but his long and loyal friendships with other jazz musicians, such as saxophonist Peter King and bassist Dave Green, which he knew from childhood, were of great importance to him. Another close friend was American drummer Jim Keltner, with whom he recorded a percussion-based album in 2000, again between tours of the Stones. Each of the record’s nine tracks takes its title from the names of the drummers it idolizes: Roach, Blakey, Kenny Clarke, Roy Haynes and so on. Once again, he paid homage without strength and deeply to the musicians who had enriched his life, like him, in a different register, enriched the lives of others.


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