Charlie Watts 3
Date: July 8, 2008 01:15
Tale of two rockers gone jazzInterviews of Charlie Watts and Bill Bruford by Michael Shore Jazziz, August 2000
"I was 13," Charlie Watts told me earlier this year as he recalled his first exposure to jazz. The compact, white-haired Rolling Stone looked a bit older than his 58 years (he turned 59 in June) as he continue bought a record called 'Walking Shoes' and heard Chico Hamilton on brushes, and I knew that's what I wanted to be. I'd go see everyone I could, from visiting Americans like Joe Morello to great British jazz drummers like Phil Seaman. I'd watch them and go home and try to do what I'd seen them do, without knowing the proper way to do it."
"I was 13," recalled Bill Bruford of his jazz indoctrination when I caught up with him last fall between sets by his Earthworks quartet at the Manhattan club Birdland. The rangy, progressive-rock master drummer of Yes and King Crimson fame looked a bit younger than his 50 years (he turned 51 in May) as he continued : "I was under the influence of the 17-year-old guys leading my school, who were heavily into jazz. They taught me to play ting-ting-a-ting on the ride cymbal, and we had a quartet playing Monk, Mingus, Jazz Messengers, and Adderley Brothers tunes. I learned to play brushes on the back covers of Riverside albums, listening to Charli Persip. On weekends we'd see this great black-and-white footage of people like Art Blakey and Sonny Stitt on a wonderful BBC-TV show, Jazz 625. It was very easy for a 13-year-old like me to want to do that."
Of course, both would-be jazzers got sidetracked by a career opportunity called rock. But both have seen to it that rock enabled them to return to their first-last-and-always musical love. Their latest expressions of that shared muse - The Charlie Watts-Jim Keltner Project (Cyber-Octave) - and the latest from Brufords Earthworks band, - A Part, and Yet Apart (Discipline Global Mobile) - contrast as sharply as do the two drummers' career paths, which ran along opposite ends of the rock spectrum. In a manner of speaking, Watts always went for the blues-rooted body, Bruford for the classically-based head.
Watts passed through London's early 1960s trad-jazz and R&B scenes (as would Ginger Baker) en route to becoming one of rock's legendary "feel" drummers, wearing a bemused smirk as he kept perfectly simple, simply perfect time on some of the best-known and most danceable classics in rock history. His jazz forays have been nostalgic : the mid '80s Charlie Watts Orchestra was a benevolent 31-piece mess, which at least got U.K. avant-garde giants like Evan Parker and John Stevens paid, and let them (and young lion Courtney Pine) wail on stuff like "Lester Leaps ln"; he saluted Bird with a classic-bop quintet in the early '90s led by the excellent English altoist Peter King. Watts swung bop time with the same zen restraint and comfy pocket he brings to his day job, yet, he says, "I never considered myself good enough to play jazz the way I want. I'm a first-year player, really; you get to the tenth year and you find Philly Joe Jones, Tony Williams. But, jazz or rock, I play the same way, which is just me, and I play the same role to hold it together, help the guy in front of you, and accompany. The one thing I learned from jazz is listening as you play. It's very difficult."
Where Watts is a self-effacing timekeeper, Bruford is a commanding percussive stylist and innovator who, at least as much as did Ginger Baker with Cream, always consciously brought jazz into rock. "Rock was very exciting and accommodating when I started out," he says. "Mitch Mitchell did pure Elvin behind Hendrix, and I was trying to be Max Roach in Yes." Indeed, Bruford tapped out straight-up ting-ting-a-ting behind an extended guitar solo in I See You on Yes' 1969 debut album, but 1971 Fragile, had evolved a much more sophisticated style : cobra-quick and panther-agile, nailing complex meters with karate-chop precision, double-clutching stutter-step triplet fills unlike any rock drummers (but echoing licks that Roy Haynes, for one, can be heard playing on Monk's Riverside Misterioso and Coltrane's Selflessness). He refined an extra-crispy snare drum rimshot as recognizable to rock ears as Miles' Harmon-muted horn is to jazz listeners.
"I saw Roy Haynes when I was an impressionable 16-year-old," Bruford recalls, "and I heard that snap-crackle-pop on the snare, which may have influenced my own sound - though, of course, you try not to consciously sound like anyone in particular. But all my formative influences were jazz drummers : Max Roach for economy, Joe Morello for the odd meters, Art Blakey for overall sound and groove."
In his rock work, Bruford's chops, taste, and intelligence made those influences palpable and effective. In jazz-oriented endeavors that have now occupied half his career, Bruford, an accomplished composer and bandleader, has always preferred self- expression to homage : first, with his eponymous jazz-rock quartet featuring the brilliant guitarist Allan Holdsworth, where staccato, odd-meter melodies met art-rock's focus on dynamically varied arrangements; then, with the jazzier fusion (horns, not guitars, and more open- ended forms) of his first late-'8os Earthworks, where he tapped out rhythm, melody, and harmony on a mostly electronic kit behind young British lions Django Bates and lain Ballamy. Bruford's writing and playing kept their angular tang but relaxed over time, and took a quantum leap on 1997's If Summer Had Its Ghosts, his lyrical chamber-trio date with Palph Towner and Eddie Gomez. "That album," says Bruford, "was an attempt to distance myself from the athleticism of the over-developed fusioneers, to indicate that drums and drummers can have a more thoughtfull and poetic side, that we can paint in watercolors too - à la Paul Motian and Peter Erskine. "
Now, Watts gets co-composer credit for the first time in his career on The Charlie Watts-Jim Keltner Project, which got roiling during downtime in the Los Angeles sessions for the 1997 Stones album, Bridges to Babylon, on which the celebrated session drummer Keltner played percussion. Keltner had made some percussion loops, playing bells, shakers, gongs, pipes, steel shelves, etc., and kept bugging Watts to play kit drums to them. The result finds Watts once again shouting out to his jazz heroes - sort of.
"This is not a jazz album," says Watts, despite the album's track titles - Shelly Manne, Kenny Clarke, Max Roach, Roy Haynes, Billy Higgins, and so on. "This is a dance album. I'd love to have a club hit at my age." It could happen : all of those tracks are industrial-techno-world-beat workouts by a virtual M'Boom, which, thanks largely to Keltner's loops, burst with itchy, twitchy, banging and clanging polyrhythms. These tracks go a long way toward making Project an invigorating, atmospheric, and above all surprising record coming from Watts, an utterly sincere record-collecting freak who spent much of our chat rhapsodizing over the programs he still has from his first Ellington concerts, the way Sonny Greer drove the Blanton-Webster band on 'Ko-Ko,' and Kenny Clarkes magical ride-cymbal sound.
But Keltner's tracks are also rather confounding because you've really got to stretch to hear any sonic connection to their namesakes. With its fat analog synths, the funky Haynes sounds more like Herbie Hancocks Headhunters. Roach is a walloping four-square racket (a drummer friend who knows Max personally says there is a beat here similar to something Max plays, but I sure as hell don't hear it) erupting into a fleet bop-piano trio fade. Clarke is all Middle Eastern snakehips with finger-cymbals, oud, and Arabic violin, not a dropped bomb in sight. (Then again, as Bob Biumenthal wrote in the liner notes of the Savoy LP Kenny Clarke Meets the Detroit Jazzmen, "Clarke may have been the first to "drop bombs", but his session work reveals a percussionist more concerned with establishing a pulse that both band and listener would feel as well as hear.') Hmm, sounds kinda like that ol' groovemeister Watts himself.
In fact, three of the four non- loop tracks actually evoke those whose names they invoke : the mallets-on-toms Afro-ritual tattoos of Art Blakey; the sweet little samba Airto; and the majestic Elvin Suite, which sweeps from a lilting South African lament to a throbbing piano-vamp-with-tribal-toms finale.
But again, I hear only the absence of Tony Williams (which may be the point) in the eerie Tony Williams, wherein Keltner reads Williams' final Modern Drummer interview through a distorting megaphone over minor-key synths and Watts' implacable, heavy-handed stripper beat. Guess I'm being too literal-minded. "You are," says Watts. "The titles came after wed been recording, mainly because Tony Williams had just died. And Jim and I had seen Roy Haynes, Billy Higgins, and Elvin Jones at L.A. jazz clubs, and marveled at how they all play better than ever. So I had these guys in mind while making the album. These tracks are my way of saying that's what you mean to us, and when I told Keltner the titles he agreed with me.
Bill Bruford, on the other hand, has dared to emulate his heroes, treating their classics as repertory. He's recorded his own takes on Max Roach's The Drum Also Waltzes solo (on Flaqs, a 1985 duet album with pianist Patrick Moraz) and Joe Moreflo's solo on Far More Drums from Time Further Out (as Some Other Time on If Summer Had Its Ghosts). With the new edition of Earthworks, Bruford - ever the British Blakey - has tapped three polished and energetic guys half his age from London's jazz-club scene to enter what he calls "the very familiar territory of the all-acoustic, sax-and-piano jazz quartet, where we all know what's been covered, so its a much tougher ballgame to make your mark. The sax-quartet format is very limited, but not limiting. As someone who now spends more than half his time writing, I think I can contribute something to the music - though drummers aren't much taken seriously as writers. As a drummer, when I was young and I knew everything, it was easy to bring Max Roach and Joe Morello into rock drumming. But now I'm older and I know nothing - and I want to work within the established idea of what a jazz drumset does. It feels very right for me to come full circle and pick up the reins of the music I grew up with."
And, while Watts treats jazz as a passionate hobby, Bruford seems intent on making it the logical culmination of his musical odyssey. "After all the electronics with King Crimson and the first Earthworks," he says, I'm very attracted to the warmth of the acoustic kit and seduced by the intimacy and think-on-your-feet aspect of small-group jazz. As terrific a gig as Crimson is for a rock drummer - and there's none better in my book - that band's ominous rumblings daily seem to belong to the past. I really don't know about ever going back to the big amplified RA.- system thing."
The turf covered on A Part is indeed familiar, but also tasty. And Bruford and his new Earthworks - Sanbom- rasped tenor man Patrick Clahar (who's also lemony-fresh on soprano), sparkling pianist Steve Hamilton, and rock-solid bassist Mark Hodgson - traverse it in sleek style, spanked along by the leader's flawless ting-ting-a-ting and towel-snapping rimshots (still popping even on the wooden snare he now uses, which he designed). They burst out of the gate on Bruford/Hanifitons opening No Truce With the Furies in a brisk 11/4, a runaway Trane on the same harmonic track as the classic quartet's Impressions; they close with Bruford's stately, gospelish Dewey-Eyed, Then Dancing, a first cousin to Country from My Song by Keith Jarrett's European quartet with Jan Garbarek. (Bruford has long listed A Love Supreme and My Song among his desert island discs, so these bookends make perfect sense). Along the way, Bruford earns entree to jazz's small circle of composing drummer-leaders, with swaggering post-bop Fines that bob and weave over supple odd meters. Especially noteworthy are the Latin-inflected 5/4 Footloose and Fancy Free, and the impossibly jaunty 17/8 Jeepers Creepers gloss of Curiouser and Curiouser.
There's nothing revolutionary going on here, but this isn't typical head-solo-solo-solo-head stuff either. What sets A Part, well, apart is the rock-distilled way Bruford inflects the idiom. His firm, forward-leaning pulse, the tight solos, and the accent on sharp ensembles and written transitions make it more taut and muscular than typical mainstream fare white still too straight-ahead and fleet-footed for what Bruford dismisses as "hot-tub jazz." It's sort of Brubeck on steroids : light on blues feel, brainy yet swinging, odd-metered but accessible. My friend Lee, who loves Steps Ahead, Mike Stern, the Dregs, and Bruford's past fusion forays, eagerly borrowed the new CD, but frowningly pronounced it "too jazz." Told this, Bruford laughs, "When I was in rock bands I always heard, 'But you sound so jazz.' "Now I'm doing jazz, and I hear 'aren't you that rock guy?' That's what the album title means - you're a part of something, yet somehow apart from it. I like being in that in- between place. I'm glad I don't fit in."
Lacking that self-assurance, Charlie Watts (who calls himself an "adequate" rock drummer!) resorts to evangelical subterfuge. "If kids dance to this record and look at the titles and are moved to learn who people like Roy Haynes and Elvin are, that's what its all about," he says. "That's why I wrote Ode to a High Flying Bird [his 1964 children's book about Charlie Parker]." Which is cool. Yet he dares not make present-tense jazz. Bruford, who likes Watts, feels that jazz is "the highest American art-form, the place where all the interesting developments happen in drumming," has the wherewithal to get in the ring. And he continues to challenge himself. Renowned as he is for diamond-bright percussive clarity, he says, "I need more ambiguity in my drumming and in my writing as well. I want to use less harmony, leave more room for the piano to move." Jazz-wise, Bruford says, this Earthworks (which records anew after a current European tour with Larry Coryell sitting in) has only just begun. "I think we're a world-class outfit right now, but we're still not quite there yet. We need more looseness. This is very hard to put into words; I was going to say 'the sound of people making mistakes,' but that's not it. It has something to do with people being uncomfortable enough to produce at their best. I want to avoid the downside of a good jazz quartet, which is that it can slip very easily into what good jazz quartets do - you know, swing like crazy, solo like crazy, and go home neat and tidy at the end of the night. That's already been done."
Charlie Watts: The Rock
Robert Sandall, Mojo, May 1994
INTERVIEWS WITH CHARLIE WATTS were once memorably described as being "as rare as rocking horse shit". Like many of the jazz players he admires so much, Watts seems to find the whole idea of publicity profoundly uncool. But with the release of a second album by his other group – a jazz band called The Charlie Watts Quintet – just before Christmas, he ventured forth to give a surprisingly forthright account of himself to Radio 4's arts magazine programme, Kaleidoscope.
Just returned from Dublin, where the Stones had finished laying down the backing tracks of their new album, Watts turned up at Broadcasting Moose dressed in an immaculate, double-breasted pinstripe suit, stripy shirt with tabbed collar and tie. He looked like an Edwardian stockbroker and talked rather like he drums – sparingly, with an engaging lack of pretentiousness.
Did you feel unusual as a teenager in liking jazz music rather than rock'n'roll?
No I didn't. It was very fashionable at the time to like The Modern Jazz Quartet. There was a little crowd of us that only listened to jazz. I mean, Elvis was totally out of it. I never liked Elvis until I met Keith Richards, who turned me onto Elvis, actually. The only rock'n'roll player I ever liked when I was young was Fats Domino.
What didn't you like about the rest?
I just thought it was the naffest thing you could do. I mean, teddy boys, rock'n'roll and that. The hippest thing to me was the green shirt, and Miles.
How did you get into jazz?
I never got into it. I heard it. (laughs) I heard Charlie Parker playing and that's what I liked. And I loved the stories. Parker is the classic one. You know, to be that brilliant and self-destructive. There was something terribly glamorous to me about being like that. It's really the genius of it all.
And why the drums?
The drums. I heard Chico Hamilton play on a record called ‘Walking Shoes’, and I had a banjo, took the neck oft it and started playing the banjo skin with a pair of brushes. Then my dad bought me a set of drums.
Did you plan to make a career of it?
No. (pause) I couldn't be bothered to learn. I was more interested in what suit I'd wear, and what the band looked like. I used to go to dance halls when I was 17 and watch the drummer playing with all the saxophones in front, with their silver glittery keys. I hated those dance orchestras, but I loved the look of it all.
How did you get up on stage in the first place?
I was asked to! What do you mean, how did I? (laughs) My earliest experience was with a skiffle group at the Wimbledon Palais. It was in the days when you'd have a band-leader like Lou Prager at one end, another band at the other, and we'd be playing across the room. And there'd be another skiffle group there as well. You had about five minutes to play three numbers, then Lou would be back on.
Was going to art college a formative musical experience for you?
Not really, cos I only went there for a little while. But because of my wife, Shirley, who's a sculptor, I did get close to a lot of art students. The guy who used to play bass with Alexis [Korner], Andy Hooper, was a friend of my wife. That's how I met her. She was at Hornsey at the time, then at the Royal College of Art. The first time I heard Bo Diddley was through the guys from Hornsey. They were always the first to get these wonderful imports. I used to go with them to parties where there'd be this music that nobody played: Jimmy McGriff, old Sue recordings. They always played good music.
So you liked the more obscure R&B?
Yeah. I never liked what's called popular music really. Except Frank Sinatra.
How did you meet Alexis Korner?
I played with him in a coffee bar, the Troubadour in Earls Court, where I also met Ginger Baker. There was a little crowd of us who used to play in a band that was a straight nick of the Thelonious Monk group, and Alexis used to sit in. Six months later I was in Denmark working in advertising and I got a call from Alexis saying he wanted me to come back to start this band, which was a very flattering thing for him to do, though I thought nothing of it at the time. It was just another band. Later on, The Rolling Stones was just another band. Though Alexis was a marvelous leader, a great band leader, really. He wasn't a very good guitar player or singer but he had great ears, terrific taste in players, and he always chose the best (pause), and I don't mean me. He would have Ginger Baker, Graham Bond. All his bands had great musicians, whether they were five years old or 55.
Did you have the same regard for the Stones as musicians?
Well I didn't have regard for many people back then, I don't think. It was all a hotch-potch. Because Mick had played with Alexis, we used to play at a place in Ealing where Brian and Keith would sit in. And I knew Brian long before I joined The Rolling Stones. I knew him through Alexis, and this friend of mine who used to sing with him. There was like a crowd of about 30 people that were all playing, and whichever five you shuffled out with that week, that was the band. It could be someone's brother. I used to play in a band with Ronnie Wood's brother, Art.
How by this process of musical chairs did you end up on the drumstool for The Rolling Stones?
Because the Stones just carried on with playing. And somehow I liked being with them.
Yeah. I moved into Edith Grove, notorious Edith Grove. It was Mick's apartment. In fact he paid the rent, but three of us lived there off his back (laughs), being Keith, Brian and me. I learned to listen to the blues more when I was staying there with Keith and Brian, because that's what we used to do all day, listen to Jimmy Reed and Chuck Berry. And then we'd go out and play in the evening. I learned how good the drummer with Jimmy Reed was, Earl Phillips. He's a very, very subtle drummer actually, although it sounds like crashing and banging.
You don't seem to have participated all that much in the rock'n'roll lifestyle of the Stones in those early days.
No. I wasn't interested in it. I'm still not particularly interested in it.
Did that put a strain on your relations with the others?
No, I don't think so. I don't think they took much notice of it. What I liked was such a minority thing. It's difficult...I can't...No, you know, I mean I was more...I was more interested in Stravinsky than I was in Elvis Presley. I was much more thrilled at seeing Charlie Mingus than whoever. When I'd go to a town I'd find out who was playing and if it was Illinois Jacquet, you know, or Ornette Coleman, I'd go and see them rather than Herman & The Hermits.
And did all those screaming girls spoil the enjoyment of playing for you?
No, it's wonderful on stage. The minute the curtains closed I used to hate it. The screaming girls used to embarrass me, actually. I didn't mind being chased as a group, but on my own I could never see that sort of side of it. But on stage, it was fantastic. All I can remember about that era was being in America somewhere and just seeing the whole balcony moving up and down with girls screaming over it. That was fantastic. Couldn't hear a bloody thing.
What was your input into the Stones' music?
I've got no idea. I mean, I'm the drummer, you know, and the idea of a drummer is to help get this thing together in the best way possible. It's still like that. We'll start something and I'll play, and it's usually miles too much, because it's an exercise for me, and Mick'll say, "Ooh, do you think that's too...?" You know, there's too much there. That's the problem with most jazz drummers, if they play a rock'n'roll thing they'll be all over the bloody place. They've got so much facility they don't know where to stop. Mick and Keith write the songs, the music is theirs. So the bottom line is, if they want me just to go wham wham wham, then that's what I'll do. I think it should be whammity whammity bam, but I'll do wham wham wham.
I'm sure you're being very self-effacing here, because Keith Richards has said...
I know what Keith Richards said...
That you are one of the three pillars of The Rolling Stones, and that without you there would be no group. What do you think he means?
I dunno. I mean, I've just spent six months playing with him, and the last six weeks concentrated in a studio, and we can play certain things really well, extremely well, without even looking at each other. Or he'll do something, I can look and nod and...I don't know if that's something we worked out 30 years ago, or something we've spent 30 years practising.
Which Stones albums do you look back on with particular affection?
Gawd. I dunno (pause, sucks breath). This one we've just done is gonna be a good album, actually. It certainly seems it.
Any memorable concerts?
Good Lord! (pause) I dunno. I suppose playing at the Athletic Club in Richmond. And I can remember Altamont very well. It was awful, a very strange day. We were there all day, flying in by helicopter and that. That was all wrong (laughs). The hippies and the '70s was never me. I thought it was the silliest period. They used to give me a scarf to wear at photo-shoots... Altamont went wrong for a series of reasons. The security went completely berserk. The violence was actually happening long before we went on stage. It started backstage in the tent. I was talking to a couple of guys. The tent flap was moving and one of them just went whack! with his billiard cue. And I thought, that's no way to spread love and peace. And then we went on, marching through a crowd of boys and girls. Hundreds of them on the ground, dreamily looking up. And the path was cleared, just like the Third Reich coming through. Which wasn't us at all.
Did you feel that the Stones embodied the dark side of the '60s, as was often said?
Nah. Only at Altamont, a bit. That was just Mick writing songs like ‘Sympathy For The Devil’. It was very silly.
How do you take to life on the road?
It's a strain. Because I like to be in my home, with my wife. Shirley visits. She used to travel with us when it started but it never worked. She doesn't find it much fun being around me when I'm playing. Just being around The Rolling Stones you get pushed into the background. I would be, except I'm a drummer, and I'm needed onstage. Something funny happens to people when that name appears.
Do you change?
I don't think I do. But people on the road live in a funny netherland, where everything's done for you, and when somebody like your wife arrives from home into this ridiculous world (pause), Mick's very wary of that.
How were you affected by the period in the late '70s when Keith had his drug problems, and there was all that friction with Mick? Did you play the role of peacemaker?
I have no idea. I mean, I probably have as many rows with Mick and Keith as they do with each other. (pause) No, not as many. I don't argue that much. There's not much for me to argue about really.
Is Keith the one in the band you're closest to, socially?
No, I don't think so. I suppose Mick is, now that Keith's living in America. I'm going to see Mick on Thursday. But we've never been that sociable as a group. It's quite normal for us not to speak to each other for six months. Keith very rarely answers the phone, and he never rings anybody up. Of course, Ronnie Wood you can always see. He's the most sociable person in the world.
What do you do at home in Devon?
Walk around. I don't do anything really. My wife's the one who does things.
Do you practise the drums?
I used to do one or two hours a day, but to sit on your own and just play the drums is the most thing, you know. It's an accompanying instrument. The best drumming for me isn't solo drumming, it's accompanying drumming. Which is also the hardest to do, you know. It taxes the volumes, and everything that you learn.
Hence "Charlie's good tonight, inee?"
Yeah, that was very kind of him. Mick's not known for his compliments.
You talk as though you have quite a casual relationship with the instrument that's provided the mainstay of your life.
It's not meant to be (pause). I have total reverence for it. As an instrument it frightens the life out of me.
The volume of them. Just acoustically. I never sit down and just play. I always sit down and think about it, and then play. They are an incredible thing to play, but it can be quite frightening.
You're very restrained as a drummer.
Lack of ability. A very clever way of putting it, isn't it? 'You're very restrained as a writer,' – 'Yes, I do Christmas cards.' I mean, I've turned it into an art form. It's called taste. But a lot of it is lack of ability. Plus the other thing – I can't count.
What keeps you still doing it?
Keith would say "What else are you going to do?" I don't know what keeps them doing it, bloody hell. I suppose they like doing it. I mean, I do. I probably enjoy it more now. I can see what I'm doing now in a way. I'm more relaxed with it. And I would like to say that I wouldn't want to play with anybody else but The Rolling Stones. I enjoy being with them and playing with them immensely. Immensely. Always have done. I find the bullshit around (pause) popular music, shall we call it? You get annoyed about that. The fact that everything is so disposable.
Do you have any unrealised ambitions?
No. (pause) I'm a drummer. I wish I'd been a better one. I mean, it's just rubbish, people saying how great you are and all you've done is pick your pair of drumsticks up. It's very nice, but it's a load of old rubbish really. And you know there's 29 people around you being paid to look after you. (pause) Terrible life eh?
Any further thoughts on that career summary you gave: "Five years of playing and 20 years of hanging about?"
It's six years of playing and 30 years of hanging about, coming up.