Flown But Not Forgotten

Charlie Watts’ side hustle . . .and true love.

I’ve got lots of pictures of me and various Rolling Stones. Mick, Keith, Ronnie, Bill. Not a single one of me and Charlie. The drummer was seldom involved – and reluctant when arm-twisted – in the massive pre-tour hype machine which cranked up every time a new release dropped. But when he released one of his many jazz-oriented side projects, he stepped forward to promote it. The one he talked to me about was his tribute to Charlie “Bird” Parker.

“At the age of thirteen, Charlie Watts wanted to be Charlie Parker’s drummer. Still does,” writes Nick Coleman in the CD and book, boxed in 1991 as “From One Charlie.” Five years after Bird died in 1955, 19-year-old Watts wrote and illustrated “Ode to a High Flying Bird.” The drawings and handwritten text were seen as an exercise for what Watts was hoping would be his career in graphic design. In 1964, the little book was first published to capitalize on Charlie’s “success in another popular combo,” as the notes put it.

Watts collaborated with Peter King, a London alto sax player of renown, on 5 original songs in a Parker vein and 2 of Bird’s originals. Three other players rounded out this Charlie Watts Quintet. Charlie came to New York to promote the US release and CNN sent me to interview him.

I had a somewhat shallow but workable knowledge of jazz and its history and hoped I would do justice to the topic. I don’t think I got anything egregiously wrong in the interview and the taped package; my executive producer was more of a jazzbo than I and he would have flagged anything stupid.

Charlie was a delight to talk with. A right proper Englishman in New York, filled with respect for the music he made no secret he held in higher regard than his day job.

Charlie autographed the flyleaf of his book, which came, quaintly, with a sticker reading “Seven Shillings.”

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