© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Charlie Haden has a large, warm tone, the subtle vibrato, richness, and manipulations of which are central elements in his improvisational vocabulary."
- Mark Gridley, The New Grove Encyclopedia of Jazz
“Charlie Haden once said “One of the prerequisites in musical improvisation is ‘knowing how to listen.’
I first heard Charlie Haden when he was playing with Ornette Coleman in 1959. Playing with Ornette required extraordinary resourcefulness, resilience and a quality of inner musicianship that could not be thrown off balance. Since then, Haden has worked with a wide range of challenging leaders and has headed his own distinctively original ensembles - notably his Liberation Music Orchestra.
He is an accompanist who truly supports - rather than trying to dominate - the soloist. And as a soloist, he too "sings." His solos tell a story rather than show how many notes he can play.
In a music that is composed of individualists, Charlie Haden has always been unafraid to listen ahead - and to listen as deeply as he can, to himself. And that is why - to use a phrase of Duke Ellington’s - Charlie Haden is ‘Beyond category.’”
- Nat Hentoff, Jazz author and critic
For the quiet man he was and the quiet instrument he played, Charlie Haden left a huge and lasting sonic imprint on the landscape of Jazz for over fifty years.
He seemingly worked with everyone, because every Jazz musician who heard his playing wanted to work with him. He left behind an incredible legacy of recorded music as a testimony to how much he and his playing were universally adored.
Charlie Haden’s name became almost synonymous with the natural beauty of the Jazz bass. Mention Charlie Haden’s name to a Jazz musician anywhere in the world and a smiling look of recognition would immediately form on the face of that person. No words, just a smile - and sometimes a nod.
After moving to Los Angeles in 1956 from Springfield, Missouri [he was born in Shenandoah, Iowa in 1937] to attend the Westlake College of Music, he worked around town with Dexter Gordon, Art Pepper and Hampton Hawes.
While giging at the Hillcrest Club in Hollywood, CA in 1958 with vibraphonist Dave Pike, pianist Paul Bley and drummer Lenny McBrowne, McBrowne introduced him to Ornette Coleman and that music changed Charlie Haden’s musical life forever.
“Ornette invited me over to his pad and started playing music that I'd never heard in my life.
"It was very exciting to me. There was a feeling there that I was sure was very, very valid. I was startled by his music because he wasn't playing on the chord changes—and in 1958, everyone was still doing that. To play with Ornette, you really had to listen to everything he did because he was playing off the feeling."
Haden played a crucial role on the seminal Coleman albums The Shape Of Jazz To Come (1959), Change Of The Century (1960), This Is Our Music (1961) and Free Jazz (1961), all recorded for Atlantic. He traveled to New York City to play a famous extended engagement at the Five Spot Cafe with Coleman.
In addition to his influential work with Coleman—whose quartet also included trumpeter Don Cherry and drummer Ed Blackwell—Haden collaborated with a number of jazz giants throughout the '60s and '70s, including John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane, Archie Shepp, Billy Higgins, Chet Baker and Joe Henderson. He was a member of Keith Jarrett's trio as well as the pianist's American Quartet with drummer Paul Motian and tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman from 1967-77.
In 1969, Haden commissioned pianist-composer Carla Bley to arrange music for a large cast of improvisers he called the Liberation Music Orchestra.
In 1976, Haden formed Old And New Dreams with Redman, Cherry and Blackwell to perpetuate Coleman's music as well as their own original material. The group was active until 1987.
In 1986, he formed Quartet West with saxophonist Ernie Watts, pianist Alan Broadbent and drummer Larance Marable (later replaced by Rodney Green). The group continued to perform until 2013.
Haden befriended Pat Metheny and played on the guitarist's double album 80/81 (ECM). The two collaborated frequently over the years, and both appeared on Coleman and Metheny's acclaimed 1986 album Song X and subsequent tour.
Haden can be heard on various live and recorded projects throughout the 1990s and 2000s with the likes of guitarists Metheny, John Scofield, Bill Frisell and John McLaughlin; drummers Ginger Baker and Jack DeJohnette; saxophonists Michael Brecker, Joe Lovano and Ravi Coltrane; trumpeter Tom Harrell; and vocalist-pianist Shirley Horn. He earned a reputation for performing intimate duo recordings and participating in small-group collaborations with such pianists as Hank Jones, Kenny Barron, Brad Mehldau, Ethan Iverson, Jarrett and Gonzalo Rubalcaba.
Haden's experience and influence reached far beyond the jazz realm. He was outspoken regarding the universality of his diverse musical associations, which included projects with pop artists Rickie Lee Jones and Ringo Starr, blues harmonicist-vocalist James Cotton, Brazilian guitarist Egberto Gismonti, Portuguese guitarist Carlos Paredes, Argentinian bandoneon player Dino Saluzzi and classical composer Gavin Bryars.
In 2008, Haden brought his personal history full circle to record Rambling Boy (Decca), which connected the music of his childhood to his present family, which includes his wife, vocalist Ruth Cameron; triplet daughters Petra, Rachel and Tanya; son Josh; and son-in-law Jack Black. The following year, Swiss film director Reto Caduff released a Rambling Boy documentary about Haden's life that was a major hit at jazz festivals and on the international film festival circuit.
Haden's most recent album releases include 2010's Jasmine (ECM), a duet with Keith Jarrett; 2011's Sophisticated Ladies (Emarcy/Decca) with Quartet West, strings and several contemporary vocalists; 2011's Live At Birdland (ECM) with saxophonist Lee Konitz, Mehldau and Motian; and 2014's Last Dance (ECM) with Jarrett. (See sidebar on page 34 written by Jarrett.)
The reactivated Impulse! label recently release a live album that was recorded during a duo performance by Haden and guitarist Jim Hall at the 1990 Montreal Jazz Festival.
Haden won multiple Grammys—one for his 1997 duet recording with Metheny, Beyond The Missouri Sky; another for his 2001 CD Nocturne, which included boleros from Cuba and Mexico and featured Cuban pianist Gonzolo Rubalcaba; and a third for his 2004 CD Land Of The Sun, which explored the works of Mexican composer Jose Sabre Marroquin with arrangements by Rubalcaba.
Among his crowning achievements were a Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award and a 2012 NEA Jazz Master Award. A longtime critical favorite, he was named New Star Bassist in DownBeat's 1961 Critics Poll and was elected to the DownBeat Hall of Fame in August 2013.
Upon receiving the news of his Hall of Fame induction last year, Haden expressed gratitude and elation to Ed Enright of the Institute for Jazz Studies and Downbeat.
"You know, for a while there I wasn't getting very much recognition," he said. "And I was thinking, I'm doing all of these different things, all these different kinds of music, Brazil and Portugal and Argentina and hillbilly music with my daughters, and doing all this different stuff that I don't think any other jazz people do. I thought maybe it was my political leanings that were keeping me from getting recognition. So all of these recent awards and honors have really made me feel good. I have a lot to be thankful for. And I want to make sure I give back to everybody."
Charlie Haden inspired legions of musicians who were fortunate enough to work with him, as well as those who received his encouragement: His colleagues attest to his quiet leadership, determination and love of a strong melody.
Pianist Carla Bley met Haden in the mid-1950s when he came out to live in Los Angeles. They worked together frequently, especially in the Liberation Music Orchestra.
"I was already in Los Angeles with Paul Bley, and Paul, being a connoisseur of bass players, immediately scooped him up," Carla recalled. "He had a very interesting and exquisite taste in all things. It wasn't just music. Although we agreed on a lot of music—he had certain chords, notes and composers. He'd get infatuated over furniture, and have to get the money to buy that piece of furniture. I couldn't see what he saw but I trusted that it indeed must have been beautiful. He had this sense of taste, very sure of himself at a young age.
"The way he played, he had an instantly recognizable style," Carla added. "He felt that way about the notes he played: This is the right note and no other note will do.' And he always called himself 'Whole Note Haden'; he played really slow and the notes were perfect and in the perfect place. He would play notes that weren't in the chord changes, but were so perfect that you waited for the chord change, and when the correct note came in, it was more thrilling than if it had been offered."
Haden formed Quartet West in the 1980s and its members included saxophonist Ernie Watts, who worked in the group for 25 years.
"Charlie had a beautiful, deep singing sound," Watts said. "It was very, very warm and very, very even all over the instrument. Besides that, he had so much harmonic knowledge and so much melodic knowledge from the years he was playing. He really was in touch with how things work with duration of time. A lot of times you don't count a bar — you feel the duration of time that it takes four bars to go by and he had a beautiful, intuitive nature of duration of time, in phrasing. When he played within a pattern or within a phrase, his time was totally on in a horizontal way rather than a vertical way.
"What made him a great leader is that he let everybody be who they were," Watts added. "We just all understood each other, understood the music and all loved each other and knew each other as people."
Along with Haden's groups, he also worked in duets throughout the 1990s, including with pianist Kenny Barron on such recordings as Night And The City (Verve, 1996).
"One of the things I loved about Charlie's playing, in addition to the sound, is he left a lot of space," Barron said. "And his playing was deceptively simple. With the bottom, it was just perfect. There was room for you to breathe, and there was interaction, too. It was a challenge: There was a lot for a pianist to do. You had a lot of space to fill, but that's a good thing. You had to learn how to not put too much in there. Not to fill it up, but using it. Charlie played just the right notes. I often say that he played 'b-a-s-e'; he really supplied the bottom, which made my stuff work."
After Haden's death, a more recent colleague, pianist Brad Mehldau, wrote:
"An untouchable, eternal hipness. A feeling of dance, with an element of danger. Sometimes, something like a polished diamond, precious to behold, unbreakable. Other times, just as remarkable: something like a sand sculpture or mandala—a beauty that is breaking apart and blowing away, disappearing even as you witness it.”
Another recent partner, saxophonist Joshua Redman, mentioned on his Facebook page, "Charlie had the biggest ears. He heard everything. He was right there with you every step of the way. And he took what he heard and helped you try to make something lovely out of it."
Bassist Ben Allison had been listening to Haden's music since he was a teenager and the elder bassist's "Sandino" inspired his own composition "Hey Man." The two bassists encountered each other periodically on the festival circuit.
“As much as he’s a bass player, and the bassist’s role is to play the root of the chord—and he did—I felt his mind work throughout the harmonies in a way where he is not just consigned to playing root notes,” Allison said. "He was thinking of freely harmonizing whatever the soloist was doing. In Ornette [Coleman's] band, Ornette would spin out a melodic line and it would sound like Charlie would hear what Ornette was playing and find a note that would fit well with it. Charlie would have a deep tonality that wasn't necessarily tied to predetermined harmonies,
but was just the way he thought."
Pianist Keith Jarrett observed of his close friend and frequent band mate:
“People will always love his playing, but no one will ever imitate him. He was a rare, true original. Perfect intonation, the biggest ears, the warmest most captivating tone in the history of Jazz bass; and always musical. And I never had a better partner on a project for his honest input and deep understanding of our intentions in choosing the tracks for Jasmine and Last Dance. … Charlie wrapped himself around the bass while he played it; inhabited it; made love to it. The bass really became the bass again in his hands.”
Charlie Haden died on July 11, 2014. He was seventy-six years old .