Just about everyone considers Charlie Watts to be the coolest man in rock, but he would be just as happy to be considered one of the coolest men in jazz.
Bringing the sensibilities of a jazz drummer to rock music has always been at the heart of what has made Charlie Watts one of the most respected musicians in the world.
Charles Robert Watts was born on Monday 2 June 1941 at University College Hospital in London and then went to live in Kingsbury, an area of Wembley, but with his father away in the Royal Air Force on wartime duties and his mother working he would often spend time with his grandmother who lived near Kings Cross Station in central London, It was when he was around ten years old that Charlie discovered jazz, and Miles Davis and John Coltrane in particular. It was soon after this that he began to explore the idea of becoming a drummer when he converted an old banjo, with a skin covering, into a snare drum. Charlie had no formal lessons and credits being able to watch great jazz drummers in London’s jazz clubs as being the people that taught him how to play drums, properly.
Leaving school in 1957 Charlie went to Harrow School of Art and in 1960 he got a job as a graphic artist with an advertising agency in London. A year later he combined his love of art and jazz by writing a book about Charlie Parker that he called, Ode to a High-Flying Bird, that was eventually published in 1965.
In the evening, while working in the advertising agency, Charlie played drums with a variety of groups including Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, a band that Mick Jagger sang with a couple of times. As the fledgling Rolling Stones were coming together to practice they tried to persuade Charlie to become their drummer, but he sensibly stayed with his paying gigs with more established bands. Eventually in early January 1963 Charlie relented, the Stones were finally earning some money and he played his first gig with the band on 12 January at the Ealing Blues Club with the six piece band that included pianist Ian Stewart, bass player Bill Wyman and guitarist Brian Jones.
Away from the Rolling Stones Charlie has found the time to continue to play jazz – he considers jazz to be his principal recreation – with a number of different groups, including a 32-piece band – the Charlie Watts Orchestra as well as working with Ian Stewart in the band Rocket 88 during the 1980s. In the 1990s the Charlie Watts Quintet released several albums, including a tribute to Charlie Parker. Come 2004 and the quintet and expanded to become, Charlie Watts and the Tentet that both recorded and played live.
Throughout the band’s recording career and live performances Charlie has been rock solid and despite resigning after every tour since 1969 Charlie continues to be the heartbeat of the Rolling Stones, and not just when he’s perched on the drum stool. Everyone respect him for his quiet and polite approach to the business of being a member of one of the most successful bands in history. As a jazzman he understands the power of collaboration, never seeking the limelight he swings and always provides the Rolling Stones with the rock solid foundation.