Charlie Watts’ book, which he wrote and illustrated in 1961. The story of a little bird, but it’s really about jazz great Charlie Parker. In 1961, twenty-year-old Charles Robert Watts was working as a full-time graphic designer and a part-time drummer. He had left art school in July 1960, and after working as a tea boy in an advertising agency he got his chance to work as a designer. In mid-1961 he was also playing drums twice a week in a coffee bar, but by September he was playing with a band at the Troubadour Club in Chelsea.
It’s here he met Alexis Korner who asked him to join his band, but young Charlie had other ideas: he moved to Denmark to work. It was while he was at art school that he wrote and illustrated a book he called, Ode To A High Flying Bird, the bird being Charlie Parker, the jazz saxophonist who Charlie loved so much. When Charlie became a member of the Stones in January 1963 his jazz drumming took a back seat, but not his passion for the music, which he has loved and played ever since whenever his commitments with the Stones allowed. The book was issued again 30 years later as part of the FROM ONE CHARLIE boxset.
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Charlie Watts (2 June 1941 – 24 August 2021) left behind not just a catalogue of great music and performances but a book, too. The trained graphic designer and musician best known as the drummer with The Rolling Stones loved jazz. In 1960, he wrote and illustrated a children’s book, a tribute to Charlie Parker called Ode to a Highflying Bird.
The book begins:
“Frustrated with what life had to offer him in his hometown, he packed his whistle, pecked his ma goodbye and flew from his nest in Kansas City bound for New York.”
Watts started out playing the banjo, but not keen on the design (“I didn’t like the dots on the neck”), and inspired by Gerry Mulligan’s drummer Chico Hamilton, he put his banjo head on a stand and used it as a snare drum. Watts’s parents gave him his first proper drum kit in 1955, and he practised drumming along to the jazz records he collected.
He enrolled at Harrow Art School in London (now the Harrow campus of the University of Westminster), which he attended until 1960, before working as a graphic designer for an advertising company. After work, he played drums with local bands in coffee shops, joining a jazz band in Middlesex called the Jo Jones All Stars. Watts initially found the transition to rhythm and blues puzzling: “I went into rhythm and blues. When they asked me to play, I didn’t know what it was. I thought it meant Charlie Parker, played slow.”
In 1961, Watts met Alexis Korner, who invited him to join his band, Blues Incorporated. Watts opted instead to continue working as a graphic designer in Denmark, but accepted Korner’s offer when he returned to London in February 1962. After meeting Brian Jones, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards a few months later, in January 1963, he agreed to join The Rolling Stones. His first public appearance as a permanent member was at the Ealing Jazz Club on 2 February 1963.
As his star rose, so did interest in his book. As Watts recalled, “This guy who published Rolling Stones Monthly saw my book and said ‘Ah, there’s a few bob in this!’”
The book was published by London’s Beat Publications on January 17, 1965, and cost 7 shillings.
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