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July 12 , 2014

Charlie Haden 1937-2014

Charlie Haden, one of the great bass players of jazz history, died on July 11 at his home in Los Angeles after a long illness.

Born in Shenandoah, Iowa, Charlie Haden was a natural musician virtually from the cradle, making his radio debut at the age of two, singing old-time country music with his family. By his teens jazz had captured his imagination but he always insisted that his sense of time came from what he termed “hillbilly music”. He perceived fluid connections between the genres and, when changing the shape of jazz to come with Ornette Coleman, would frequently quote from traditional music. His bass solo on “Rambling” with the Coleman Quartet was based around the fiddle tune ”Old Joe Clark”, a reference he would return to on “Two Folk Songs” with Pat Metheny on the album “80/81”. In all his work - and throughout the many recordings on ECM - there is a sense of rootedness and a desire to sing something pure and true. It was this quality that spoke to so many musicians who admired his playing. Manfred Eicher, producer of 20 albums with Haden, notes that “I first heard and was very touched by Charlie’s playing on the album ‘Change of the Century’ with Ornette. He was a master of the art of listening, of hearing and completing the ideas of his musical comrades in the moment. Of anchoring the music and setting it free to fly. His playing could embody gravity or lift you up. A single note from Charlie could transform the musical landscape, a phenomenon we witnessed many times in concerts and recordings with everyone from Keith Jarrett to Dino Saluzzi.”

From 1967 to 1976 Charlie was Keith Jarrett’s bass player, first in the trio with Paul Motian, then in the “American Quartet” completed by Dewey Redman, a period reflected on ECM on the albums “The Survivors’ Suite” and “Eyes of the Heart” – as well as the “Arbour Zena” album with Jarrett’s orchestral music and Jan Garbarek. When Paul Motian began to find his voice as a composer, Charlie offered encouragement, playing on “Conception Vessel” and “Tribute”. The Motian-Haden association, established inside the Jarrett band, was extended in Charlie’s large ensemble, the Liberation Music Orchestra (as on “The Ballad of the Fallen”) and elsewhere. One of Motian’s last recordings, “Live At Birdland”, reunited him with Charlie in a group with Lee Konitz and Brad Mehldau, improvising freely on jazz standards.

The group Old & New Dreams – with Don Cherry, Dewey Redman and Ed Blackwell – was convened by Charlie to celebrate the music of Ornette Coleman (the old dreams) and to play new compositions by Coleman alumni: the past and the future were both warmly embraced in Haden’s musical concept. He was delighted by the spontaneous reunion with Keith Jarrett in 2007 which led to the albums “Jasmine” and “Last Dance” and, too, by the rediscovery of the live Magico recording from 1981 issued as “Carta de Amor” in 2012. Any chance of some concerts with Garbarek and Gismonti, he wanted to know. But thoughts of this, as well as plans for a new ECM recording with Carla Bley and the Liberation Music Orchestra, had to be set aside with the onset of Charlie’s illness. The polio symptoms of his childhood returned, making it impossible for him to continue to play.