Recorded live at the Danish Radio Concert Hall, Copenhagen in 2010.
It is a little known fact that Charlie Watts lived for a few months in Denmark in the early 1960's. This was in the early days of the Stones and at the time the band were not an established entity, so Charlie was still working a day job, which led him to employment in Denmark for a few months. In his time there, he hung out on the Jazz and Blues scene, sitting in with various bands and keeping his passion for music alive whilst earning a wage during the day. Having played with Charlie for many years, perhaps unsurprisingly I did not really know too much about his time in DK, as within his various groups, we have talked almost solely about obscure Jazz recordings and great forgotten Jazz musicians. I landed a job with Danish Radio Big Band in 2009.
A week or two after arriving in Copenhagen I got a call from Charlie. It was during this call that he told me about his time in Denmark. Later the idea dawned upon me for a return to his Jazz days over here after nearly 50 years, so I spoke with his manager, Sherry Daly and my boss at the Danish Radio Big Band and went about putting this live project together. We agreed upon a week in Copenhagen in October 2010. The project was to rehearse for 4 days, then play a concert on the fifth day in the newly opened National Concert Hall of Denmark in Copenhagen. This concert was recorded for broadcast by Danish National Radio. Lars, the big band's road manager chaperoned Charlie and his long time bassist Dave Green around the city for the week.
They went to record shops and strolled around the city, with no need for security guards. Dave and Charlie are very much team players. Charlie made it clear to me that he did not want to be on a big riser above the band as had been anticipated by all of us, as he found that this did not help the musicians to bond. He wanted to be positioned in the middle of us. I later found out that he also insists on this for stadium gigs.
It was evident to all how excited and committed our guests were to this project and their good feeling quickly spread through the band. I have seen the good vibes from these two many times over the years. They play music with joy and a strong sense of the group. That sense of the group is something that I have also noticed about bands in Denmark, so we had a good empathy from day one. In choosing the material, it was important to focus on the groove. We developed material with feels for, Rhythm n' Blues, 1960's Jazz reminiscent of Blue Note danceable tracks, African rhythms as well as some Bossa-nova. These were all styles I had enjoyed playing with Charlie and Dave in various bands. Having Dave Green on bass as special guest was an essential ingredient, as these two boyhood friends (next door neighbours growing up in Wembley, North London) have unspoken psychic connections that bassists and drummers need (so much so that I am certain neither will know what I am talking about when they read this!), so there are times on this recording where their abundant empathy makes the rest of the band comfortable enough to really play out and take hances.
When a band of this level let's rip, it is hard to ignore! We also have great support in the DRBB bassist and drummer (Søren and Kaspar) who graciously stepped aside on some pieces and then contributed on others, particularly for Molasses, the closing track, where we have two drummers and two bassists on a classic Woody Herman shuffle from the 1960's. It is perhaps understandable that I placed a few very familiar tunes into this concert (if you know what I mean!). I have always thought that these grooves are earthy and powerful and do not need to be jazzed up in a big band setting. I think of the big band in these pieces as a huge brass section, to make sure we don't take a classic piece too far away from it's essential power. During rehearsals one of the tenor sax players approached me and asked me in a very un-¬Danish way, if he might play a solo on one particular tune, as he just loved the organic feel of Charlie's groove.
I'll let you guess which one! I would also like to make a special mention the tenor saxophone soloist Uffe Markesson, who wails and wails (and wails) over Charlie and Jim Keltners' composition, Elvin Suite (Part 2). A day or two later listening back to the excitement and energy captured on this radio broadcast, I realised that with some mixing, this could make a powerful live album. The Danish Radio needed very little convincing to hand over the recordings to me to work on, as well as Søren Frost our regular drummer and rhythm section consultant from the big band and the brilliant recording engineer, Lars C. Bruun. So after several years work on this, we have produced this collection of music from our gig entitled...
Charlie Watts meets the Danish Radio Big Band Many years ago Red Rodney the iconic Jazz trumpeter who played with Charlie Parker and later Charlie Watts in his 'From One Charlie to Another' (a Parker tribute project) said to me that Charlie's Watts' contribution to Jazz is important, as he is an ambassador for the music and introduces many new people to Jazz. It was not a very significant statement to me at the time (I was more interested in his mouthpiece), but in an office in Paris last summer, I was reminded of what Red had said, as Jean-¬Philippe Allard from Universal Music said to me that he thought Charlie was an ambassador for Jazz and so I knew we had got the right label.
Gerard Presencer, from the back of a bus, somewhere in Denmark, 2016.