released in 1996 from VIRGIN RECORDS

Long Ago & Far Away marks the fourth album by the Charlie Watts Quintet: saxophonist Peter King, bassist David Green, pianist Brian Lemon, Gerard Presencer on horns, and Charlie on drums. Vocalist Bernard Fowler, the quintet's de facto sixth member, has been playing an increasing role since the recording of the group's second album.

Recorded at London's Olympic Studios over a two-week period in January 1996, Long Ago & Far Away continues the theme of its predecessor, 1993's Warm & Tender. Once again, the London Metropolitan Orchestra performs with the quintet and Bernard, exploring classic songs Charlie grew up listening to as a youth.

But whereas Warm & Tender utilized eight orchestra members, on this album the entire ensemble -- over two dozen strong -- joins the quintet in the studio on all tracks, giving the album an enhanced dynamic sweep. Credit for the full-bodied orchestral arrangements goes to the quintet members themselves: Peter scored eight of the songs, Brian scored six, and (at the grand old age of 23) Gerard makes his debut as an orchestral arranger on two tracks.

The origins of Long Ago & Far Away stretch back over a decade. During this time -- in addition to his duties with another, rather popular band -- Charlie has pursued his longstanding love of jazz music, recording and performing with combos of varying size and scope.

The Quintet was officially born (or perhaps "hatched" is a more appropriate description) in 1991, catalyzed by an unusual source: the reprinting of a children's book,Ode To A High Flying Bird. Written and illustrated by Charlie in 1964, the book was inspired by the life of legendary jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, known to fans as "Yardbird" or just plain "Bird." A disarmingly honest, uncomplicated, and endearing tale, 'Ode' had remained dormant in the 27 years since its initial printing; to accompany the second edition, it seemed like a fun idea to create a CD of music reflecting Parker's influence. And thus, the Quintet took wing....

Peter King and David Green were in on the project from the start. Both men had previously played with Charlie's big band, and both were comfortable in the more intimate setting of a small bebop combo. In addition to David's highly regarded status as a bassist and Bird scholar, he and Charlie had been close friends since grade school; as youngsters, the two were next-door neighbors and shared a fascination with jazz music -- especially the music of Charlie Parker. Brian soon joined the fold, and recommended Gerard (a mere 18 years old at the time) for the group. When the five men got together, a strong personal and musical chemistry was immediately apparent.

The resulting boxed set, From One Charlie, contained a CD of instrumentals, a faithful reproduction of the book in its original form, and a print of Parker. It was to be the first in an increasingly ambitious series of undertakings by the newly-created Charlie Watts Quintet.

But lo! A sixth kindred spirit soon entered the group's midst when Bernard was invited to provide narration for a special live tribute to Bird. He had first worked with Charlie during two previous concert tours with Charlie's aforementioned pop band, and gladly accepted the offer to read text fromOde To A High Flying Bird with the quintet. The poignant live performance of primarily instrumental material (Bernard weighs in with vocals on one song) was released in 1992 as the Quintet's second album, A Tribute To Charlie Parker With Strings. Bernard's singing came to the fore on Warm & Tender as the quintet explored lush standards and ballads, opening a thematic circle which the group now completes with Long Ago & Far Away.

Where does the Quintet go from here? It's a bit early to speculate, but look for future projects to provide a platform for more creativity and expanding roles by the members -- in terms of both arranging and writing.

In the meantime, take the opportunity to rediscover (or perhaps discover for the first time) the songcraft genius of writers such as Duke Ellington, Hoagy Carmichael, the Gershwins, Cole Porter, and Louis Armstrong. Capturing a timeless emotional and melodic content, the classic songs on Long Ago & Far Away possess an undiminished relevance in the here and now.