Although Stewart Copeland brought a jazz-flavored swing to The Police, he would never have classed himself as a jazz drummer. Indeed, to do so was an arrogance he had little time for. “I think it’s hysterical that both Ginger Baker and Charlie Watts called themselves jazz drummers,” he chuckled in an interview with Far Out. “They were ‘Rock Gods’. Saying ‘I’m a jazz drummer, not a rock drummer’ is the equivalent of saying, ‘I have classical training’. But we all have these moments. I mean, I’m an opera writer!”
Well, Copeland might not think that, but by my ears, Charlie Watts – Anthology shows a man who missed his true calling as a jazz player for something more immediate with rock and roll. Just listen to the way he rattles through “Swindon Swing”, all cymbal patterns and hi-hats, decorated by a collection of saxophones and pianos blaring away with all their might.
Watts sounds steady, batting away across the instruments, leading the way by swishing and swaying as only a collected jazz session player can. Purportedly the first collation of jazz instrumentals that hung in his archives, the collection exhibits an impressive portrait of a musician who could roll outside of The Stones.
Double bass stalwart Dave Green features on some of the tracks, as does Jim Keltner, a drummer who played alongside Ringo Starr on the Beatle’s solo catalog. Watts died in 2021, which is more the pity when you consider the power of the drums. The compilation boasts deep cuts from From One Charlie (1991), A Tribute to Charlie Parker with Strings (1992), Warm and Tender (1993), Long Ago and Far Away (1996), and Charlie Watts – Jim Keltner Project (2000).”Flying Home” was recorded live at Fulham Town Hall, London in 1986, offering a sharp contrast to the processed pop tunes of the era. (There’s nary an electronic drum played here: Watts was too fastidious to flirt with such clap-trap.)
“Perdido (Live at Ronnie Scott’s, Birmingham, 1991)” boasts some of Watts’ most animal-like playing, complete with an impressive back pedal performance that helps support the theory that Watts was The Rolling Stones’ most essential member. And then there’s “If I Should Lose You”, which exposes a more sincere and tender side to the percussionist.
“Elvin Suite” tests radio time with a protracted length of 12 minutes, which was strange considering that Watts prioritized the notes he didn’t play over the ones he did, but the rest of the compilation remains in the frame of radio mainstay. The music ebbs and flows, but never at the expense of the percussion, which holds its percussive head high.
If the album can claim a standout, then “Roll ‘Em Charlie” is the one. Granted the opportunity to freestyle, Watts spends much of the composition playing beside the throbbing double bass and flickering piano, before propelling into the kit and unleashing a ferocious backbeat that recalls the works of Fela Kuti favorite Tony Allen.
One suspects that Watts would have happily played in this orbit forever, and although he felt a kinship with The Rolling Stones – he enjoyed an infectious rapport with Jagger and a deep friendship with Richards – Charlie Watts – Anthology shows a side to the percussionist that’s arguably more authentic and more impressive. I’m sorry Mr.Copeland: Charlie Watts sounds like a jazz drummer to me.
Photo: Charlie Watts (Getty)