(Originally posted March 2008, also published in DownBeat.)
In August 2007, Charlie invited Brad Mehldau, Kenny Barron, Paul Bley and me to take turns playing duo with him at the Blue Note in New York. The music was an informal 70th birthday celebration, and likewise this discussion (taped during the same week) is an incomplete survey of his long and vital career.
We began at the beginning. There are two kinds of Ornette Coleman music: The kind with Charlie Haden on bass, and the kind without.
Ethan Iverson: When I was at your house in L.A., we looked at all your original Ornette LPs, including the ones with Scott LaFaro and Jimmy Garrison. I asked you whom you liked better with Ornette, LaFaro or Garrison. An expression of real pain crossed your face and you muttered something about how it was hard for you to listen to any other bassist with Ornette. I think you have the right to say that.
Charlie Haden: Oh, I mean, Scotty and Jimmy are great bassists. But — and this is selfish — when I hear someone else with Ornette, I always hear the notes I would play and the sound that I would use… not theirs.
EI: Tell me about playing behind Ornette in 1958.
CH: I learned about the importance of listening playing with Ornette. We first played duo at his house, for days. I had never heard such beautiful melodies. He had his compositions written out with changes on them.
EI: There were changes on his charts?
CH: Yes, and he said to play on the changes until he left them, and then just follow him. At first I thought he meant he would play on the written changes for a little while, but then I realized he would be creating a new set of changes almost right away. So I discarded his changes and followed him.
Sometimes the changes he had for the written parts didn’t always fit, so I would look for the right note, even if it wasn’t the root of the tonal center.
EI: Dewey Redman told me once that he was looking at a piece of Ornette’s music and thought he heard some changes in there. He asked Ornette what the structure was, and Ornette responded by putting a chord symbol on every eighth note! He made sure never to ask Ornette that question again.
CH: Yeah, NEVER ask Ornette about the changes!
EI: So, you were making up the harmony. On some of the early music like “Lonely Woman,” “Ramblin’,” and “Una Muy Bonita,” there is also a strong melody in the bass. I have a strong suspicion that those are yours, too.
CH: Sometimes I would play what I was hearing instead of what he had written, and he usually accepted it.
EI: Most performances of “Lonely Woman” leave off your first bass melody, which is a shame, since it is so beautiful. In general, I think that Ornette’s music is more democratic than most people realize. Just listen to the first two records on Contemporary without you.
CH: Yeah, Walter Norris and Don Payne played those “Out of Nowhere” changes behind Ornette. You can’t do that!
EI: If I had heard that song, “Jayne,” on the radio in the fifties, I would have thought that Ornette was a charlatan instead of a genius. He needs to be supported the right way.
CH: They didn’t know what he was doing. Not that they couldn’t play: Walter Norris was great, man. I loved this gig I had back then playing for a burlesque with Norris, Frank Butler, and a great alto player who died too young, Joe Maini. But as much as he knew about harmony, Norris couldn’t forget it when he played with Ornette.
EI: Ornette is not going to bend to you.
CH: No, you have got to bend to him. I am always waiting for Ornette to play a tonal center so I can contrast it or play with it to make it sound really good.
EI: One difference between Dewey and Ornette is that Dewey actually follows you sometimes, which Ornette rarely does.
CH: That’s true.
EI: Could we talk about “Una Muy Bonita,” or some other of that early music?
CH: Ornette wrote such beautiful songs. He also wrote out all the intros, interludes, endings and tempo changes. Don Cherry always made sure that the parts were organized in the right way. Ornette was in charge, but Don was a big help, and we rehearsed at Cherry’s house.
But, you know, there was less discussion than you think. Like on “Focus on Sanity,” after the bass solo, Billy comes in with the two hits, the horns play the tune, and we hit double-time tempo. It was right on the money! I remember that precisely because we DIDN’T talk about it, and it came out so well.
I started to stop time sometimes, too, especially after Ed Blackwell came into the band.
EI: Blackwell would stop the ride cymbal beat much more than Billy Higgins would.
CH: I added double-stops, drones, and melodies that weren’t always “in time.” There is a slight evolution between the L.A. records, The Shape of Jazz to Come and Change of the Century and a big evolution with the New York record, This Is Our Music, where there aren’t ANY chord progressions during the improvisations any more: just modulations through keys. I would just grab the most important note I could hear from Ornette’s phrases. This would enable him to go to the next thing he wanted to do.
EI: While I hear the evolution of the music you are talking about, I don’t really hear chord progressions as such on the L.A. records, either.
CH: Well, we weren’t playing on changes like somebody would on “All the Things You Are,” of course. But we were still respecting the songs how Ornette wrote them, with bridges and interludes. Billy and I would still signify the new sections, even if we weren’t playing the changes. Then, in New York with Blackwell, there were no more changes, just free improvisation.
For “Una Muy Bonita,” if I remember right, after we ran down the head, I asked Ornette to let me put something on the front of it. The tune had a Spanish title, but the tune didn’t sound Spanish, so I wanted to put in something that did… I started fooling with some double-stops, and Ornette said, “Play that! Play that!”
EI: G-flat, too — not the easiest key for bass!
CH: Oh, man! It’s hard. Actually, I remember that Jimmy Garrison came up to me later at Ornette’s house and told me, “Charlie, man, I’ve always wanted to tell you how much I love your playing. Now, can you show me the introduction to ‘Una Muy Bonita’?” That made me feel good, that he liked my playing.
EI: I love the double-time coda on “Bonita.”
CH: Back then, Ornette was writing more detailed kinds of arrangements, with great introductions, interludes, and endings. We would be really tight, and stop on a dime. A lot of people, hearing us for the first time, would say “Why are they playing so crazy?” But also, “How did they stop together so easily?”
EI: I understand that Ornette never counted anything off, either. He would just start.
CH: Yeah, that’s true… Reminds me of the time that Dexter Gordon came to see us rehearse at the Hillcrest. After listening quietly for a while in the back, he came up to stage, sat on a bar stool, and asked, “You cats ever play any standards?”
Ornette said, “Sure, man! What would you like to hear?”
“How about ‘Embraceable You’?”
Ornette picked up his horn and played two phrases. Then he put his horn back down, looked at Dexter and said, “That’s it.”
Dexter scratched his head, took another puff of his cigarette, and said, “Thank you, man.”
I think that moment is one of the reasons we recorded that song on This Is Our Music.
EI: I love Ornette’s introduction to “Embraceable You.”
CH: Yeah, man! In those days, the harmony in the horns was real harmony. Later, the harmony was all parallel…
EI: Ah, harmolodics.
CH: I would say to Ornette, “That’s parallel harmony! It sounds Oriental or something.” But that’s what he wanted.
EI: That’s the kind of harmony on Science Fiction, which I find very moving. I love that record! Actually, all my favorite Ornette records are from 1969 through 1971, which is an era that is often overlooked… especially that astounding working quartet with you, Dewey, and Blackwell. The bootleg from Belgrade is one of the greatest things I have ever heard.
CH: We were all as passionate as Ornette was about creating music in the moment.
EI: Your combination of folk song, avant-garde sensibility, and Bach-like classical harmony is a stream in this music just as distinctive as Thelonious Monk or Elvin Jones. In that quartet with Ornette, Dewey, and Blackwell, no one else could have ever done what you did. I think Ornette knew this: during those years, Ornette played “Song for Che” frequently.
CH: The first recording was on Crisis. Man oh man, what a great concert and record that was! Ornette didn’t usually play other people’s songs: I was really surprised that he wanted to do one of mine. But he loved it.
EI: When did you meet Dewey?
CH: Ornette sent for him. I had played trio with Ornette’s son Denardo, and then quartet with [bassist] David Izenzon and either Charles Moffett or Blackwell. I wasn’t sure about playing with either a 9-year-old or with another bassist, but I would have done anything to play with Ornette.
He knew Dewey from Texas. I loved the way Dewey played. He had a beautiful sound that blended with Ornette. I was surprised that Ornette would get another saxophonist, but it had to be Dewey. There’s only a very few musicians that experience the way of improvising that comes from Ornette’s concept.
When Keith heard Dewey, he came up to me and said, “Introduce me to that saxophonist!”
EI: I think Keith Jarrett was remarkably humble when you were in his band. It’s not a band that features a star pianist with some backing cats. Instead, he had you, Paul Motian, and Dewey roughing him around like wild dogs. As a result, those are some of the most energetic jazz records ever made. That band is The Bad Plus’s daddy, by the way.
EI: No doubt.
CH: Well, I do think that some of the greatest music made in that time period came out of that group. Keith was always his own person, with original ideas as a leader. Keith wrote specifically for us, first for the trio, and then the quartet. I loved it. He showed up at every rehearsal and soundcheck with new music. It’s amazing when you go over a new tune at a soundcheck and can’t wait to play it that night, since it already felt like “you.” Things like “Vapallia,” “Mysteries,” and “Fort Yawuh.” Especially the stuff from the Impulse years.
EI: Yeah, that’s my favorite era of the band, too. The Atlantic stuff and The Survivor’s Suite are great, too, but there’s something about the vibe on the Impulse records which is just nasty! Like your bass part on “Byablue.”
EI: Also, what was up with those percussionists? I cannot believe how loud they are in the mix. There’s some reasonably normal performance taking place, and then Guilherme Franco sets off something arrhythmic that goes “weega weega weega” and it’s mixed louder than the saxophone! And who was Danny Johnson? Was he even a professional?
CH: No, man, he is a great, great painter, and a great friend, and someone who was at EVERY gig, and one day he suddenly asked to sit in with us at the Village Vanguard. Keith asked, “What do you play?”
“Triangle!” said Danny Johnson.
Keith said yes and Danny came down with a big oriental rug and sat like a sitar player with his triangle. And that was the night we recorded Fort Yawuh.
EI: Those were the days: can you say 1973?
CH: Man, what a great band that was!
EI: And fortunately there are a lot of records of that band. I wish there were a few more records of Old and New Dreams. It’s great that the four of you put aside your egos to have a collective like that. I think that was pretty unprecedented.
CH: It was. It also didn’t last long.
EI: Was Old and New Dreams pretty democratic?
CH: Yes, although Don Cherry was the one to bring world music in, and that non-Ornette element really made us distinctive. Of course, we played Ornette music too, and we did so comfortably because we had all played with Ornette, so the improvisations modulated through keys. When other people play Ornette’s music, it doesn’t usually work out… Or, it might work out for them, but it doesn’t work out for me, because I always want to hear clarity in the intervals and the harmony, even if it’s dissonant.
Old and New Dreams was great, but Don and Dewey would sometimes have little tiffs, and Blackwell would sometimes get in on it too. We were all distinctive ego guys!
In 1989, I was honored with several nights of music at the Montreal Jazz Festival. I invited Joe Henderson and Al Foster; Pat Metheny and Jack DeJohnette; and Paul Bley, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Geri Allen each with Paul Motian; Egberto Gismonti as a duet, and then the Liberation Music Orchestra. Dewey wouldn’t come and play for Old and New Dreams. But Don and Ed came, and that, eventually, is what got released.
EI: You played for Dewey, though. I saw the 1992 Dewey Redman gala at Lincoln Center, and that was the last performance of Old and New Dreams.
CH: Of course I would play for Dewey, man.
EI: All this music we are talking about involves only three drummers: Billy Higgins, Ed Blackwell, and Paul Motian. When I hear your sound in my mind, I hear one of them playing with you.
CH: All three of those drummers are absolutely musical drummers: they can hear harmony, have perfect time, and play the drums like they are playing melodies and chord changes.
I met Billy and Don Cherry on the same gig on Central Avenue in the area later known as Watts. Don was playing piano: Monk tunes, mostly. This was before I met Ornette. Billy always told me later, “When you walked in the door, Charlie, I thought they had sent me a science teacher, not a bass player!”
I was 19, and hadn’t played with that many drummers yet, although I knew who I liked from records, guys like Kenny Clarke, Philly Joe Jones, and Stan Levey (who played with Stan Kenton). Billy was heavily influenced by Kenny Clarke. He had a special cymbal (I guess all of them have their special cymbal) that sounded like a waterfall, just like Kenny Clarke on Swedish Schnapps with Bird. Billy could bring people into his time, a time that enveloped you.
EI: Everybody felt great playing with Billy Higgins. He would go on to be one of the most recorded drummers in history.
CH: That started when he lost his cabaret card when we were at the Five Spot, which made him free to be on all those Blue Note records. He wasn’t able to gig, so he recorded instead. Everybody called Billy Higgins: Jackie McLean, Dexter Gordon, Donald Byrd…
EI: There aren’t many records of you and Higgins together from the 60’s or 70’s, but there are several from the 80’s and 90’s: discs with Pat Metheny (Rejoicing is one of the great records), Enrico Pieranunzi, Joshua Redman, the first Quartet West… I would have to give any record with the two of you together five stars even without even needing to listen to it first, since I know the groove is going to be so deep.
CH: When you go surfing, you catch a wave and ride it in. That’s what Billy and I did: we caught the same wave. He had magical time. The thrust of his power was always just right, whether it was gentle, a little more intense, or loud. He was like a 747 taking off, then just soaring.
EI: How did you get your beat?
CH: I got my good time from hillbilly music. I didn’t play a lot of bass as a kid, but I sang it. Hillbilly musicians have great time.
EI: Where did the jazz come in?
CH: Hoover’s Music Store in Springfield, Missouri. I would listen to records there for hours. (They even had Paul Bley’s first record with Charlie Mingus and Art Blakey, and some Hampton Hawes records with Red Mitchell. I would play with both of those pianists when I got to L.A.) All I cared about was having good, swinging time, and when I moved to L.A., even though I hadn’t played with many people yet, I started to work. When I met Don and Billy, we started playing frequently, and they introduced me to Ornette.
EI: When Blackwell came in to the Ornette band, it was quite a change from Higgins. For me, it is a little more modernist, with fiercer counterpoint in the left hand.
CH: Ornette sent for Blackwell to come to New York from New Orleans when Billy lost his cabaret card. That’s when I met and played with Blackwell for the first time, although he had been out in L.A. before that and played with Ornette then.
EI: That must have been when Higgins studied with Blackwell.
CH: I heard about that, although I wasn’t there. Blackwell brought the music of New Orleans, the funerals, parades, and jazz clubs of the French Quarter to Ornette’s music. He had played a lot with Alvin Batiste and those guys. I couldn’t believe how he played! He played so different. He had the same beautiful time that Higgins had, but it didn’t really come from the tradition of modern jazz. Blackwell could play modern jazz, but he let his playing be more inflected by all the New Orleans music, and he put his own spin on it all. It was amazing what he did.
Later on, he went to Africa with Randy Weston, and lived there for a while. When he came back, he had added a lot of things he learned there to his playing, although his basic style didn’t change. You can hear that African element on some of the music with Old and New Dreams, like “Mopti.”
Ever since my hillbilly days, I try to play music like I don’t know what is going to happen. And that brings us to Paul Motian.
EI: When you and Motian play together, it sounds like you are discovering the beat for the first time… almost like you could fail! But of course, there is this powerful, ballsy moxie present, too.
CH: Strength and vulnerability together.
CH: I met Paul when I was at the Five Spot with Ornette and he was at the Village Vanguard with Bill Evans. When I was in L.A., Scotty LaFaro and I roomed together. He would practice for hours: he had all these Sonny Rollins solos he had written out in bass clef! I remained close friends with Scotty in New York, and would go over there to see and admire them, and Scotty and Paul would come over to the Five Spot, too. When Scotty was killed at age 25 (I was 24), I was devastated — I couldn’t play for months. I never knew how Scotty felt about my playing until Paul told me later that the first time Paul heard me it was because Scotty had dragged him out in a snowstorm, “You’ve got to hear this great bass player with Ornette!”
EI: Tell me about how Paul’s playing changed between playing with Bill and then with Keith.
CH: With Scotty and Bill, Paul had to develop a way of playing to adhere (I mean in the sense of “stick”) to those guys, who sort of played “above” everything. The “1,2,3,4” wasn’t so important to Scotty and Bill: they floated, and Paul had a way of making it happen that was innovative. I never heard anybody play the drums like that before.
Then when he started playing with me and Keith, sometimes the energy would be very high-level. We’d be playing free improvisation, because Keith would like to go out (which Dewey Redman took to a whole other level when he joined). Paul’s playing really developed then. What a phenomenal musical mind Paul Motian has.
I think because we played together so often, we are kind of intuitive of each other. He really knows how he wants to play behind me, which really agrees with what I want him to do!
EI: I think some of the best big band drumming I ever heard is Paul with the Liberation Music Orchestra.
CH: That could be. He really propelled the Liberation Orchestra, and with his own signature, too.
EI: One of my favorite records is The Ballad of the Fallen, where Paul is so folkloric and also just the music, at the same time.
CH: That’s a great way of putting it, since he could go right into where it was, whether it was the Spanish Civil War or El Salvador or whatever, and make you feel like you were there. Matt Wilson really respects what Paul did for the orchestra, and is following in his footsteps with us now. We just did a gig last week in Litchfield, and Matt sounded great.
EI: The Liberation Music Orchestra was your first band. It demonstrated political awareness to a degree rare in jazz.
CH: The late 60’s were an amazing time for me. I was playing with Ornette, Keith, and creating the Liberation Music Orchestra with Carla Bley’s help. We recorded the first album in 1969 in direct response to Vietnam.
EI: Since then the records have been about South America (The Ballad of the Fallen), Africa (Dream Keeper), and most recently Not In Our Name is about the current US administration. I heard that in Litchfield you called for impeachment to the audience.
CH: I sure did.
EI: Your other long-term project, Quartet West, is very different, exploring more traditional jazz harmony in specific ways.
CH: I love jazz singers like Billie Holiday and Jeri Southern, Hollywood movies, Paul Weston orchestral arrangements, and the kind of L.A. noir associated with Raymond Chandler. Quartet West explores that kind of atmosphere.
When you hear Jeri Southern sing, there is a little breathlessness, a little whisper there. And Bird and Hank Mobley had it, too: a whisper in their sound. Listen to Hank Mobley on Miles’ Someday My Prince Will Come. I love that revolutionary genius, John Coltrane, too, but for me, on that record, Hank Mobley plays just so great. Incredible melodies, played so warmly and beautifully… and hopefully! Hank Mobley gives you hope! I only played with him once, at Wilbur Ware’s memorial…
You know, I had some problems in the old days, and I owe my wife, Ruth Cameron, so much for keeping me straight. None of this would be happening without her. Ruth is a great singer, too, who also has that whisper in her voice. She was the one to insist that I have a small group, and even named Quartet West. She made this great album called Roadhouse with Alan Broadbent and Brad Mehldau and Larance Marable on drums.
Speaking of drummers, I want to say how wonderful Larance Marable was for the quartet for so many years. Now the young Rodney Green is doing a great job, too.
EI: I like how Alan Broadbent hears jazz harmony. It’s very detailed. Too often these days, it is just a morass of similar-sounding stuff from everyone, but Broadbent has his own approach.
CH: Alan Broadbent is a wonderful pianist and arranger. Quartet West did a lot of great recordings with his string arrangements. Alan and Ernie Watts are brilliant. Verve is just coming out with The Best of Quartet West, and you really get to hear how great they are. I love the Quartet.
You have your own approach, too, Ethan. I was really pleased how all the pianists played this past week; I love to play behind a good pianist, and just “bass out” to some beautiful piano harmony.
In general, duets allow for a kind of intimacy that I really enjoy. People like Jeri Southern and Hank Mobley remind us not to forget our gentleness, and to hear the silence.
EI: “Silence” is a beautiful song of yours. I loved playing it with the composer two nights ago!
For your next project, Charlie, I hear you are going back to your roots.
CH: Yes, Ruth and I have been thinking about doing a country record since we took all the kids one summer and went to visit my mom for her eightieth birthday.
Ruth had all of us — my brothers and sisters and mom and the kids — sing a song together, and we heard how we all fell into harmony and blended, singing together. It was so great!
I went to Nashville in June, and met a lot of people who knew my parents when we were singing on the radio. Mark Fain, the bassist for Ricky Skaggs, has really been helping me get this together. It’s going to be a family affair. My son Josh (who has a band called Spain) will sing on it, and my daughters Rachel, Petra and Tanya will also sing, and Ruth will sing, and who knows — maybe I’ll sing!
Some great Nashville musicians will be there and some jazz musicians as well. It’s going to be a “labor of love.”
The published interview for DownBeat ended there. However, as a kind of bonus track, I also got to ask Charlie about some of his early influences.
CH: The first bass players I heard were the guys on the records with Bird — Curly Russell and Tommy Potter. There were also guys with Stan Kenton, like Don Bagley, and the bassists with Jazz at the Philharmonic.
But the first guy who was really distinctive to me — when I was 19 or so — was Paul Chambers, who I heard on all those Prestige and Riverside records. There’s an underrated player! He had a way of playing chromatic notes in his bass lines that was just unreal. He would go up into the high register, and then skip down, tying it together… He had this great sound, and this great time. He and Jimmy Cobb really got it together for Kind of Blue, with fire and subtlety. Bill Evans’ comping is so inspiring on that record, too. That’s why those heavy horn players played so great on that record: Bill Evans, Paul Chambers, and Jimmy Cobb.
I used to see these pictures of Paul in jazz magazines, and it always looked like his eyes were watering: like he had tears in his eyes.
One night, the Miles Davis quintet with John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones came to Jazz City, a club off of Hollywood Boulevard, across from Peacock Lane. I went by myself and sat in the front row, right in front of Paul. I stared at Paul Chambers the whole set.
People throw around the words “jazz” and “bebop” — I’m not sure sometimes what they mean. To me, “jazz” meant Bird. Bird and Bud Powell.
I got to see Bird in Omaha when I was fourteen with JATP and later when I arrived in L.A. in 1956, I went to hear the Miles Davis quintet. Man! You could sit in front of these guys and feel the power. The feeling of spontaneity from each musician allied with the technical part: the harmony, the voicings, the cymbals, the bass… together, it could have generated electricity.
I know if I had gotten to sit in front of Bird, Bud Powell, and Fats Navarro, it would have been the same power.
So, I was watching Paul Chambers to see if he had tears in eyes. It looked like he did. He looked so great playing, man. Then, when the set was over, he came right over to my table. “Man, you are looking at me the whole time!”
I told my name, and that I was a bass player, and that I loved his playing, and that in every picture I had seen of him and on stage tonight it looked like there were tears in his eyes.
He looked at me for a moment, and said, “I do. I cry.”
I said, “Man! That is so great!”
He asked to sit down and we hung out for a minute. Look at a picture of Paul Chambers: something about his features is like somebody who was feeling life very deeply. Really something.
EI: Can I ask you about some other fifties bass players? What about Red Mitchell, whom you heard on the Hampton Hawes records?
CH: He was playing sort of like pre-Scotty LaFaro. He was a piano player, and used his piano concept in his bass solos. I noticed him working that out in Red Norvo’s trio, too. He was a sweet guy and a great bass player, and gave me the Art Pepper gig that I met Hampton Hawes on. Actually, the first night it was Sonny Clark, and what a revelation that was, but then the second night it was Hampton, who would become an important friend.
EI: Eventually you would make a duet record with Hawes, As Long As There’s Music. That is an important record, not just because of the considerable beauty of the music itself, but also because it documents a pure 50’s bebop piano player’s first steps into freedom. I don’t know of another like it.
Did you check out Oscar Pettiford?
CH: Yes, I did. I didn’t ever meet him, but Paul Motian told me about him a little bit. He had a really clear melodic concept. I remember on this one song, “The Man I Love,” where he plays the melody. You can hear him breathing: he put his whole being into every note he played. That’s how I try to play, too.
EI: And of course, Wilbur Ware.
CH: I heard him with Monk. I LOVED his playing. Then when I met him, he asked to borrow five dollars. This was in Chicago at the Southerland Lounge when I was on tour with Ornette. I said, “You’re Wilbur Ware! Take the five dollars!”
He disappeared until after the set, then came up again. “Hey, Charlie… do you have another five dollars?”
“Sure, man!” Then, after the gig, he took me downstairs where Chris Anderson was playing piano. When we were both back in New York, Wilbur and I hung out a lot. We went to each other’s gigs.
I was definitely influenced by his purity of sound. Wilbur had a percussive way of playing solos, kind of like a drummer, but he would play intervals like thirds and fifths in kind of a separated way with this distinctive rhythm and syncopation: you could hear he was a drummer. It was so GOOD, man, and the way he placed his notes made everything swing.
I came in to the Vanguard one night, and he was playing a bass that was covered in Scotch tape and looked terrible. And he made it sound like a Stradivarius.
EI: There’s a Johnny Griffin record with Kenny Drew and Donald Byrd that Wilbur is on. It’s high-level jazz playing but a little anonymous. Then, on an E-flat blues, Wilbur takes a solo that makes all the fancy, fast horn players seem irrelevant. He was the only guy before you I heard who could do that in a bass solo.
CH: You forget sometimes that you are playing music, not just playing jazz. It’s good sometimes to remind people of the musicality of the moment, by going to just one note and letting them hear it.
EI: Did you know Percy Heath at all?
CH: What a beautiful man. We hung out a lot over the years, and we went out to his house in Queens and visited him and his family. He always carried himself with a regal bearing, with perfect posture and royal gait. I really respected his playing, especially on the Miles stuff.
EI: On Bags’ Groove, the bass is almost as clear and as important as the trumpet.
CH: Man! And I also admired the way he handled the classical-sounding bass parts in the MJQ. He put everything he could into making them swing.
EI: Is there another 50’s bassist you want to mention?
CH: Teddy Kotick.
EI: Oh? I’ve never really listened to him carefully.
CH: You’ve got to listen to “Kim” with Bird, Hank Jones and Max Roach. Also, he’s on the first Bill Evans album with Paul Motian, New Jazz Conceptions. Great intonation, great sound, gut strings. He died too young.
EI: Like Doug Watkins.
CH: Wow, another great player. He was a cousin of Paul Chambers.
EI: What was your relationship to Charles Mingus?
CH: I met him at the Five Spot, and I think he liked my playing, because he was there an awful lot, checking us out.
EI: That quartet record with Ted Curson, Eric Dolphy, and Dannie Richmond is his response to you and Ornette at the Five Spot.
CH: I think you’re right. We played opposite each other a lot and became friends. Once, in 1973, he was playing with his band at the University of Miami, and I was playing with Ornette. They had rented a bass for him, and apparently it wasn’t good. He called my room and asked me if he could borrow my bass. I said, “Man, you can HAVE my bass!” We all went after the gig to hear Ira Sullivan at the Fontainebleu Hotel, and that’s where I met Jaco Pastorius — another great bass player.
For Charlie Haden:
1) Liberation Chorus (memorial thoughts from Charlie’s extended family of musicians)
2) Interview with Charlie Haden (2007)
3) This is Our Mystic (Haden with Ornette) (2010)
4) Hampton Hawes and the Low Blues (2013)
5) Silence (Personal history and anthology of other bits about Charlie on DTM)