Enjoying A New Venture For Drum Great Charlie Watts
Virtually every serious music fan knows that great Gretsch drummer Charlie Watts has been the rhythmic foundation of the Rolling Stones for almost fifty years. But those fans may not know that while Charlie’s drumming anchors “The World’s Greatest Rock ‘N’ Roll Band,” his talents shine in other musical genres. In past years he’s led his own jazz groups, including a critically acclaimed big band. And this year he’s joined forces with German pianist Axel Zwingenberger to tour in a unique group dubbed The ABC&D of Boogie Woogie.
Alex Zwingenberger is the key figure of the boogie woogie revival. Labeled by British critics as “Boogiemeister of the world,” he’s the “A” in the group’s name. Charlie Watts is the “C.” The “B” is British pianist Ben Waters, while the “D” is bassist Dave Green. Together the band toured Europe during the month of March. They played several dates in Germany and in Austria, along with a memorable show at London’s Pizza Express Soho.
Boogie woogie music has been fascinating audiences with its youthful freshness for more than 100 years, making it uniquely appealing to new generations of enthusiastic musicians. But there’s more to it than that: Boogie woogie is one of the most important roots of modern popular music—especially rock ‘n’ roll. Charlie Watts himself has mentioned boogie woogie as a foundation of the Rolling Stones’ music. Dinah and I had the great pleasure of visiting with Charlie and the band prior to one of their late March performances in Vienna Austria. We chatted with Charlie about the 125th Anniversary Gretsch poster, and we had a good time looking at old Gretsch photos and catalogs dating back to 1912. Charlie then mentioned that he planned to call noted vintage drum dealer Steve Maxwell to arrange for a loaner Gretsch kit for the ABC&D Of Boogie Woogie’s New York City dates this coming June.
Drum enthusiasts may be interested to know that over and above all of his remarkable playing credits, Charlie is an avid drum collector. Among the interesting drums he owns are a Gretsch Birdland kit, an original Mel Lewis kit in burgundy sparkle, and a black kit similar to the early setup used by Tony Williams.
We showed the members of the band the roster for the Savannah Music Festival, which ran from March 20 to 27. Gretsch provides drums for the three-week program that showcases 100 world-class musical acts. The guys knew many of the performers either from personal experience or by reputation. Unfortunately, Charlie can’t book a year ahead for a gig like that due to the priority held by the Stones 50th Anniversary year—which will certainly include many special performances.
When The ABC&D of Boogie Woogie played in London, Times critic Clive Davis raved, “Jazz lover Charlie Watts looked more than happy to be sandwiched between the pianos of his old friend (and German boogiemeister) Axel Zwingenberger and our own Ben Waters. Watts has rightly won praise for his previous forays into bebop, but the visceral roar of a boogie-woogie riff is even more intoxicating.”
When we saw the band play at the Weiner Metropole in Vienna, the club was literally packed with boogie woogie fans. Piano players Alex and Ben performed on black Bösendorfer grands, whose size frankly overwhelmed the drumkit and the stand-up bass. Bösendorfer pianos have been hand-crafted in Vienna for over 250 years. Dave Green on stand up bass rounds out the quartet.
Vienna offers many other examples of musical history. The city is packed with concert venues and museums. The New Burg Museum currently features an exhibition of historic musical instruments—including drums that are hundreds of years old, as well as guitars made by noted 19th-century Viennese craftsman Johann Stauffer. In the early 1800s Stauffer had a young German apprentice by the name of Christian Friederich Martin. In 1833 Martin emigrated to America. He made guitars for six years in New York City before finally settling in Nazareth, Pennsylvania—where he established what we know today as the CF Martin guitar company.
In addition to playing on the ABC&D of Boogie Woogie’s live tour, Charlie Watts has also recorded with Alex Zwingenberger and Dave Green on a terrific album titled The Magic of Boogie Woogie. It features a mix of spontaneously created numbers and boogie classics, and the three talented musicians express the swinging magic of blues and boogie woogie in full glory. It’s also the first time that Charlie Watts’ drum artistry is featured in such an intimate setting. More information about the album—as well as some great musical clips—is available here.
The ABC&D of Boogie Woogie will be in New York and performing at the Lincoln Center and the Iridium Jazz Club from June 28 through July 2. Check their tour schedule here.