Charlie Watts: Jazzer in a Rock and Roll Band

Charlie Watts has been making music headlines recently with NME. He said, once again, that each time the Rolling Stones ended a tour, he was ready to quit. He’s never had anything against the group. He’s been their stellar drummer for longer than 50 years now, and he knows that the group is simply at the age where time isn’t on their side any longer. He has concerns about the unpredictable nature of health and is practical about aging. But even more than that, he’s always loved jazz. He’s been a jazzer his entire career with The Stones. Musicians who know his work, know that Charlie Watts is not only a spectacular jazz drummer, but one of the most respected in that world.

Charlie Watts never studied drums. He said he learned how to play by watching drummers playing. He considered it to be “the fault” in his playing. But, he did what they did, and that’s how he became a drummer. Whe he was young, he was a fan of Fats Domino and Little Richard. He was about thirteen years old when he truly thought rock and roll was awful. His first gigs in London were in rhythm and blues clubs. That’s where he first got to know Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, and Keith Richards. He said they taught him rock and roll. It was 1963 when he became the drummer in The Rolling Stones. He needed work, and since he was a trained graphic designer he also designed the group’s record sleeves and sets for their stages while on tour.
Throughout his career with The Stones, Watts has played jazz. He formed his own orchestra, quintet, and released numerous recordings showcasing his passion. Nine albums were with his own groups, and he was drummer for many more recordings with top musicians. Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Leon Russell, Jack Bruce, and many, many more enjoyed Watt’s incredible artistry.

Another passion Watts has is boogie woogie. The A, B,C & D of Boogie Woogie was Watt’s outlet for this side of his musicality. The group’s name came from its players: Axel, Ben, Charlie and Dave (Zwingenberger, Waters, Watts and Green respectively). They formed their band in 2009 and quickly established the group as exceptional in the boogie woogie genre. They recorded their Live In Paris CD at the Paris jazz club Lombards. It’s an incredible mix of standards, improvisations and original music in blues and boogie woogie styles.

Watts loves “the swing” of boogie woogie music best. He said that swing is the heart of boogie woogie-its essential core. He said that boogie woogie is “the piano player’s delight”. He particularly enjoyed playing with this group which had two pianos and three pianists playing together. He said that it is unusual, and that’s one reason why he enjoyed it so much.

Watts love for jazz led to performances with the best jazz musicians. His performances included work with big bands. His jazz stylings with brushes rather than drum sticks is remarkable. His jazz drumming is intuitive, supportive and impeccably timed.

Will The Rolling Stones end? Of course. Sometime. Perhaps soon. Perhaps not. Watts wisely realizes that at 76 years old, he and his band mates will eventually decide to complete their incredible 5-plus-decades of rock and roll history. Will it happen now? Watts doesn’t know. He merely stated his opinion that The Stones could replace him and still be The Stones. But, he believes that if Mick, Brian or Keith decide to stop, then The Stones would no longer be. It’s Watts being his pragmatic, modest self- the brilliant musician acknowledging the key presence of the frontmen in the greatest rock and roll group of all time. But, Watts will be playing jazz as long as he can put brushes and sticks to drums.


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