Len Trievnor, Getty Images Looks like former Rolling Stones guitarist Mick…
Charlie Watts Q&A: While Rolling Stones Are Idle, Drummer Focuses on Jazz Band and Playing Small Clubs
- Posted on Jul 3rd 2012 3:00PM by Dan Reilly
Backing two piano players, Axel Zwingenberger and Ben Waters, Watts is also playing alongside his best, bassist Dave Green, who he's known since they were just 5. Soft-spoken and seemingly disinterested in all the hoopla surrounding his other band, Watts recently sat down with Spinner at his Manhattan hotel to discuss the project, his love of the genre and how it's different than rocking stadiums with the Stones.
How is prep going for this run of shows?
We don't do preparation.
No [laughs]. We don't rehearse or anything.
Why is that?
Because it's, well, we never have done. We just do sound checks.
How long have you been plotting these shows?
Not very long. This isn't my band. I was asked if I'd play with them about three years ago, and since I wasn't doing anything with the Stones, I said yes and we do little bits because the three other people in the band work pretty constantly, so it has to fit in. We all have to agree because of logistics.
About 5. He lived next door to me, so really our mum and dads were close before we ... They were neighbors.
Did he grow up loving jazz in the same way you did?
He learned to play on, he made a bass and I made a drum out of a banjo. We played skiffle stuff and we were about the age of 12 or 13 when we started playing records.
To what do you attribute that longstanding friendship? Sixty five years is pretty incredible.
Well, I attribute it to the fact that, well, he's a lovely man and also to the fact that he's a bass player and I'm a drummer, so if I get my bands together, my own personal things that I do outside the Rolling Stones, I ask Dave to play in them. I mean, he's one of the best bass players in Europe. He has been for many years.
This style of boogie boogie with the two pianos, how do you approach it as opposed to playing with the Stones?
Well, this is playing in a jazz group. They're two acoustic grand pianos so you can't go too heavy over the top of them, and you have David is an acoustic bass player, so it's a bit more swing. But it's the same -- you play the same thing, you play a backbeat or something. It's just really that volumes are different. If you're playing in a stadium with a rock band, volumes have to be slightly higher and much more constant. You can drop levels when you're playing with these guys, and you have to because it'll be one piano then suddenly there's two and then it's a bass solo. It's just listening, really.
The same kind of interaction as you'd have with the Stones?
Yeah. It's very conversational.
How does it feel to play in such small rooms?
Well, you can hear yourself. It's very acoustic, a very natural thing.
Is that a nice change of pace?
Yeah. You're supposed to be a professional musician so you're supposed to be able to play everywhere, but I always prefer a club or ballroom.
With the time off you've had from the Stones, have you thought about taking this out on the road more?
We do go on the road, but it depends whether everyone's free. We played for three years before this record came out, and the record is just a recording of a night at a club in Paris. We did five of them and they just recorded every night. Not to be recorded, but that's what they did. You can't do anything with it. That's what it is. You can't bring the drums up or down -- that's the level. It's almost what came over the P.A. So it's virtually one evening, one set, but with some changes for another day because Axel didn't like something and Ben didn't like the singing of one song.
Who came up with the ABC and D name?
I don't know. It just came out. You have to have something to put on the ticket and it just so happened Axel, Ben, Charlie and Dave, so it worked out, really.
I've read you don't like doing drum solos. Has that changed at all?
No, I can't do them, really. I get fed up halfway through attempting to do one, so I don't really do it. But I love hearing other people doing them, certain other people. I'm more interested in drums as an accompaniment thing. I've always been like that. When I was young, a lot of the records when I was young I used to like were really more about the rhythm section than a drum solo.
Do you enjoy being away from the loudness?
No. It's whatever band you're in, that's what you're in. This is an unusual band. You never see, in this day and age, bands without electric guitars, without electric bass and bands with two grand pianos, and that's the lineup: Two pianos, drums and acoustic bass.
Herbie Hancock recently put on a jazz concert at the United Nations, and one of the big themes was that the genre is being lost on younger generations. What do you think of that?
It's true all over the world. At one time, I suppose 30 years ago, I used to come to New York and I used to get the New Yorker and there's a list of people playing. Mind you, I must admit I knew who they were and now I don't know a lot of the names, but there aren't that many clubs like there used to be. They call sort of dinnertime piano a jazz thing, and I suppose it kind of is, but it's not like Bill Evans at the Vanguard. The Vanguard is still going, thank goodness. When I was a young man, jazz was the thing.
It was pop music.
Yeah, it was very popular and all the players were jazz players. They might play with the Beatles at one time but they were jazz players. Now it's all mixed up. It's one music, really. When I was young, it was basically American and now it's world, which is a good thing. There are stronger players in Europe as there are in America. It's open, it's much more open with this thing you're doing online and all that. When David and I were young and learning to play, we used to go to record stores and we'd cherish things that you kept for years. I still have some of them, either a 78, 45 or whatever. Now it's all on an iPhone, whatever it's called. I don't have one. It's a different thing. It's much more throwaway. It was much more precious. Learning who's playing on records was a big thing when we were young, learning the bass player or the engineer. It was like a serious thing. Now you wouldn't know who's on it. It's probably a machine anyway.
Record shopping is coming back. I still love going out and finding stuff in stores.
That is coming back, but there isn't, it doesn't matter on records on anymore whereas at one time it was quite a feature to know who was on what.