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Happy birthday, Charlie Watts

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Today marks the 73rd birthday of the most important member of the Rolling Stones: Charlie Watts.
True, while Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have been the band’s focal points in the four-plus decades since Brian Jones died, Watts has remained its musical heart. Pop historians credit much of the group’s signature sound to Watts’ spare, jazz-influenced drumming. Jagger and Richards themselves have commented in print that Watts is the only Stone who cannot be replaced.
I have always admired Watts’ musicianship, to be sure, but also his public persona, which seems infinitely more grounded in serious erudition and intensity than the Glimmer Twins’ flash and excess. It should come as no surprise to learn that jazz not rock is Watts’ prime musical focus.
Watts was raised on jazz and has found a variety of ways to pursue it both within and without the Stones. Initially a commercial artist, Watts published a cartoon tribute to Charlie Parker in 1964, “Ode to a High Flying Bird."
In the late ‘70s, he collaborated with Stones keyboardist Ian Stewart in the boogie-woogie band Rocket 88 and has gone on to release a handful of discs with the Charlie Watts Quintet, including the Parker encomiums “From One Charlie” (1991) and “Tribute to Charlie Parker with Strings" (1992). Other efforts include “Warm & Tender” (1993), “Long Ago and Far Away” (1994) and “Watts at Scott’s" (2004). In the July 2006 issue of Modern Drummer, Watts was voted into the magazine’s Hall of Fame, along with the likes of Buddy Rich.
Watts’ current project is the A B C and D of Boogie Woogie featuring Axel Zwingenberger (piano), Ben Waters (piano) and Dave Green (bass). While the Stones’ gig provides the paychecks, his heart is with jazz.
As the drummer said in 2010, “Jazz is my passion. This is the music that I really want to do.”

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