The world has lost a great, deep musical and humanitarian soul. Jazz bassist Charlie Haden (August 6, 1937 – July 11, 2014) created an amazing body of work over six decades of work with the likes of Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett, Carla Bley, Hank Jones, Pat Metheny, and many, many others. Take a listen to Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, with Charlie Haden on bass and Hank Jones on piano, from their amazing 1995 Grammy-nominated album Steal Away:
The Atlantic has a nice appreciation of Haden by David A. Graham, complete with video song selections from throughout his career. Graham writes,
No one wants to be remembered most for what they did at 22, but history will forever recall Charlie Haden for his role in Ornette Coleman’s great quartet of the late 1950s…. Coleman remains surprisingly controversial today, but he and Haden and Don Cherry and Billy Higgins had incontrovertibly changed the direction of music.
Haden—who died Friday at 76, from complications of the polio he contracted as a child—was perhaps the least likely revolutionary in the bunch. Born in Shenandoah, Iowa (a town that shares a name with a famous folk song), Haden grew up playing country music in a family band. Despite making his name in a genre that often rewards flashiness, he was a resolutely unpretentious player, notable for the notes he didn’t play and for always being in the right place. Haden and his most frequent and fruitful collaborators during a long career were musicians steeped in American traditions, who synthesized a range of musical genres and spat them back out in varyingly eccentric and original ways. While Haden may have seemed like an unlikely revolutionary, his firm grounding in the roots seems to have been what enabled him to be such an effective radical.
Here are some words to live by from Haden himself, from one of five interviews he did from from 1983 to 2008 with Terry Gross on Fresh Air, talking about the value of improvisation and being in the moment:
“I think it’s very important to live in the present. One of the great things that improvising teaches you is the magic of the moment that you’re in, because when you improvise you’re in right now. You’re not in yesterday or tomorrow — you’re right in the moment. Being in that moment really gives you a perspective of life that you never get at any other time as far as learning about your ego. You have to see your unimportance before you can see your importance and your significance to the world.
“The artist is very lucky, because in an art form that’s spontaneous like [jazz], that’s when you really see your true self. And that’s why, when I put down my instrument, that’s when the challenge starts, because to learn how to be that kind of human being at that level that you are when you’re playing — that’s the key, that’s the hard part.”
The New York Times obituary concludes,
At the heart of Mr. Haden’s artistic pursuits, even those that drew inspiration from sources far afield, was a conviction in a uniquely American expression. “The beauty of it is that this music is from the earth of the country,” he said. “The old hillbilly music, along with gospel and spirituals and blues and jazz.”
Since the world has lost a deep soul of music, it seems appropriate to conclude with a Hayden track called “Silence,” with the also late, and also great, Chet Baker on trumpet: