(Memorial thoughts from Charlie Haden’s extended family of musicians, including Ralph Alessi, Geri Allen, Reid Anderson, Joey Baron, Django Bates, Tim Berne, Matt Brewer, Alan Broadbent, Chris Cheek, Greg Cohen, Stephen Crump, Benoit Delbecq, Mike Formanek, Bill Frisell, Larry Goldings, Jerome Harris, Billy Hart, Tootie Heath, John Hébert, Mark Helias, Fred Hersch, David King, Frank Kimbrough, Guillermo Klein, Joe Lovano, Tony Malaby, Branford Marsalis, Joe Martin, Brad Mehldau, Ben Monder, Jason Moran, Sam Newsome, Matt Penman, Chris Potter, Tom Rainey, Joshua Redman, Eric Revis, Jorge Rossy, Kenny Werner, Jeff Williams, Matt Wilson, and Ben Wolfe.)
I was deeply saddened at hearing about Charlie Haden’s passing. It’s actually a nice opportunity for me to write about him at this moment. In the mid-Eighties I attended California Institute of the Arts and played trumpet in Charlie’s ensemble. Most of those rehearsals started with Charlie walking in and making a beeline for the stereo to play some music for us that he couldn’t wait to share. One time he played “Lonely Woman” (the Horace Silver tune) and was directing every note and inflection of Horace’s piano solo, obviously knowing it like the back of his hand. After every phrase, he would let out a huge “woohoo!” sound, not able to contain his giddiness for the music. That enthusiasm for music was infectious and can’t be underestimated for its lasting effect on all of us who were fortunate enough to be there. Then we’d play music that mostly consisted of Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman tunes. He would offer comments, oftentimes having to do with abstract concepts like “Play music as if you’ve never heard it before” and other things of this nature I know I wanted to grasp, but really couldn’t at the time. Invariably he would also play with us and that’s when the real lesson began. I heard him play on numerous occasions and every time there was a moment when my jaw would literally drop struggling to come to grips with how he was doing it: it seemed like magic to me. These simple melodies were being spun in an almost predictable way, yet they sounded like a symphony every time because of his impeccable voice leading, his rich sound, and amazing use of dynamics. He could shape dynamically at such a quiet volume and then could make a note “growl,” almost knocking you off balance.
I have two more fond memories of Charlie as a teacher.
One was a road trip that we all took to the Notre Dame jazz festival in which our group performed. We traveled the day before and spent a night in Chicago because Charlie wanted to meet our pianist David Ake’s parents. Then there was a concert with Charlie’s ensemble at Cal Arts in which Charlie was in the audience making sounds of approval that were at times drowning out the music. Charlie really loved teaching, and from what I heard he was still making it up to Valencia in recent months to teach despite being severely weakened by his illness.
He really loved his students.
But after years and year of reflection, my thoughts are that Charlie was all about music, which deeply emanated from every fiber of his body, mind, soul and most specifically his ears. His bass sound was literally channeling what he really was: a singer. Maybe the most powerful evidence of this is from his record Rambling Boy in which we hear a two-year-old Charlie yodeling with his family and then a seventy-year-old Charlie singing Shenandoah with his family. If you haven’t heard it, it’ll bring tears to your eyes. He truly was one of the most soulful musicians that I can think of and he is one of the main reasons I have embraced improvisation to the extent I have. He and his music will live on forever.
I am thankful for the extraordinary body of work Charlie contributed throughout his life.
For his opening up a safe world of musical brilliance inhabited by a special group of artists within his orbit, and I am also thankful for the place he created for me to participate over the past twenty-seven years or more.
It was through Charlie that I would join our collaborative trio with Paul Motian after two tours with the Liberation Orchestra, and visits to Cuba and Europe. I was invited as an equal leader, even though I was just in the spring of my career. During this period we shared many performances at the Village Vanguard, and some recordings.
I recall being in the studio performing “Lonely Woman” with Charlie and Paul. Charlie’s ability to suspend time through pulse and space with rich and perfectly placed tones was so moving. During the take, Ornette Coleman walked through the door, most certainly per Charlie’s invitation. A surreal and unforgettable life marker. Soon after this I joined Ornette’s quartet.
I am grateful to Charlie for all of these things and so much more, having come to understand through both Charlie and Ruth the meaning of authentic friendship.
Charlie, we loved being there to hear you pull the sound swirling around our heads, gut strings snapping, where beautiful dark melodies lived. You are missed…
When I first heard Charlie Haden I was in high school: curious about jazz but not feeling quite connected to it. I remember that there was something about his sound and the way he played that bridged a gap for me. Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come was one of the first jazz albums I bought (on cassette!). I was mesmerized by “Lonely Woman”—that music could sound like that. Charlie was the reason I wanted to play the acoustic bass. His playing was the embodiment of folklore and mystery, and he possessed the most fundamental understanding of how his instrument served the music as a whole. He brought his distinctive voice and lyricism to every musical context that he played in. There are some musicians that, no matter how much you strive for your own voice, they will always be there in every note you play. For me Charlie Haden is one of those musicians.
Whether live trio gigs with Lew Tabackin, or recording with Fred Hersch or John Scofield or David Sanborn, or live with his own Quartet West, I noticed that Charlie always played for keeps. He seemed to go to this very deep place when playing. His approach to ballad playing opened up a whole world of fun and beauty that is still relatively unexplored.
I remember he called me to sub in the Quartet West for Lawrence Marable on a few gigs in upstate NY. The plane was a puddle jumper with no chance to transport the bass. At sound check Charlie unpacked the bass that was provided for him. He spent some time tuning and adjusting the instrument. I had sat down on the stage to wait until he finished before doing drum surgery. There was no one else around. I don’t think he knew I was there…
Anyhow after tuning up he continued to play and this beautiful heart-wrenching music was pouring out of him. He would hint at an Ornette Coleman head and it would keep moving forward. For about 15 minutes he kept unfolding melodies. What a sound! What a feeling!! The earth moved!!! What a moment to witness… a true artist doing what he loved best.
When he finished, I quietly stood up and said, “Thank you, Charlie.”
He replied, shaking his head: “Man…….this bass is a real dog.”
In retrospect I’m sure he was right, but I never heard a dog tell such stories. Thank you, Charlie.
When I first heard Charlie Haden (on Survivors’ Suite—ECM 1085), I imagined his bass must’ve been constructed without glue or joints, carved from one single tree: the tallest, most awe-inspiring tree from the world’s oldest forest. It came as no surprise then to discover as I heard more, that every note Charlie chose became the root of the music, nourishing the musicians and listeners, and connecting the music to the earth. R.I.P.
Hearing Charlie Haden and Paul Motian playing their unique brand of funk at the Vanguard in the Seventies made me want to play music. One of my fondest musical memories.
Moments before I heard of Charlie’s passing I walked into the Jazz Gallery, put my bass on the stage and starting staring at a picture of him hanging on the wall. Immediately I could hear his sound in my mind, so vividly that it was as if it was there in the room with me, coming out of that picture. That sound has had an immeasurable effect on me. I often feel the weight of it when I’m performing, or just at home thinking about how I want to play the instrument. Charlie’s musical voice is so distinct that I’m not sure I have ever once listened to a recording of him and confused him with someone else! Listening to one second of him as an accompanist or soloist is enough to know. That kind of purity and musical vision is profound.
I’ve had the great fortune of meeting Charlie a handful of times, and I always encountered a man that was gracious, and encouraging. As much as I put him on a pedestal, he never seemed to put himself there with me or other people that had a deep love for the music. I opened for Charlie one night at a festival in Switzerland and started to express to him how nervous I was to be playing in front of him. He looked at me very earnestly and responded, “I’m just one of the cats, man!” I hear his voice clearly whenever I remember that moment and it always brings a smile to my face. Obviously to me, Charlie was (and remains) so much more than “just one of the cats.” I really like what bassist Ben Wolfe wrote recently after Charlie passed: “Thinking about how he can be heard in all of our sounds.” Indeed it is hard for me to imagine what we would all sound like now had he not been with us the past 76 years. I will always feel fortunate that he was.
Charlie had moved to LA in the mid-Eighties and was looking to form a group in the area. As always, he had a vision, a concept of the group already, this being his love for Raymond Chandler and film noir of the 1940s. Well, he got the right guys, for sure! He told me later that he had heard me on the jazz station while driving somewhere in The Valley, pulled over to the side of the road, listened, called the station when he got home, and in the next breath called me in that familiar youthful voice of his. That’s Charlie. Suddenly I went from $35 dollar gigs at Dino’s and Pasquale’s to touring with Qt. West in Europe and Asia. Not first class by any means, but living the life I had always aspired to, performing music and communicating feelings with, as Bud Powell would say, a seriousness of purpose. That was Charlie, not only listening to the “pretty notes”, but what generated them, the soulfulness of being in the moment with the person he was accompanying. How moving it was to ride the current he created under you. How humble and beautiful he was as he would look up from his bass and mouth “yeah, man” as we played together. That is the memory I will keep in my heart forever of this most human of human beings, most musical of musicians. “Yeah, Charlie!”
One of the first times I heard Charlie Haden live, he was playing with Paul Motian, Dewey Redman and Mick Goodrick at the Regatta Bar in Boston. We went with some friends from school and sat as close to the stage as we could. It was really a life-changing experience, none of us had ever seen or heard anything like it. The spontaneity and interaction, the humor and depth, the sophistication and amazing simplicity. We walked out of there as if someone had taken the lid off our musical jars, knowing that from that moment, we would want to hear and try to play music in a different way.
Getting to play with Charlie some years later in the LMO was an incredible thrill! I was lucky enough to get to stand right in front of him and listen to him go after and dig out those perfect notes with that enormous and embracing sound. Being on stage with him made you want to try to give back as much as he was giving you! His playing had this weight to it, that couldn’t be resisted and just pulled you in. Night after night, it was a valuable insight to see how he approached every situation with such courage and honesty along with an unwavering commitment to find truth.
Charlie’s sound was the embodiment of sincerity and humility. His melodies were essential, unpredictable, and like anchors that took the listener to beautiful and mysterious depths. He was a gentle and determined presence. His music reflected his humanity and, above all, expressed a profound love and gratitude.
One of the last times I heard him, he was playing at Birdland in New York with Paul, Brad Mehldau, and Lee Konitz. Again, it was one of those indescribable experiences that was both disorientating and reassuring. After the set, Charlie came off the stage, went up to Paul who was sitting at the bar, and said, “Man, I didn’t know what was goin’ on up there!” They both laughed…
As I process the loss of colleague, friend, and mentor Charlie Haden, a few thoughts pass thru my mind. I would like to share them with you.
Lessons I learned from Charlie.
Lessons he learned from a lifetime of listening and creating.
Lessons I hope stay in the ears and hearts of musicians a hundred years from today.
What is more important?
Your LIFE in music?
Your music being LIFE?
What is more important?
What you know from a score or part?
What you know from your core & heart?
What is more important?
Your “taste” as it tells the world what you really feel?
Your “taste” as you shape each musical situation to become honest and real?
What is more important?
Knowing the components of a song (melody, lyrics, harmony, form)?
Knowing the song as a companion (friend) throughout your life?
What is more important?
Your hands (or voice) moving quickly and accurately?
Your creative mind moving quickly and wisely?
What is more important?
A wise idea placed into the music?
Planting your ideas in the earth of your wisdom?
What is more important?
Your sound thru an amp or speaker?
Your sound… period?
What is more important?
Your tempo relating to a metronome?
Your tempo bringing life to the music you play?
What is more important?
Your tuning with a calibration device (tuning fork, oscilloscope, computer)?
Your sense of pitch that allows all others to rest on your shoulders?
What is more important for a bass player?
What is more important?
Your value as a musician?
How you value music?
What is more important?
Your legacy on your instrument?
Your legacy as heard thru the music of your time?
What is more important?
That your music sounds spiritual?
That you are spiritual?
Please tell me……. the door is always open.
Charlie Haden was a beacon for the soul of music, a constant reminder that this should be a communication from the human spirit, and nothing less.
Always from the core, always in the very moment, no matter the musical mode in which he engaged, he connected us powerfully to our shared roots, while remaining free and buoyant with a reverent simplicity… a distillation, a concentration of elements.
He was a citizen-artist, an activist of global perspective and inclusive, humanist conviction.
Then, of course, there was The Sound. The sound of Mother Earth, grand as the ocean, broad as a redwood, yet playful and limber. It was a call to dig deeper into ourselves and make the journey toward infinity.
I will heed that call.
We all know that Mr Haden was one among a few crucial actors in the history of jazz after the late Fifties. Everybody loved his playing, the way he was focusing on the essence of music, as if he re-invented it each time he took the bass.
I first saw him play live around 1983 or ’84 I think (I was then 17 or 18 years old), at the New Morning in Paris, a surreal two-set trio concert with Paul Bley and Paul Motian. At this time I knew pretty much all the Ornette records with him, as well as the two ECM discs of Old and New Dreams, a band I adored. I remember this masterminded and soulful concert, and what surprised me the most, I think (it was the first time I saw those three play in reality!), was how Mr. Haden could play such relevant and deep music with his very mysterious and unorthodox technique (his left hand sort of like he was wearing some home-made glove ? Musical gloves for sure !!!!) And I remember following the momentum of his statements, his lines, like you follow a story-teller. It felt so transparent in thought, and turned such a way that allowed the two Pauls to play so freely, hence magical. I was in heaven. It’s a couple of years later that I transcribed quite a lot of Ornette’s quartet, tracks from This Is Our Music or The Shape of Jazz to Come, and that I observed even more in detail the lace-like subtleties of Haden’s lines and ideas. I remember asking to myself sometimes “is there an edit here?” when it felt ideas were switching so fast… maybe there were sometimes edits after all… anyway this time spent transcribing was fabulous, and, to quote bassist Ingebrigt Flaten, Mr. Haden changed my life, too.
As a piano player, being introduced to Ornette’s quartet music in my teens has opened my ears so much. I immediately loved this music that had no piano in it, where Haden was the pivot—everything was pivoting around Haden, it felt like, he was a polarity driver. And it felt like most of it was by ear—not after a pre-shaped system. So precious and rare. It felt so open, so opened to the grand wide. I was listening to these vinyls in loop. Sometimes even played along the records to try to figure out how I wanted to play ! And it definitely opened my mind to seek my own voice—the organic link to piano probably came when I witnessed Mr. Sam Rivers improvising at the piano at La Sphère, a small club attached to Alan Silva’s IACP Parisian improv school in the mid-Eighties. I experienced the same freedom in listening to his lines I had experienced with Haden a few months before. Very free in thought, but melodic and always with a strong sense of form, may it be micro-forms (little motifs stuck together like collage or cut-up poetry, like Charlie Parker or Ornette!) or macro-forms (long drones or pedal points).
Now… what about Mr Haden’s time, of course his time, this all linked to a sound anyone introduced to can immediately recognize!
Charlie Haden allowed and gave a lot of freedom to music, each note he played appeared to be brought in a veil of silk, as if it were a ceremony to celebrate the existence of music. Haden has now reached immortality, he is an example of mastery in art and will remain a master for all future generations.
Charlie Haden was one of the most truly honest jazz musicians in the history of the music. He was obviously much, much more than that, but I’d rather leave that for others to debate. Early on I tried like so many others to imitate Charlie, but was unsuccessful in achieving anything but the most superficial emulation. In the end his influence on me is less about his bass playing and more about his integrity.
The first gig I did with Charlie Haden was at Seventh Ave. South with The Liberation Music Orchestra. The stage was tiny. There wasn’t enough room. Somehow I managed to squeeze in underneath the drums between Paul Motian and Charlie. The bass was 3 inches from one ear, the cymbals 3 inches from my other. I’ll never forget that. What a sound. It was paradise. Talk about STEREO. I don’t know what to say. Words are inadequate. The musical world I grew up in and live in now has SO much to do with Charlie Haden. A pioneer. He opened doors. Wide. Welcomed us in. I am so thankful. We are blessed.
Charlie Haden was one of the most intuitive and open-minded musicians I’ve ever known. He seemed to transcend genres, and, ultimately, the bass itself, by reaching for a kind of melodic purity. While playing with Charlie in Australia several years ago, I was witness to Charlie playing a solo on the ubiquitous “I Got Rhythm” chord changes. Not only was his playing free of jazz cliches, but he was manipulating the time and phrasing in such a way that this conventional song structure suddenly sounded fresh, abstract, modern. Charlie had a way of discovering freedom within existing structures, and would communicate his ideas with simplicity, clarity, and beauty—no matter the musical context. But most of all, Charlie played from the heart, and it was impossible not to feel Charlie… This is what will truly stay with me—how good Charlie made me feel.
Charlie Haden’s work as bassist and bandleader demonstrated how deeply rooted melodicism, plangent timbre, and heart-filled conception could bring value to a wide variety of contexts. A sense of commitment to what he played and presented was always palpable—every note, every moment was sure-footed. His music moved me. What a model to strive to emulate—thank you, Charlie!
Of course it was more than an honor to know him, to be in his company…
One thing I noticed over the years: I’d ask all my favorite bassists, “What are you doing there?” when they played something to do with pedal points, except that it was so melodic and pretty that you didn’t think of it as a pedal point. Without fail, all those favorite bassists said they got it from Charlie Haden.
I loved Charlie Haden. His bass solos on ballads with Quartet West and strings were so beautiful. He gave that to me and I listened to it a lot. I also liked another one he gave me, Ramblin’ Boy, with his whole family and that hillbilly style.
For whatever you were playing, he had some special stuff. I saw him with Ornette at the Five Spot so many times. The club was often empty but the music was wonderful. I heard two concepts with the drummers, and they were both great: Blackwell was melodic, Billy would swing. Charlie fit perfectly with them both. I wish I could tell Charlie I loved him him now, instead of for an obituary.
I met Charlie Haden one time in person and I will never forget it. It was around 1998 when I was invited to an open rehearsal at Ornette Coleman’s Harmolodic Studios in Harlem. Charlie was there rehearsing with Ornette, Billy Higgins, and Lee Konitz. They had a festival gig in Italy they were preparing for. I was sitting in the engineer booth soaking it all in. The dialogue between Ornette and Charlie was amazing both musical and verbal. It was like listening to a recording, everything was so clear. The sound coming from Charlie’s bass. Man, what a sound that is. Low and resonant, every note clear and with purpose. That is what is so amazing about Charlie Haden. Sound, sound, sound. Forget all the chops and flash, pure melody floating a bed of warmth and groove. In fact, some of my favorite Haden is the music he recorded in the early Seventies, before studios started to fear the dreaded D.I (direct input) method of recording bass. I like to call this period “D.I. Charlie”… the only bass player that I can listen to recorded direct. Simply incredible. Check out Ornette Coleman’s Science Fiction or any Keith Jarrett quartet recording from this time period and you will get the idea. Thank you, Mr. Haden, for your inspiration and legacy. You have changed the bass forever.
Charlie Haden’s passing marks the end of an era for musicians in the original circle of Ornette Coleman. Everyone is aware of his importance as an integral representative of the lineage of bass players in American music, and his accomplishments as a composer and band leader. He is most known for being a proto-member of the musical explorations of Ornette Coleman from the late 1950s onward, but in looking at his whole musical life, one cannot be but astonished at the breadth and consistency of his contributions in multitudinous creative situations. I have always been impressed with his ability to silence a room with one note or phrase, in beginning a bass solo. Recently, in listening to the title tune on the Art Deco album of Don Cherry, I was struck with the beauty of Charlie’s note choices, the sound, the feel, the intimacy and immediacy of the performance. It was somehow subtle, dramatic, powerful, and gentle. I highly recommend taking the time to really experience that performance as an example of a completed artist supporting and initiating group music with an intentionality of the highest order.
We will all miss his great sense of humor and wonderful story telling. His impact and inspiration will live on through the music that he created and the music of those he has influenced.
Shortly after moving to NYC in 1977 when I was 21, I saw Charlie at the bar at Boomer’s, a long-defunct club on Bleecker and Christopher. I boldly went up to him and said, “Mr. Haden, I love your music and I know we will play together someday.” He looked at me, intrigued perhaps but certainly not showing it—and went back to his drink. Several years later, I was doing a week at Bradley’s and heard he was in town, so I asked him to play duo with me. It was a revelation. His tone was so centered and in tune—and nobody else could create spontaneous chord changes out of “free” improvisation the way he did. His ears were huge—whether the music was a tune or open. And his solos were so personal and a joy to listen to. I was fortunate enough to have him play on my second album as a leader—Sarabande with Joey Baron on drums. And we recorded together with Jane Ira Bloom and the legendary Ed Blackwell on drums on her album Mighty Lights in the mid-Eighties. That band subsequently played a week at the Vanguard—a couple of things from her record, but mostly Ornette’s music. A total thrill to play with Ornette’s rhythm section—though admittedly a challenge to deal with Ornette’s music on piano. I also played with Liberation Music Orchestra around that time which was a complete blast. He influenced a generation of bassists, not just by what he played and the sound he got, but as a longtime teacher and mentor at CalArts. He was one-of-a-kind, and I—and the whole jazz world—will miss him very much.
I can’t remember the first time I heard Charlie Haden, but it was some time in the mid-Seventies when I was in school in North Carolina, and New York and the jazz world still seemed very far away. My musician friends and I came to worship his playing. I’m sure we must have first heard him in Ornette’s quartet, but also with Keith Jarrett’s “American Quartet,” and later with Old And New Dreams. Charlie was one of those musicians that literally changes people’s lives.
Some of my fondest memories of Charlie:
New Year’s Eve, maybe 1979—Old And New Dreams, broadcast live on NPR from the Keystone Korner in San Francisco. I was still in NC, and hearing that broadcast was so inspiring I still remember it vividly. After moving to New York, I heard them in the mid-Eighties at a great club on Bleecker Street called Lush Life, and later got to know Don Cherry and Dewey Redman, who offered me employment in his quartet 20 years later.
My very first night in NYC, and a total country boy, I went to the Village Vanguard with a couple of friends, and Charlie was playing with Pat Metheny, Dewey Redman, and Paul Motian. I was only visiting for a day, but decided that night to move to New York.
Another night at the Vanguard, Charlie was playing with Joe Henderson and Al Foster, and it was one of the most unforgettable nights of music I’ve ever heard. I still remember the setlist—it was Tuesday, opening night, and they played “Stella By Starlight,” “All the Things You Are,” rhythm changes, and a blues—potentially the most boring set imaginable, except that THEY were playing it. Needless to say, I went back on Thursday.
The only time I got to play with Charlie was subbing for Paul Bley at a soundcheck at the Blue Note a few years ago. We played “All The Things You Are,” “Body and Soul,” and “I Can’t Get Started.” He was gracious, and thankful that I’d agreed to make the soundcheck, and probably had no idea that in doing those three tunes with him I was fulfilling a lifetime dream.
The duet recordings with Hampton Hawes, Chris Anderson, Kenny Barron, Carlos Paredes, Egberto Gismonti, duet gigs with Paul Bley, the Liberation Music Orchestra, Cherry’s “Art Deco,” all the music with Ornette and Keith, hearing him at the Vanguard with Geri Allen and Paul Motian, the Montreal Tapes, recordings with Chet Baker, Art Pepper, Hank Jones… and let’s not forget that hookup with Paul Motian—one of the greatest partnerships in jazz. All these things were just part of an incredible life in music, forming memories of his incredible sound that none who heard him will ever forget.
With Charlie’s passing, there is much to miss, yet so much to be eternally thankful for, and much to carry forward. He played the history of music, honestly, with the most beautiful sound, always in the moment, and never erring. What focus, what a SOUND, what vulnerability, what humanity! He taught so many so much, and always by excellent example. Since his passing I’ve seen an outpouring of love for him that is indicative of the love he had for the music, and for humanity.
Charlie Haden represented above all for me the highest level of the outsider/insider polarity that I have pursued in my own music since my beginnings. He inspired me to pursue a “true to life experience,” personal approach to creative music that has helped me make decisions that might be left of center at times but are ultimately rewarding—even if I find myself asking, “Would someone like Charlie Haden approve of this shit you are trying?”
Thanks to masters like Charlie I can ask that question and still feel like I can be included in a dialogue with music that contains the elements necessary to connect with people on a gut level, and also some things that make them ask questions and experience tension in the answers.
Thanks for the music that made me smile the biggest, Charlie!
I never met Charlie in person, although I feel sad about his departure because he means so much to me.
Every time I hear him I can recognize his voice, in any context, always connecting… a clear voice that makes everybody around sound better.
Here are my respects to a brave, unique, and wonderful musician.
I’m feeling Tears of Love & Joy with the passing of Charlie Haden. I grew up listening to his spiritual poetic music through recordings with Ornette Coleman and The Keith Jarrett Quartet. Charlie said once that Ornette gave him permission to be himself in the music. That gave me the inspiration to try and develop in the art of improvising. After moving to NY in the mid-Seventies, before I knew it in a mysterious, magical way I found myself playing with Paul Motian, which led me becoming a member of The Charlie Haden Liberation Music Orchestra in the mid-Eighties… Playing the music of Carla Bley with Dewey Redman. Paul, Tom Harrell, Don Cherry, “Makanda” Ken Mcintyre, Ray Anderson, & others was like a beautiful dream… There was a searching exploration in Charlie’s melodic bass line to create music within the music. He had a telepathic magical gift in his harmonic and rhythmic approach that was amazing… It was a blessing for me to tour the world under his leadership through the years in the LMO, with Quartet West on occasion, and with Gonzalo Rubalcaba … I learned from his generous loving spirit all things about sharing the blessings of life and music… Charlie was serious, meditative, introspective, fun, joyous, wild, cool, fearless, and very politically active… The lessons I’ve learned from him will live on in my life forever… Charlie Haden was truly a bright light for all of us!!! Thank You Charlie…
As you know my favorite Ornette was always the sides with Charlie. That was my music. The humanity in their endless melodic ribbon was at its height with Charlie’s notes. Old and New Dreams continued teaching me the importance of melodic playing in an open context—Dewey was his main man but I would always ask Charlie about Albert Ayler and the other avant saxophonists; he always called them Avant Gardeners and stressed to me the importance of not allowing anyone to stick me in that camp—he told me his favorite sound was Hank Mobley’s and that he heard me coming from that side of the spectrum (Lester, Hawk, …)—he also told me that he could hear that I have always had this sound and that I had a melodic sense. He stressed that most Avant Gardeners did not have this together—strong words, right? This provided me with an inspiration to continue with my artistic direction. In NYC I often felt trapped in a weird vortex caught between the In and Out scenes. Charlie and Paul Motian helped me think differently about that basic distraction and deal purely with sound and rhythm. I feel so blessed to have been a part of their worlds.
I remember when I first tried to listen to Ornette Coleman. I thought it sucked. And I did for a few months, as well. And then one day, after 4 months of trying, I heard it. And then I kept hearing it, as it revealed pearls of wisdom that I will use for the rest of my career.
I didn’t learn Ornette’s music in sequence. I started with The Shape of Jazz to Come, a recommendation (as well as an LP loan) from Stanley Crouch. When I heard the recordings prior to it, I began to appreciate how Mr. Coleman put it all together.
Despite the things I had heard about Ornette’s music—“Man, he’s out…”—the early records tell a different tale. His early music is straight out of be-bop. Something Else! and Tomorrow is the Question are very interesting and revealing. They are quite “inside” (for lack of a better term) in comparison to where Mr. Coleman wanted to go, and ultimately went.
Listening to bassists Don Payne, Red Mitchell and Percy Heath, the bass playing is of its time: clean, discernible, melodic walking lines. The solos would be a nod to the sudden quest for certain virtuosity in jazz, the kind where everyone sounds like a saxophone or piano. Ironically, proponents of the new sound would view bassists like Milt Hinton as archaic, or even more comically, not virtuosic, but that’s a story for another time. What is clear is you can hear the bassists on those recordings, in Mr. Coleman’s parlance, “playing the system.” And that’s where Charlie Haden comes in.
Whereas the standard jazz bass players grew up listening to swing or early R&B, Mr. Haden grew up listening to, in addition to other things, the country and folk songs of the US. By the time he had started listening to jazz, he had musical information that was outside the traditional nomenclature, making him perfect for Coleman’s desire to venture outside “the system.” Charlie Haden was the linchpin.
When you listen to the “inside” songs on The Shape of Jazz to Come, like “Lonely Woman,” “Peace,” or “Congeniality,” Ornette played like he had on prior records, as did Don Cherry. Higgins swings his ass off, all he needs to do. What Charlie Haden did was brilliant. He plays “out,” as it’s called, but always comes back “in” if only for a few second, so everyone can know where he is. And his approach, breaking up the time with arpeggios, for instance, has a staggering effect on the music. And simply because he uses notes that the majority of bassists wouldn’t use to resolve a chord sequence, it has the effect of being outside the structure. The idea is sheer genius. Whether it was Ornette’s idea or Charlie’s, is irrelevant. Charlie is the cat who played it, while everyone else at that time was not.
I had one chance to play with Charlie. I don’t think much of the record, because, while common in jazz and pop music (it works in pop, don’t know why…), it’s hard to have a meaningful recording unless you’ve played with folks on a regular basis, which might explain the jazz musician’s tendency to focus on a particular soloist’s solo on a particular song or a particular record, as opposed to the whole. Perhaps not. Who knows? But I can say that the week at the Vanguard the week before the recording in 1989 was one of the great musical experiences I will cherish always. Motian was swinging his ass off, and in addition to the playing, Charlie’s enthusiasm onstage is infectious. (It was my first extended hang with Lovano as well. Damn, another digression…)
My favorite Charlie Haden record? Nocturne. Having come to jazz relatively late, I was obsessed with complexity in music (not in harmony). I had a lot of catching up to do, and while trying to do so, I had forgotten some of the rules I had learned in R&B, which is the musical version of Ockham’s razor; essentially, the simpler the better. When I heard Nocturne, it was an affirmation of that, and one of the records I still listen to today.
Upon his death, I can already hear all the platitudes: genius, innovator, blah blah. In the end, to me, he was a good man who loved what he did. And he did it better than most. I will miss him.
The Power of Song
If the earth played the bass, it would probably sound like Charlie Haden. I first heard Charlie Haden live with his Quartet West at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago in 1989 when I was a freshman in college. His beautiful sound filled up the room, and his incredible sense of form and melody left an indelible impression upon me. Further study of his playing showed me that a song, melody, or idea, when played with conviction and dutiful honor of a song’s form, can override changes and musical expectations, in his case often creating magic. Has there ever been a more pure, instinctive, tuneful improvisor than Haden? His presence in Ornette Coleman’s music, in particular, is so strong that it is hard for me not to think of one without the other. I am grateful I had opportunities to hear him live. I will always remember the power of his song, sung through the bass.
Jeff Ballard, Larry Grenadier and I were playing in L.A. just a few months ago and on the way out of town we got to visit Charlie and his wife Ruth at their home. Charlie was suffering a lot and we talked with him and Ruth about the post-polio syndrome that had consumed their lives for the last several years. Ruth is a dynamo, an incredibly strong and devoted woman, and was the best partner for Charlie through all of their trials. God bless her. They had been to a variety of different specialists in different parts of the world and had run the gamut from Occidental medicine to a macrobiotic diet. The treatments had helped and brought some temporary recovery—two years ago, Charlie and Ruth came to see us play in a double bill concert with The Bad Plus and Joshua Redman in L.A. and he looked great and was in good spirits, saying he was starting to play again.
(Photo by Ruth Cameron: King, Haden, Redman, Ballard, Anderson, Grenadier, Iverson, Mehldau.)
Eventually he succumbed to the complications of the illness, but not without a valiant fight from Ruth and himself.
When we saw Charlie last, he played us a record that he was hoping to release soon. It was a live duo performance with guitarist Jim Hall, another recently passed jazz musician who embodied some of the same musical principles that inspire me so much from Charlie: a total commitment to melody at all times; within that constant melody, the unmistakable unbroken thread of a song; and whether in a supporting role for another soloist or out front himself, the complete absence of arbitrary playing. How can we avoid playing arbitrary, glib musical ideas, yet remain intuitive and not get locked into something in the white heat of improvisation? These are the things that Charlie demonstrated to me when I played with him, often with the great Lee Konitz and more recently with the late great Paul Motian.
And there are all the records that inspired us and will continue to inspire: Charlie and Ed Blackwell with the paradigm-changing early Ornette Coleman Quartet, Charlie and Ed Blackwell later in Old and New Dreams, Charlie and Billy Higgins on the early Ornette records and later on great records from Pat Metheny like Rejoicing. The list of great associations could go on, with musicians like Keith Jarrett and Paul Motian. I just mention these two rhythm sections that were big for me in my formative years as a musician and that I go back to still—they created such a strong feeling.
The feeling is not something you can parse too well with words, but some of its characteristics are: 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. A confrontation with mortality—a reckoning, but maybe a kind of acceptance or even a celebration. That unbreakable feeling and that feeling of ultimate vulnerability meet in Charlie’s perfect tune, “Silence.”
Charlie talked a lot about Scott LaFaro—LaFaro was big for him. They came up at the same time and both opened up what the bass could do in jazz in different ways; LaFaro was taken early by tragedy and Charlie went on. That affected Charlie. Charlie loved be-bop, and he loved singers. He loved the period right after Bird had passed and right before hard-bop become codified into something more defined and less open-ended—maybe because that was the period in the early Fifties when he was coming up. He talked about piano players like Elmo Hope and Herbie Nichols a lot. Charlie talked about Billie Holiday with special reverence, having met her once when he was very young. He also loved singers from the great Fifties era like Jeri Southern and June Christy. Charlie was married to a singer, and more recently had done a project with Ruth, as well as the Art of The Song, which featured musical soulmates like Shirley Horn.
Besides Ruth, Charlie leaves behind a legacy in his four children—the triplets, Rachel, Petra, and Tanya; and his son Josh. They are all remarkably gifted, creative people. Check out their music. My heart goes out to Charlie’s extended family at this time. I thank Ethan for giving a forum here for people to share their thoughts on Charlie. Let’s all celebrate the legacy of Charlie Haden!
One afternoon many years ago Ben Street and I decided to go through his extensive record collection to see who consistently had the best bass sound. For hours, we played every contender we could think of. Charlie Haden won by a long shot, which was pretty much the result we were expecting. He was about as close as the acoustic bass could get to a human voice. His sound was big and friendly, his playing lyrical and casually brilliant. It made you feel better. And its earthiness made any style he was playing accessible to anyone. And of course, the number of recordings that he was a part of that were indispensable to my growth as a musician and a person are too numerous to list.
I’ll share it like this.
Charlie had a way of simultaneously pulling notes from the ground and from the air. He was able to sonically display the expanse of the bass’s possibilities. Whether deep in the groove or free of the groove. One night while putting our kids to sleep and my wife said to me, “I need to meet the man that makes music that includes so much history in a bass line.”
Charlie’s “awareness” of everyone made him the kind of musician and person we all wanted to be with.
Deep. Loved him.
The first time I heard Charlie Haden, I was a student at the Berklee College of Music in the 1980s; a friend of mine had a cassette of The Shape of Jazz to Come, the infamous Ornette Coleman recording, which also featured Don Cherry on trumpet and Billy Higgins on drums. This is was pre-digital download and Internet-streaming. Cassette dubbing was our economically viable alternative to acquiring music. What I found most interesting about Mr. Haden’s playing—in addition to his warm tone and relaxed time-feel—was the Midwestern folksy quality he brought to the music. Some might say it was simply country blues—which perfectly complemented the Texas-blues folklore of Coleman. I thought the confluence of white soul and black soul that these two brought to the music back in 1958, pre-Civil Rights era, truly represented an American ideal of democratic representation amongst races and cultures that we have yet to embrace, even today—individually and collectively.
Their musical relationship symbolized the true beauty that can transpire from racial tolerance and respect. One where people from all walks of life can coexist, on and off the bandstand, expressing a unique and sometimes demographically and racially specific point of view, provided that they do, in fact, have something to say. They signified the power of cultural collectivism at its best.
Throughout all of the ruckus and sometimes free-for-all musical conversing that permeated Coleman’s music, Haden always stood his position as the musical voice of reason. He was never afraid of marking either the roots or the downbeat, consequently casting a net of tranquility which enabled him to always bring clarity and simplicity to the music, without fail. Whereas playing undisguised things like roots and downbeats is often viewed as taboo amongst modern bassists, Haden not only embraced this aesthetic, he turned it into an art form—as a sideman and as a leader. I imagine some of this can be attributed to his vocal training as a youth—once a singer, always a singer.
The jazz world owes Mr. Haden a great debt for his great compositions, great bands, all of the great music he brought to every bandstand and recording, and most of all, the great love he exuded for humanity, justice, equality, and respect for all human life—with and without his bass. Thank you, Mr. Haden, for the insurmountable legacy you’ve left behind.
No one told me to check out Charlie Haden—his playing had a way of drawing you in by itself, so you were listening to the bass line as an integral part of the composition. With his passing goes one of the best bass sounds in music. And he sounded serious, in the best possible way. But when I first met Charlie about 10 years ago he was up and hanging in a Spanish hotel lobby at 6am. My man!
I never heard Charlie Haden play a false note, not on recordings, not live, not during those too few occasions when I had the chance to play with him. My first exposure to him came from listening to Ornette Coleman and Keith Jarrett records (I must have listened to his intro to Ornette’s “Ramblin” and his solo on Keith’s “Le Mistral” a thousand times!) He had such a direct connection with music and with his instrument, every note he played felt necessary and important, with nothing superfluous to muddy up his message. And the way he played a melody! Playing with Charlie was not like playing with any other bass player, the only way I can think of to describe it is that it was deeply, deeply human. I remember doing a recording led by the pianist Enrico Pieranunzi, with Charlie, Paul Motian, and Kenny Wheeler. Charlie showed up about 3 hours late and announced that he was really hungry. We all went to a restaurant, where he proceeded to order about 4 appetizers, 2 pastas, and a pizza, and regaled us with jokes for about 4 hours. At this point, everyone was pretty frustrated with him, but when we finally started recording around 6 at night, everything he played was like an angel, and nothing else mattered.
I don’t know what else to say, I’m sad I’m not going to see him or play with him again, but of course with an artist like that, even after he’s gone, he’s still here.
There are no words that can adequately describe how profound Charlie Haden’s influence on modern improvised music is and will continue to be. Best to just be very grateful for the timelessness of his sound and ideas, and knowing we will always share that. Thank you, Mr. Charlie Haden!
One of the things Charlie talked about all the time was the importance of beauty in music—or perhaps, more essentially, the power, the potential, and the necessity of music to create and preserve beauty in this world. In fact, Charlie spoke so often on this subject that I think some of us at times took it for granted—that we may not always have thoroughly marked the seriousness and sincerity of his words. Perhaps occasionally we even risked hearing it as a bit of a cliche.
But it wasn’t a cliche. It was Charlie’s truth. It was The Truth. And Charlie embodied, testified to that truth every time he picked up that bass. His playing was one of the fullest, most genuine expressions of beauty in jazz—exquisite lyricism; empathic harmony; boundless flexibility born out of improvisational generosity and intimacy; a selfless, embracing, huge-hearted groove.
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. He helped us chart a path toward the sublime. And it is maybe, just maybe, possible that every single note Charlie ever played was—through its own subtle force, its deceptively simple profundity—beautiful.
Charlie Haden has now left our world. But he hasn’t left us. For he leaves behind enough beauty to sustain us through this world, and the next.
As an artist/musician, true development is ultimately about distilling all of one’s knowledge and very essence down to one note. This is evidenced by all of the great ones (Bird, Miles, Ornette). Charlie had that quality in spades. He brought everyone into the “bass-world.” He grabbed you with his sound and lyricism, and when the listener was able to swim and become enraptured in that universe they immediately realized that Charlie was playing that way all along.
His influence on me as a bassist and musician is profound.
The concept of Beauty truly benefited from Charlie’s time here.
The King is Dead… Long Live The King.
Charlie Haden’s melodic approach to bass lines is for me the ultimate statement on voice leading. His lines are so strong and move so slowly that you hear the harmonic movement of the music with complete transparency, and each move feels inevitable. If you think of music as organized sound that creates emotion, this feeling is just what you need to feel a logical and emotional gravity and pull that will capture you completely. Add to that his amazing sound, time, magic sense of dynamics, and his wisdom in musical storytelling, and you have one of the most memorable musicians of our time. I feel blessed to have had the unforgettable experience of playing with him a few times in different settings, each time a lesson on meaning, feeling, sound…
Charlie Haden played The God Groove and nothing else.
While many will speak of his more celebrated work, what remains with me most are the nights in the 1980s when I sat on the banquet at the Vanguard while Charlie, Joe Henderson, and Al Foster connected all the dots—from the past to the present and well into the future of jazz. I would occupy the last seat nearest the drums, if I could get it. It was like being on stage, in the band. Every detail of what they played was so clear—the how and the why apparent, nothing flip or indecisive, invention and total continuity, storytelling at its finest.
Ron Carter was great with Joe too, but Charlie brought a sensibility to Henderson’s familiar compositions that seemed to really open them up. In a way it was an unlikely combination. I hadn’t heard Charlie in such a context before, on the surface, straight-ahead, advanced be-bop. Charlie turned it into something else, made it edgier, more melodic, earthy and warm. I haven’t heard anything since surpass that trio. Probably as close to seeing Bird as one could get. (The group can be heard on An Evening with Joe Henderson and on one of Charlie’s Montreal Tapes series CDs.)
My one opportunity to play with Charlie came in 1975 when I was in California with Dave Liebman recording his album Sweet Hands at the A & M studios. There were a number of musicians on the date, including another bassist (Frank Tusa), and as a result I don’t recall having a sense of really getting to play with Charlie in an intimate way. I do remember his presence affected all of us. The atmosphere changed; he took us into a deeper realm. At the same time his life seemed in a bit of turmoil. In between takes I could hear him talking on the phone with a great deal of agitation and we spoke of difficulties he was having. In the intervening years he accomplished so much. Seeing him at various times was always sweet. He was essentially kind. You could always hear that. Could anyone get as much out of a single note?
When my wife Felicia and I found out we were having triplets my dear friend and mentor Dewey Redman urged me to call Charlie for support.
I recall saying, ” Hello Charlie, this is Matt Wilson. and I need to talk to you, but not about music. My wife and I are having triplets.”
He said, “Wow, man, that is great, man. I am on another call, I’ll be right back.”
And he was. We talked for over an hour. It was a beautiful conversation and his words of support were encouraging.
Charlie has a son, Josh, and triplet daughters Petra, Tanya, and Rachel.
I have a daughter, Audrey, and triplet sons Max, Henry, and Ethan.
8 kids, 4 ages.
We called ourselves the Fathers of Triplets Rhythm Team.
The first time I played with Charlie was in the fall of 2003. We played a concert in San Francisco with Dewey and Joshua Redman. I recall, from the very first beat, how buoyant and comfortable the time felt. Charlie’s walking feel seemed to purr. It was strong but patient and the shape of his sound embraced the cymbal melody like a big warm hug. It was heaven to play sounds with him.
I was thrilled when he phoned and asked me to play in the Liberation Music Orchestra not long after that gig. We rehearsed and started the tour at the Montreal Jazz Festival in the summer of 2004. Also in Montreal, I was honored to play with Charlie and Dewey Redman in a trio concert.
I had been playing with Dewey since 1994, and to be included in this setting was a career highlight. They even had me do the set list.
I can recall saying out loud to myself in between tunes, “I am really here. This is not a dream. This is UNBELIEVABLE!”
There is a bootleg of it out there somewhere that I would love to have.
The Liberation Music Orchestra experience was special. The arrangements by Carla Bley were extraordinary and the members of the band not only blended musically but personally. We were a real family and the memories of music and fellowship will always be dear to me.
I remember playing a rock club with the band in Los Angeles. During a solo I had in the middle of “America the Beautiful,” I strapped on the snare drum and marched the audience out onto the sidewalk in front of the club and then back inside. As I returned I thought to myself, “This could very well be my last night with the band.”
I sat back down and turned back to look at Charlie with a bit of apprehension.
He was smiling and gave me an approving thumbs up along with, “Wooo, Matt Wilson. Yeah man! ”
My daughter Audrey really loved Charlie. They really connected after she first met him. Charlie and his wife Ruth, who were always very kind to Felicia, me, and the children, invited me to bring the kids to see a screening of the documentary about Charlie, Ramblin’ Boy, at the Walter Reade Theater. This was not long after Felicia was diagnosed with leukemia so I brought Audrey and Ethan to the the theater as a distraction.
The film was fantastic and we enjoyed it immensely. While watching, Audrey, who was 12 at the time, counted how many times in the film Charlie said, “Man.”
After the film and discussion we went up to say hello to Charlie and Ruth and thank them for the invitation.
Charlie saw Audrey and greeted her with, ” Hi Audrey, nice to see you man.”
Audrey replied, “Hi Charlie, it is nice to see you.”
She then quickly whispered in my ear, “Number 39.”
I loved talking on the phone with Charlie and tried to do so on regular basis. I remember him playing mixes of the LMO recording, Not In Our Name, over the phone. Charlie always had a good joke or two to share along with political discussions. The last time I spoke with him was on June 16, the day after my wife Felicia lost her battle with leukemia. It was brief. His voice was weak but his words were strong.
Charlie Haden—” I love you man! ”
I am eternally grateful for the amazing fun we had on the bandstand, the road, and on the telephone.
Your deep spirit, love, and compassion will forever be a part of my musical presence.
What did the playing of Charlie Haden mean to me? I’ve been pondering this question and as I know the answer internally, I’ve been having difficulty describing it with clarity. How does one describe the beauty that exists in the intricacies of art? The poetry in one’s being that you hear in their sound, their rhythm? We all know the greatness and oneness of Charlie’s playing, but what did it, what does it, mean to me? I can say that a few specific things do keep coming to mind. I keep thinking about how I can hear his influence in all my bass player peers—bass players of varied philosophies and approaches all seem to share this influence. I don’t mean that we all try to copy Charlie in certain situations, I mean he exists in all of our sounds.
Over the last 30 or so years I’ve been fortunate to cross paths with Charlie several times, almost always backstage at festivals—I even once crowded into a hotel room with Charlie, Roy Haynes, Brad Mehldau, and several more to watch Tyson-Holyfield—another story, another time. The encounter, however, that has stayed with me the most was when he once asked to check out my bass. He held the instrument in the way only Charlie does and proceeded to play the melody, just the melody, to “Cheryl.” This leads me back to what I first said, how do you describe the beauty? I heard so much music in those 12 bars—soul, truth, history, love, pain, blues. I heard Charlie.
For me, the word poetry describes Charlie Haden and the music of Charlie Haden.
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)