I’ve probably written more about Charlie Haden than anybody else. All those words didn’t exactly get me a few gigs with him, but it was close: Charlie heard a version of “Broken Shadows” at Dewey Redman’s memorial (with Reid Anderson and Matt Wilson) and wanted to meet. I immediately talked his ear off about all the things I had on the tip of my tongue thanks to my work on DTM. This led to a few performances together, the DownBeat interview, and getting to hang out with him and Ruth Cameron when I was in LA. One memorable time they even came over for dinner in Brooklyn where Sarah cooked one of her specialties, bouillabaisse. I spun Paul Bley’s old California LP, Solemn Meditation, and Charlie looked it over and muttered that he hadn’t heard it since it was recorded. It’s not really a great album, but you can easily tell it is that kid Charlie Haden on bass, even on his very first record date.
I loved played with Charlie, but I didn’t kid myself that it was much more than a fanboy playing with an aging master. Thanks to a recurring issue of tinnitus, Charlie demanded that everything be really soft. Honestly, as great as it was to play the Vanguard with Charlie and Paul Motian, I had more pure fun with Paul and either Reid or Larry Grenadier, just because Paul and I were then free to really rattle our instruments properly.
Anyway, in the last few years, when I knew Charlie was sick, I made a point to post a few things on DTM that might cheer him up. (The Hampton Hawes essay is in this category.) I admit I read all of these to him over the phone.
The first sincere (but also “Hey, Charlie, we love you!”) piece was from August 2010, about Quartet East and Jasmine:
I saw Charlie play two weeks ago in “Quartet West goes East” at Birdland with Ravi Coltrane, Alan Broadbent, and Rodney Green. The whole gig was excellent; in particular Charlie’s uptempo walking on “Today I Am a Man” was wildly swinging and unrepentantly modernistic.
Charlie has a new record out this year, Jasmine, a duo session with Keith Jarrett. Since the press angle seemed to suggest that it was mellow dinner music for lovers, I was worried that I wasn’t going to like it.
After all, my allegiance is to the Jarrett quartet with Charlie, Dewey Redman and Paul Motian. That band combined free jazz, Woodstock-era hippie groove, and four great melodicists in a high-energy festival of near-insanity. The one thing that band didn’t do much was play standard ballads. Trio without Dewey there’s a lovely “Blackberry Winter,” a marvelously deconstructed “Everything I Love,” and a poorly-recorded “Dedicated To You,” but that’s it.
Since that band broke up, Charlie and Keith (and Paul, too) have gotten more involved in standards. But do they need each other do it? That was my worry. It’s a major event to have them back together again. Was an album of ballads the best choice?
Charlie loves Bill Evans, and regrets that he didn’t make a record with him. But Jasmine is something just as special. Keith doesn’t play like Evans here! But Keith uses a kind of added-note jazz harmony that Evans was an early apotheosis of. Admittedly, Evans wasn’t the only one: other jazz players like Red Garland, Horace Silver, George Shearing, Dave Brubeck, and Ahmad Jamal all predated him slightly. (Motian told me that Evans also checked Lou Levy’s 1956 disc Solo Scene.) There were also arrangers like Gil Evans, Nelson Riddle, Paul Weston, and song and film composers like Gordon Jenkins and David Raskin.
What all these musicians have in common is an impressionistic harmonic middle that leaves room for the bass to offer not just roots but also countermelodies. Indeed, Evans became famous for having busy, colorful bassists who would take full advantage of the pianist’s “rootless” voicings.
It’s an attractive style, but there’s an argument that Evans sounded just as good or better with bassists who played deep roots and laid in the groove, like on recorded collaborations with Teddy Kotick, Sam Jones, Paul Chambers, and Jimmy Garrison.
For the last 25 years, Keith has been playing standards with Gary Peacock, a bassist who played an ornamental style with Evans and continues to do so with Keith. Peacock is fabulous, but his collaboration with Jarrett is well-documented and familiar.
On Jasmine, Charlie Haden plays Wilbur Ware to Keith Jarrett’s Evans. Again, Jarrett doesn’t sound like Evans, and Charlie doesn’t sound like Wilbur, either. But they do represent those streams in the music. It’s light and dark next to each other. Keith’s glowing chords become even more luminous when supported and contrasted with Charlie’s deep song.
The album was recorded in Jarrett’s home studio. There is a surprising amount of non-distracting “twang” from the piano, and the bass is completely natural. It’s a humble record, simply two great musicians deeply in love with these songs and with playing together. Perhaps my favorite track is a restrained version of “Goodbye” that just whispers along at a “walking ballad” tempo. Each beat is placed like a careful pour of cask-strength single malt.
The next was in 2012, about a minor award and a major recording:
Congratulations to Charlie Haden for receiving a really nice honor last week:
The Recording Academy® (www.grammy.com) announced its Special Merit Awards recipients today, and this year’s honorees are: Glenn Gould, Charlie Haden, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Carole King, Patti Page, Ravi Shankar and the Temptations as Lifetime Achievement Awardrecipients.
Later on the press release there’s a pretty good description of what makes Charlie special.
A three-time GRAMMY winner Charlie Haden is an all-American jazz musician best known for his signature lyrical bass lines and his ability to liberate the bassist from an accompanying role. In addition to his groundbreaking work as an original member of the Ornette Coleman Quartet, he has collaborated with such jazz artists as Chet Baker, Ed Blackwell, John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Billy Higgins, Art Pepper, and Archie Shepp. Throughout his five decade career, Haden has revolutionized the harmonic concept of bass playing and has covered such genres as free jazz, Portuguese fado and vintage country.
Not bad for a Grammy announcement. The phrase “revolutionized the harmonic concept of bass playing” is actually dead on. Charlie is endlessly provocative in his choice of notes.
The one thing that should always be said about Charlie, though, is that there is a whole genre of music with “improvised harmony” that can’t exist without him. It started with Ornette, then moved to Keith Jarrett, Dewey Redman, and Paul Motian, then Old and New Dreams, then Pat Metheny, Billy Higgins, and Jack DeJohnette. All of that canonical music requires Charlie Haden. Those are the names that need to be in the Grammy blurb!
I’ve praised it on DTM before, but I just re-listened again last week and was reminded again of how great it truly is: The Golden Number, Charlie’s own album of duets with Ornette, Don Cherry, Archie Shepp, and Hampton Hawes.
Another of my favorite magicians of harmony is Richard Strauss. After Lisa Della Casa passed away recently, the first-ever recording of Four Last Songs has been in rotation. Della Casa’s exquisite voice soars with no apparent effort over the heavy orchestra. By modern standards, the tempos are rather quick, but since Della Casa and Karl Böhm both worked with the composer, I believe we can take it as an authentic interpretation. It grew on me as I kept listening.
Strauss found progressions no one else ever has. Charlie Haden is on the same turf. The Golden Number and Four Last Songs: Each track is a miracle.
It also really meant something to me to call Charlie when Larance Marable died. As far as I know, this is still the only decent obituary Marable has received. Take it away, Charlie:
I first met Larance Marable in the late fifties when I was playing with Paul Bley at the Hillcrest Club in L.A. and Larance was playing gigs around town. We soon started playing together with Art Pepper, Hampton Hawes, Sonny Clark, Paul Bley, and would often drive up to San Francisco to play with different musicians including Chet Baker. I still remember the stories he told on that drive, about Bird and other great musicians. In fact, on our Quartet West album Now Is the Hour there’s a picture of him at a birthday party for Bird in Watts, sharing ice cream and cake.
He was a beautiful person that loved to laugh. My daughter Tanya once played him several games of ping pong when we were in Paris. When she missed a point, she’d say, “I’m going to get you, Wabbit” like she was talking to Bugs Bunny, and Larance would crack up.
This guy had something that was magical. I experienced it from the first time we started to play. The thrust of his cymbal was so strong. Strength is not the right word. Maybe power is right. It would happen anytime, anywhere. You could always rely on him. He had a lot of dynamics in his playing. You can’t explain it, but he had it. He functioned in my Quartet West like Jimmy Cobb functioned for Miles Davis, especially on Kind of Blue.
In 1986 or thereabouts, in Hollywood, there was some kind of benefit or reception for the movie Round Midnight. Billy Higgins was there, and he and I were talking and Higgins said, “Look over there, it’s Larance Marable.” Way across the room! Larance Marable! I went over to him, and we hugged. We had’t seen each other in many years. I said, “Man! Are you playing?”
He said, “I always loved playing with you!” and I said, “Now that I found you, we have to play together!”
First Larance subbed with Quartet when Higgins couldn’t make it, but then, when Billy started touring with the Round Midnight band a lot, Larance joined my band full time. His cymbal beat was perfect: It was earthshaking when he came in with the time.
In Quartet West he was the other part of my heartbeat.
Partial Larance Marable discography, according to Tom Lord
1951-52 live tracks with Charlie Parker, Frank Morgan, Wardell Gray, Chet Baker, Hampton Hawes, and others
1953 The Modernity Of Kenny Drew — Teddy Charles, West Coasters
1954 Lorraine Geller, At The Piano — Herb Geller Plays
1955 Frank Morgan On GNP — Jack Sheldon Quintet — A Recital By Tal Farlow — Sincerely Conte Candoli — Dexter Gordon Daddy Plays The Horn — Kenny DrewTalkin’ And Walkin’
1956 Introducing… Carl Perkins — Hampton Hawes Bird Song — Milt Jackson Ballads and Blues — Sonny Criss Go Man! — The Lawrence Marable Quartet Featuring James Clay Tenorman — Sonny Criss Plays Cole Porter — Chet Baker Big Band — Chet Baker/Art Pepper Sextet Picture Of Heath
1957 Herb Geller Sextet Fire In The West
1959 Jimmy Giuffre Quartet Ad Lib — Sonny Stitt Plays Jimmy Giuffre Arrangements — Anita O’Day Sings Jimmy Giuffre Arrangements: Cool Heat — George Shearing And His Orchestra Satin Brass
1960 George Shearing Quintet Acc By Billy May’s Orchestra The Shearing Touch — George Shearing Quintet San Francisco Scene — George Shearing/Nancy Wilson The Swingin’s Mutual — The Montgomery Brothers — The Resurgence Of Dexter Gordon
1961 Teddy Edwards Octet Back To Avalon
1962 Richard “Groove” Holmes After Hours — Victor Feldman Stop The World I Want To Get Off
After this long run of great West Coast jazz, Marable’s discography thins out. Joe Farrell’s Skateboard Park from 1979 seems to be the next date. There’s also Milt Jackson’s Night Mist from 1980.
Marable became more visible again when he joined Charlie Haden’s Quartet West. The studio albums are all classics: In Angel City (1988), Haunted Heart (1991), Always Say Goodbye (1993), Now Is the Hour (1995), and The Art of Song (1999).
In addition to the essential work with Haden, Marable is heard on post-1988 records with Charlie Shoemake/Harold Land, The Herbie Harper/Bill Perkins Quintet, Paul Moer, Frank Strazzeri, Shorty Rogers/Bud Shank & The Lighthouse All Stars, Walter Norris, Bruce Eskovitz, Dianne Schurr, Robert Stewart, Eden Atwood, and Ruth Cameron. Speaking of which, thanks to Ruth for her help with this post!
The last writing I did about Charlie was the liner notes for the forthcoming Haden/Jim Hall duo album. I visited him and Ruth about three months ago and read them to him in person, and got the ultimate compliment: “Read it again!”
In the future I will undoubtedly have more to say about Charlie, perhaps in a book, but for now I am content to let others speak in “Liberation Chorus.”
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)