Archive for Charlie Watts

Messers, Dreamers and Misfits

Posted in Art, Education, Music with tags , , , on September 5, 2021 by telescoper

After the death of Charlie Watts last week, Fintan O’Toole wrote a piece in the Irish Times (here, unfortunately behind a paywall) pointing out that, along with a large fraction of the English rock musicians that began their careers in the 1960s, Charlie Watts went to Art School; Harrow Art School in his case. O’Toole goes on to argue that society needs to find ways to nurture its creative talents and that modern education is far too utilitarian to allow space for “Messers, Dreamers and Misfits”.

I agree with the broad thrust of Fintan O’Toole’s argument. I think the School and University systems are far too focussed on examination and assessment at the expense of genuine education. What I disagree with is the idea that creativity is only to be found in the Arts. When I saw the phrase “Messers, Dreamers and Misfits” it struck me that this could very well describe many of my colleagues in physics, and in science generally – and I don’t mean that in any way as an insult!

There is an explicit assumption in much of the world that creativity is only to be found in the Arts. That’s just not true. Who can say that Einstein didn’t have a creative mind? It is true that if you want to be, say, a theoretical physicist you do have to do formal training in the methods used, especially mathematics. But that is no different from an art school really. To be a painter you have to learn the techniques needed to manage the media you are using. To be a musician you have to learn the basics of harmony and solve the technical problems involved with playing an instrument. Artists have to pay their dues just like scientists. I wrote about this here, in the context of the great Jazz pianist Bill Evans, where I said:

All subjects require technical skill, but there is more to being a great jazz musician than mastery of the instrument just as there’s more to being a research scientist than doing textbook problems. So here’s to creativity wherever it is found, and let’s have a bit more appreciation for the creative aspects of science and engineering!

Anyway, here in Ireland, the Leaving Certificate results came out on Friday and next week we’ll begin the process that determines how many students we’ll have doing Mathematical and Theoretical Physics at Maynooth. It always surprises me how many students choose study subjects other than Physics, but then I remember that I went from School to Cambridge in 1982 to read Natural Sciences, fully expecting to specialize in Chemistry but just found Physics more interesting and, yes, more fun.

I don’t know whether I count as a creative person at all, but I’m definitely a misfit, prone to dreaming and – especially at the moment in the middle of unpacking my belongings – my house is a mess!

Anyway, here is a message for students just about the start their Third Level education here in Ireland or elsewhere. The most important advice I can give is to choose the subject that you will enjoy most, but pursue your other interests too. Charlie Watts was interested in music while at art school. There’s no reason why a theoretical physicist can’t pursue an interest in music too. I can think of at least one prominent example of a person who managed to become a pop musician and a physicist.

Given my own background I read Fintan O’Toole’s article as clear encouragement to students to pick theoretical physics.

R.I.P. Charlie Watts (1941-2021)

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on August 24, 2021 by telescoper

I’ve just seen the sad news of the death at the age of 80 of the Rolling Stones’ drummer Charlie Watts. Tributes are justifiably pouring in, mainly concentrating on his career as a rock drummer. I’ll just say that while I’ve never seen the Rolling Stones play live, I did go and see Charlie Watts play at Ronnie Scott’s club in London with a jazz group. I thought they were pretty good actually, with Watts on drums not at all trying to hog the show but instead playing very unobtrusively thought still clearly enjoying himself in the more intimate surroundings of a Jazz club rather than a huge rock venue.

In fact Charlie Watts began as a jazz drummer and although he earned his fame and made a fortune after switching to rock and roll, he always kept an interest in jazz. Indeed he recorded an album of performances of Charlie Parker tunes from which I picked the track below. My Dad – himself a Jazz drummer who was never effusive in his praise of other drummers – rated Charlie Watts as technically sound rather than flashy which was the opposite to most rock drummers. At any rate he passed the test of holding the sticks “properly” (i.e. using the trad grip).

Anyway, by way of my own little tribute to an excellent musician and somewhat eccentric gentleman, here is Charlie Watts with his Quintet playing the Charlie Parker composition Bluebird.

Rest in Peace, Charlie Watts (1941-2021).