Legendary drummer’s visit to Frost School memorable

Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts performed with students in the Frost Concert Jazz Band during a visit to the Frost School of Music in 2016. Photo: University file photo
By Amanda M. Perez

Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts performed with students in the Frost Concert Jazz Band during a visit to the Frost School of Music in 2016. Photo: University file photo

Legendary drummer’s visit to Frost School memorable

By Amanda M. Perez
As the world mourns the loss of Charlie Watts, drummer for the Rolling Stones, Shelly Berg, dean of the Frost School of Music, remembers the time when the musician made a special visit to the University.

Dean Shelly Berg said he will never forget the time in 2016 when Charlie Watts—the longtime Rolling Stones drummer who passed away Aug. 24 at age 80—surprised students and stopped by the University of Miami Frost School of Music to jam with them and talk about life in the entertainment business. 

“You should have seen the faces of our students when Watts, along with singer-percussionist Bernard Fowler and saxophonist Tim Ries, walked into the room. It was complete disbelief,” he recalled. 

The Stones’ musicians had reached out to Berg to see if they could bring some new big band charts by for a read-through. The trio had come to perform jazz arrangements of Rolling Stones’ songs with the students of the Frost Concert Jazz Band. It was supposed to be a quick visit, but Watts truly made it a special learning opportunity for the students. 

“He stayed for about an hour and a half after the group played some music and talked to our students and our drummers, answering questions from the eager musicians,” recounted Berg. “Watts was a collector of drum sets and he had owned drums from some of the most famous jazz artists in history. So, just talking to students about what it was like to own these gems was a great educational experience for them.” 

Berg noted that Watts’ dedication to the students was a testimony to his personality. 

“He will always be remembered as a legendary musician and also as a kind and gentle person,” said Berg. “There's a lot to learn from the person Charlie was. He proved that fame doesn't have to change who you are as a person.” 

The dean pointed out that Watts was known for being reserved and that he was not a fan of the spotlight. 

“He was not caught up at all with his fame. You wouldn't think he was aware of it. It just wasn't what made him go,” he said. 

A longtime jazz lover, Watts always marched to the beat of his own drum.  

“Something that I always thought was really unique was that he played a jazz drum set the entire time with the Rolling Stones. For those who don’t know, these kinds of drums only include four pieces, compared to the traditional rock drum sets which include about 6 or 7,” explained Berg. “Watts was never tempted to change that and fall into the big hoopla. He always stayed true to his style.” 

According to Berg, Watts’ impact on the jazz world will forever live on.

“He lured people to check out jazz. A lot of people tuned in because of him, not because they were jazz fans. So, I think that created an opportunity for new audiences to discover the genre,” said Berg. 

Berg said that he hopes that students can learn from his legacy.

“They can learn that there are very subtle things that make a difference between good and great, and they are not always readily apparent,” Berg said. “It's easy to focus on the things that are flashy and the things that seem to be exciting, but I think students can learn that at some basic level. It's the subtle taking care of business as a musician that makes a difference.”