Charlie Haden (1937 – 2014)
Tough weekend for my musical heroes….
I was just digesting the news of Tommy Ramone, the last remaining member of The Ramones, passing away at his home in Queens on Friday and I heard that Charlie Haden passed away on the same day. I heard about Charlie’s death when Bob Brainen dedicated his WFMU show to him on Saturday morning.
In the same stratosphere of Mingus and Jaco, Haden was widely regarded as one of greatest jazz bassists of the modern era. I’ve been a fan for years and count his 2001 release Nocturne as one my All-Time Top Ten Jazz Albums. It won the Grammy that year for Best Latin Jazz Album and remains in my regular rotation.
Born in Shenandoah, Iowa Haden was mostly known for his work with free-jazz pioneer saxophonist Ornette Coleman, pianist Keith Jarrett, and his Liberation Music Orchestra, a group he co-led with pianist Carla Bley.
Here’s a wonderful story Charlie related to bassist Flea back in 2007…
Flea: The most incredible thing about the upright bass—the few times I’ve played one—is the way you can feel the whole thing vibrate when you have it up against your body. It’s like your body is resonating with the instrument. It’s a very fulfilling feeling.
Haden: It is! That’s why I stand so close to the instrument when I play. I put my head next to it. One night in 1959 I was playing at the Five Spot with Ornette, Don Cherry, and Billy Higgins, and I always play with my eyes closed—but I opened my eyes, and there was some guy onstage with his ear next to my ƒ-hole. And I was like, “Who is this guy?” And Ornette was like, “That’s Leonard Bernstein!” And I was like, “Okay . . . .”
Although he grew up on a farm, his family was very musical and performed regularly on the radio as a country and folk music group known as The Haden Family Band. Charlie made his professional debut as a singer at the age of two! He was a vocalist until he contracted a form of polio that affected his throat and face muscles. He was no longer able to sing and turned to the double bass.
Turning down a scholarship to Oberlin College (they didn’t have a jazz program) he headed west and after attending the Westlake School in LA, he started playing jazz professionally with Paul Bley. He eventually landed with Ornette just after OC’s milestone The Shape of Things to Come. Haden’s country and folk influences were the perfect match for Coleman’s Texas blues and microtonal jazz elements that were blossoming in the free jazz movement.
Spirituality (from Wikipedia…)
While he did not orient himself with a specific religious orientation, Haden was interested in spirituality, especially in association with music. His teaching method relied heavily on spirituality. He believed that in order to establish an individual musical voice, one must first establish a spiritual posture. This physical and mental position will allow the individual to find their own unique musical voice and bring it to their instrument. He also encourages his students to enter a meditative state when they play, one in which they focus solely on the present moment: “there’s no yesterday or tomorrow, there’s only right now,” he claims. In order to find this state, and ultimately to find one’s spiritual self, Haden urged that one must have humility and respect for beauty; they must be thankful for the ability to make music, and to give back to the world with the music they create. He claimed that music taught him this process of exchange, so he teaches it to his students in return. Music, Haden believed, also teaches incredibly valuable lessons about life: “I learned at a very young age that music teaches you about life. When you’re in the midst of improvisation, there is no yesterday and no tomorrow — there is just the moment that you are in. In that beautiful moment, you experience your true insignificance to the rest of the universe. It is then, and only then, that you can experience your true significance.”