After a long battle against the degenerative effects of the polio he contracted in his teens, Haden died at the age of 76 in Los Angeles, the city that saw him take his first steps on the jazz circuits. The goodbye of this great double bass player and composer means the loss of an unrepeatable artist. Freedom, commitment, lyricism and diversity are some of the hallmarks that marked a very high-flying production.
Owner of an exquisite sensitivity, Haden stood out more for the spirituality that he infused into his instrument than for being the owner of great virtuosity. Was applauded as sideman (Before turning 25 he had already recorded nothing less than with Ornette Coleman and with John Coltrane), as the leader of their groups (the Liberation Music Orchestra and the Quartet West among others) and in his outstanding duets with different musicians, one of his specialties.
Charles Edward Haden He was born in Shenandoah, Iowa, on August 6, 1937. His relationship with music began in the early years of his life. As a child, he already participated as a singer in his family’s performances, interpreting American folk, a style that would mark him for life. At the age of fifteen, a polio affected his vocal cords and forced him to move away from singing. Soon after, he became interested in jazz and, in a self-taught way, began to study the double bass using an instrument of his older brother.
At the age of twenty he moved to Los Angeles and quickly joined the professional circuit, collaborating with musicians such as Hampton Hawes (with whom he recorded his first duet album twenty years later) and Art Pepper. In 1958 he participated in Solemn Meditation from Paul Bley. Also from that year are a couple of albums that he recorded live at the Hilcrest Club in Los Angeles –and that would not be released until 1976 and 1977– with Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Bley and Billy Higgins.
In 1959, with the Coleman Quartet, he participated in the recording of one of the cornerstones of avant-garde jazz: The Shape Of Jazz To Come, and in the registry of Change Of The Century. In his passage through those sessions with the rising figure of Ornette, the young Haden was marked by two features of the free jazz, the sense of freedom and social commitment.
The following year, Haden edited with the Coleman lineup This Is Our Music and participated in the quintet led by John Coltrane and Don Cherry who recorded The Avant-Garde. From there, he began a period in which he was requested by various jazz musicians such as Joe Pass, Archie Shepp, Henry “Red” Allen, Pee Wee Russell, Attila Zoller, Bobby Timmons Y Roswell Rudd among others. Also in those years he was part of the prestigious orchestra of Thad Jones Y Mel Lewis and at the end of the sixties and beginning of the seventies he returned to play with Ornette Coleman, with whom he recorded four more albums in his name and participated in one of the albums of John Lennon Y Yoko Ono with the Plastic Ono Band.
In 1967, the young Keith Jarrett (pianist at that time in the group of Charles Lloyd), summoned the double bass player to form a trio with Paul Motian and then a foursome with Dewey Redman. Thus began a long relationship between Haden and Jarrett (the quartet continued active until 1976) that left about twenty albums between that year and the end of the seventies. We could mention as an example: Life Between The Exit Signs, in trio, and The Survivors’ Suite, in foursome. At the end of his career, Haden would meet again with the Philadelphia pianist to leave us a couple of excellent duet records: Jasmine and the recently edited Last Dance, with a title that seemed to sound like goodbye.
At the end of the sixties, Haden already felt fit and motivated to lead a project of his own: the Liberation Music Orchestra, an avant-garde formation in agitation tune with the political currents of the left. His first album, from 1969, is inspired by songs from the Spanish Civil War and includes three of them: The Fifth Regiment, The Four Generals and Long Live the Fifteen Brigade. The pianist Carla Bley was his right hand in this project that had the participation of musicians, in those years in the orbit of the free jazz, como Don Cherry, Dewey Redman, Gato Barbieri, Roswell Rudd and Paul Motian. After that initial album, the Liberation Music Orchestra released three more albums in 1982, 1990 and 2005, the latter to attack the administration of George Bush and the invasion of Iraq.
One of the themes of that first album of the Liberation, Song For Che, caused serious problems for Haden at the first Cascais Jazz Festival in 1971, which he attended as part of the Ornette Coleman Quartet. That night, the double bass player paid his tribute to the Che Guevara “To the liberation movements in Angola and Mozambique”, which led to their immediate arrest by the police of the dictatorship of Oliveira Salazar and his subsequent expulsion from the country.
In the seventies his double bass continued to be demanded by musicians such as Alice Coltrane, Carla Bley, John McLaughlin, Joe Henderson, Paul Motian, Don Cherry, Dave Liebman, Dewey Redman, Leo Smith Street and Art Pepper. In this decade, it should be noted especially in the career of Charlie Haden in 1976. After passing through the Jarrett quartet, he created at that time Old And New Dreams along with three other musicians who had collaborated with Ornette: Don Cherry, Dewey Redman and Ed Blackwell. Also in that year he published his first duets: As Long as There’s Music with Hampton Hawes and Closeness con Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett, Alice Coltrane & Paul Motian.
In those years, his discography began to diversify more and more, sharing projects with musicians from different latitudes in an exploration of various musical roots that would last until the end of his life. We could cite as an example his records with the guitarist manouche Christian Escoudé, the Argentine bandoneon player Dino Saluzzi, the Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Egberto Gismonti, the Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek, the Portuguese guitarist Carlos Paredes or the Cuban pianist Gonzalo rubalcaba, as well as his readings of compositions by the Mexican José Saber Marroquín.
In the eighties – in addition to his collaborations with Pat Metheny, Gery Allen, Don Cherry, John Scofield Y Fred Hersch– highlight in his biography the excellent Silence (with Chet Baker, Enrico Pieranunzi and Billy Higgins), creating his West Quartet (an elegant retro air formation with Ernie Watts, Alan Broadbent and, again, Billy Higgins) and the exceptional tribute he received at the Montreal Jazz Festival: eight consecutive nights in which Haden performed with different companions, almost all collected in a series of albums under the name of Montreal Tapes.
In the following decade the Quartet West signed their best albums (Haunted Heart, Always Say Goodbye, Now Is the Hour), and Haden’s extraordinary sensitivity for intimate dialogue reached its highest heights with albums such as Night and the City (with Kenny Barron) Y Beyond the Missouri Sky (with Pat Metheny), among others. His discography as sideman continued to thicken alongside figures like Dizzy Gillespie, Abbey Lincoln, Beck, Tom Harrell, Lee Konitz, Brad Mehldau, James Cotton Y Helen Merrill.
With the turn of the century Haden’s magic continued intact as can be heard on Nocturne, delicious approach to bolero and Caribbean music (Grammy for best Latin jazz album), and the great Come Sunday, in duet with Hank Jones, an overflowing continuation of lyricism and good taste of the album signed by both in 94, Steal Away: Spiritual, Hymns and Folk Songs.
Charlie Haden visited different cities in Spain with various projects, including the West Quartet, the Liberation Music Orchestra, his duet with the great Jim Hall and the mentioned Nocturne. He also brought us on one of his trips the documentary Rambling Boy, focused on his career and directed by the Swiss Caduff Network. Haden used to be interested in the music of the countries he visited and on more than one occasion he expressed his desire to record something close to flamenco with Paco De Lucia O Diego Amateur.
His way of understanding music may well be summed up in some of his statements from 2004, when he visited Mexico to perform in a tribute to Julio Cortazar. In one of the interviews he gave, he was asked about his technique, perhaps imperfect. “I don’t really have a formal technique,” Haden replied. I am self-taught, my musical training comes from when I was a child who sang music country, and that’s my school. I play what I feel and hopefully with the right notes. I no longer think of what I play as jazz, I don’t like to talk about music in terms of categories… I think of myself as a person who tries to be as close to life as possible. I am like that when I am playing and I try to be that way in everyday life. When I play music I touch life ”.