||Charlie Watts Tentet: Nothing but a jazz thing
By MICHAEL PRONKO
In the 1960s, The Rolling Stones led the way in forging a rougher, rootsier style of rock out of R&B, '50s rock 'n' roll and Chicago blues. As the band's drummer, Charlie Watts helped set a new standard of rhythmic structure for rock, and his tight, anchoring beat was widely imitated. After that, what's left to do? Jazz, apparently.
Charlie Watts at the Blue Note Tokyo
Watts is no stranger to jazz. He's made two recordings of Charlie Parker tunes and a tribute to jazz drummers. In between tours with his "other group," Watts drums with Tentet, a jazz band of players from the United Kingdom. Comprising three saxes, two trumpets, trombone, vibraphone, piano, bass, percussion, and, of course, Watts on drums, the Charlie Watts Tentet is large enough to swing like a big band on standards such as "Take the A Train," but small enough to drive at fast be-bop speeds on Charlie Parker/Dizzy Gillespie tunes such as "Tin Tin Deo."
Playing live at the Blue Note on Tuesday night, the band sounded relaxed, confident and very polished. They stayed within a traditional sound made of soft moods and variegated textures. While the crisply written charts left plenty of room for soloing, the half-expected explosions of rocklike energy from the band never happened. But that hardly mattered. Tentet is not a jazz-rock amalgam, but a straight jazz unit, and the crowd went wild just the same.
After the show, having made it past the outstretched hands of the audience with the help of a cordon made of every waiter in the club, Watts took time away from the other members backstage to talk about his love of jazz.
How do you answer the typical jazz critics' snobbish view that rock is easier than jazz?
Jazz is filled with people who look down on things. There was a real bitterness with jazz people especially after rock became so popular. But these days, young players are just as impressed with James Brown as with Sonny Rollins.
Does it bother you, that elitism of jazz?
It inhibits me. Not when I'm playing with the band, really, but in general. Jazz is difficult. Half the people I've played with I'm terrified of. They're that good.
It must feel different playing small venues?
You have to be on top at small places. This group got together to play at Ronnie Scott's [the most famous jazz club in London]. It was packed for both sets and people go there to listen! You can't hide behind the volume on a small stage.
How is it to work with the guys in this band?
They're all bandleaders and fabulous soloists and fabulous arrangers.
How do you decide on the playlist for your sets?
We usually like to start out with something by Charlie Parker, one of my favorite players, or by Duke Ellington. But the band works best with originals. Both Gerard [Presencer, trumpet and keyboards] and Peter [King, alto sax] have contributed outstanding tunes and charts. I feel the band really picks up and takes off on these originals.
It's like with my other band. At first we just played R&B we learned from records, but then Keith and Mick started writing their own tunes, like "Satisfaction."
It makes a big difference, then, playing your own stuff?
Yeah, a very big difference. But it's not just that. All these players in the Tentet are fantastic, but if they were in the States they'd be much more famous. That's just the way it is, the system. It's too bad, though, that Americans have become so blase about their music, jazz.
Did you see the recent public television series on the history of jazz by Ken Burns?
Yeah, I did. It was great, I thought. The footage was amazing. There was one scene with Dave Tough [legendary 1920s jazz drummer], and there's only maybe three pieces of footage of him in the entire world. It was worth it just for that.
I liked the shots of everyone dancing.
Jazz music was dance music. Everyone danced to it. But for a while, jazz went off, lost its way. That's not bad or anything, but it wasn't until Miles Davis started putting in that Sly Stone sound that jazz had a fresh direction again.
Do you think that musicians playing jazz outside the States are under-recognized?
Definitely. Jazz has become a world music. It's very open now. You'll find as good players in, for example, Poland as anywhere. These days, if you play "A Night in Tunisia," you're very likely to have an actual Tunisian playing with you!
What do you listen to at home?
The classical radio station. My wife puts on some rock 'n' roll sometimes, old stuff. I like that, of course. That's how I learned to play, listening to R&B records with Alexis Korner and Keith. We loved that whole Chicago sound, Chuck Berry and Jimmy Reed. We listened for hours.
But you listened to other stuff as well?
Oh, always. I love the Clifford Brown and Max Roach group. It's just one of the best ever. "Jazz at Massey Hall" is a classic. Roy Haynes is a monster. Elvin Jones gets better and better as he gets older. Don't know how he does that.
So, you're a little star-struck yourself at times?
Absolutely. I always feel nervous when I play, thinking of those players. What people do in jazz has such integrity to it, a real honesty.
The Japan Times: Nov. 4, 2001
(C) All rights reserved
||Watts puts new band on display
Paul Migliorato Special to The Daily Yomiuri
Of the eight drummers after whom songs on his latest recorded collaboration are named, four are dead and three very much Charlie Watts' senior. Coming from another drummer this might seem like hagiography, but Watts has a pedigree of his own.
Over a career nearing 40 years, Watts has likely played before more people and sold more records than any jazz drummer in history. The catch is that his fame has come from playing with the Rolling Stones, making his jazz drumming a form of musical moonlighting.
To the uninitiated, Watts comes across as a mid-career musician. Although he is decidedly gray, his carriage suggests that of an athlete. But to listeners familiar with his longer-term gig, Watts is an icon. Fans had lined up at noon to assure themselves good seats. If this reeks of the sort of attention a rock star might get, so did the screams of "Charlie!" from the audience and attempts to get his autograph. A man seated at my table showed his allegiance to Watts' high-profile side by wearing a Rolling Stones necktie.
The moon Monday night in Tokyo was nearly full; so was the house at the Blue Note for his first set. Watts wasn't there to rock. He'd come to town to back a new band, the Tentet, which he formed in June. He's surrounded himself with old musical friends, which made for an opening night of casual, comfortable and convincing music. The 70-minute set also saw him wear out the skin at the base of his left thumb.
The set opened with a version of Duke Ellington's "Main Stem." Watts is a generous leader. Half the band got to do solos, a pattern that was repeated on many of the numbers, sometimes at the expense of the ensemble passages that can make the music of groups this size so visceral.
"Bemsha Swing," penned by Thelonious Monk, got a wilier treatment. Pianist Brian Lemon (the only member older than Watts) and vibraphonist Anthony Kerry stated the edgy theme, after which came a Gerard Presencer solo on flugelhorn that was full of curves and a sliding, veering one from Alan Barnes on clarinet.
"H' Antony Dice" and "Roll 'em Charlie" came next. Neither yet rates as a jazz standard and neither was announced, but both proved the band to be full of ideas and at ease playing together. With four of the five frontline musicians switching between instruments, the ensemble sections were colorful and varied. Everyone but Watts soloed.
The seating logistics were a little odd. Lemon sat with his back to much of the audience and his keyboard was hidden from the sight of the rest of the band. Both Watts and Lemon could see bassist Dave Green, meaning that he ended up setting the rhythmic pace for much of the night. Watts seldom looks forward, and lets his bright eyes and quick smile do most of his non-percussive communication.
Peter King got all but the last 20 seconds of Billy Strayhorn's 1933 gem, "Lush Life," to interpret as an alto saxophone solo, and he made it shine anew.
Watts wandered to the front of the stage to introduce the band, which he did with kindness and humor. A Latin-meets-London version of "Tin Tin Deo" followed, after which Watts asked the audience to imagine it was hearing an encore so that the band could proceed with a quick, symmetrical version of Ellington's "Take the A Train."
Much was made of Watts reaching 60 earlier this year. He's certainly young enough to be playing challenging, rewarding jazz should the gig with his old band come to an end. Jazz needs more bands that offer the camaraderie his Tentet offers and more drummers happy to back groups with his nonchalant authority and grace.
Copyright 2001 The Yomiuri Shimbun
||November 1, 2001 – Charlie Watts, legendary drummer of the Rolling Stones, will perform at the Blue Note in New York City, November 6-11. These rare and exclusive club dates are Charlie's first time back at the Blue Note since 1992. He'll be performing two jazz sets per night at 8 and 10:30 pm.