|A Modest Man With a Drumming History
Published: 11 - 10 - 2001 , Late Edition - Final , Section A , Column 1 , Page 19 NEW YORK TIMES
By BEN RATLIFF
Charlie Watts, the 60-year-old drummer for the Rolling Stones an organization with long off-seasons and unending profits -- could be in the sitting-room of his Devon farmhouse right now, taking tea and cogitating on names for the foals of his Arabian horses. Instead, he has been getting his hands dirty as a jazz drummer, leading a 10-piece band through nightclub gigs.
After a number of performances in Japan, he brought the band into the Blue Note last Tuesday for a six-day stay. It's led, in nuts-and-bolts sense, by the alto saxophonist Peter King, with arrangements written by the trumpeter Gerard Presencer, the saxophonist Alan Barnes and others -- some of the best players in England, most of them along the more traditional axis of swing and bop.
Mr. Watts took the unusual tactic of opening with a slow ballad, Ellington's ''Sunset and the Mockingbird,'' which became a soloing vehicle for the baritone saxophonist Alan Barnes. This was followed by a Miles Davis bebop tune, and then the set got away from the canon. ''Chasing Reality,'' by Mr. Presencer, was a funk tune with blaring horn-section interjections, and the saxophonist Julian ArguŽlles improvised on it heatedly, playing soprano, straining the tune's harmony and going dissonant; ''Faction'' was soundtrackish, a mixture of hard bop and Henry Mancini.
Mr. Watts is as modest as can be. He waited until nearly the end to introduce the musicians; while he was presenting the bassist Dave Green, touchingly, as ''my childhood friend,'' Keith Richards, sitting at a table with a retinue, a poodle and an ever-lighted cigarette, heckled in mock surprise, ''You have one?''
Another sign of his modesty was that the band's two longest pieces were homages to drummers: one a samba-soul groove dedicated to Airto Moreira, and the other dedicated to Elvin Jones.
Mr. Watts can swing, especially when he's riding a medium-tempo song on the cymbals. He added bebop accents with snare and bass drum -- again, modestly -- and sometimes the flow became clotted when he took his attention away from the ride cymbal.
He's an idiomatic jazz drummer: there's not a lot of homegrown ingenuity in his style. But it was without doubt that he was extremely happy as he worked.