All the tributes to Charlie Watts have mentioned that jazz, particularly the bebop and hard bop styles, was Watts’ first love. Although he was totally committed to his role with The Rolling Stones, it seems he loved to play with the occasional jazz groups he formed, the big band, the quintet that paid tribute to Charlie Parker, and a tentet.
I have a strong memory of seeing the Charlie Watts Big Band at the Bracknell Jazz Festival back in the 1980s. The band had a large number of the top jazz players of that period: Bobby Wellins, Alan Skidmore, Pete King, Don Weller and Evan Parker were in the horn section, and they were joined in it by a very young Courtney Pine, who was just beginning to make his name. My strongest memory is of how Evan and Courtney seemed to be jousting with each other in their solos, and that this raised the intensity of the music in a very exciting way. Also memorable was presence of three drummers, Bill Eyden providing the swing, John Stevens adding an element of free playing, and Charlie Watts sitting between them playing with a broad smile on his face. I’m told that Pete King, the manager at Ronnie Scotts rather than the alto saxophonist, when asked what he thought of the band, said he thought it needed a fourth drummer!
I was also present at a Jazz FM Awards Ceremony where the Stones were presented with Lifetime Achievement Awards. Both Mick Jagger and Charlie were present, and I remember Jagger mentioning in his acceptance speech on behalf of the band, that they were delighted to get this recognition from JazzFM as early in their career they totally failed to get gigs from jazz clubs.