Performance: Charlie Watts Pays the Tunes of Charlie Parker

The Stones drummer pays homage to his be-bop hero

Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones
Paul Natkin/WireImage
September 3, 1992

The Blue Note
New York City
July 14th, 1992

What do rock stars do on their years off? If you're Charlie Watts, the imperishable and imperturbable drummer for the Rolling Stones, you take sentimental journeys basking in the sounds that turned you on as a youth. In Watts's case that music is vintage be-bop, the music of Charlie Parker. Blessed with taste and the clout to indulge himself, Watts has turned his obsession into a reality redolent with elegance and care.

As all devoted Stones fans know, Watts's open love affair with Parker goes back to 1960, when he wrote and illustrated a children's tale, Ode to a High Flying Bird, based on Parker's life. At the Blue Note – a week-long first stop on a short U.S. tour – Watts used Ode as a theatrical framing device to present his British bop quintet. Before each tune, Bernard Fowler (a Steel Wheels-tour backup singer) read briefly from Watts's book; the band, augmented by a string section, would then kick into a Parker classic or a Parker-style original from its recently released live album A Tribute to Charlie Parker . . . With Strings.

With Peter King's cool-toned alto solos, Gerard Presencer's mercurial trumpet flights and the sturdy walking of bassist Dave Green, the quintet built up a hardy force leavened by the lush string ensemble and Fowler's two soul-inspired vocals. Watts himself was as self-effacing as usual, but his uncluttered percussive style hasn't quite made the transition back to jazz so cleanly. Neither clumsy nor lumbering, Watts nevertheless sounded like a Forties-swing drummer just getting the hang of the new doctrines of bop. Give him time, though; Watts has about two more years to work on his chops before he has to get back to his day job.

This story is from the September 3rd, 1992 issue of Rolling Stone.

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