Digressions: Charlie Haden’s virtual wake

19 Jul

Charlie Haden (photo by Geert Vandepoele)

Charlie Haden (photo by Geert Vandepoele)


Veteran jazz bass player Charlie Haden died on July 11th, following a long, committed musical life. From his key playing with Ornette Coleman and Keith Jarrett to his role as co-leader and inspirer in the Liberation Orchestra, his work encompassed spirituality, some wonderful music, and a strong political conscience which led him to side with and champion oppressed people throughout the world. Along the way, he inspired, entertained and encouraged musicians and audiences alike.

Plenty is being written about Charlie this week – among this, Ethan Iverson’s ‘Do The Math‘ blog  has published ‘Liberation Chorus’, a collection of reflections and reminiscences from various jazz musicians on Charlie’s life and passing. Here are some of my favourite contributions from this virtual wake, but please head over to ‘Do The Math’ and read the whole thing.

From Django Bates:

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.

From Joey Baron:

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.

From Chris Cheek:

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…

And finally, from Joshua Redman:

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.

R.I.P. Charlie.

Charlie Haden online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Last FM

2 Responses to “Digressions: Charlie Haden’s virtual wake”

  1. ja July 19, 2014 at 8:37 am #

    Thanks for your suggestion: do the math contains impressive testimonies about CH – I enjoyed so much reading them!

  2. Dann Chinn July 19, 2014 at 5:42 pm #

    Hi Jose – you’re welcome! I’m glad I could bring them to your attention.

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