Charlie Haden died on July 11th. I’ll miss his presence on the planet.
Of all the jazz players out there, he was my favorite. There was something about his bass that drew me in. He taught me so much about music, about where a bass should sit in a song, the possibilities. Being unschooled in music, I’m fascinated by how the rhythms fit, what tones and notes go together, how they sit on your ear. When Charlie Haden played, the tones were right.
He was American, came from a rural upbringing in Missouri, grew up playing and singing country music with his family. Then polio took his singing voice and he directed all his music through the bass. Somehow (there’s probably a bio online that would explain the path) he wound up in Ornette Coleman’s band, playing the most out jazz there was at the time. He helped change the musical vocabulary of the era. He was there at the birth. In later years he came full circle, recording an album of folk and country songs with his family. In between is a vast catalog of music.
Charlie Haden has been with me for a long time, showed me so much. His Quartet West records taught me about LA in the 40’s and 50’s. Records with Pat Matheny, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and so many others shined a light on the possibilities for quiet sound. I own more of his albums than any other artist, after Duke Ellington and Miles. In my living will there’s a directive to play music from “Steal Away,” his collaboration with the pianist Hank Jones, at my funeral.
Over the years I heard him interviewed several times. He was plainspoken, and almost child-like in his directness, especially when talking about music. He was dedicated to his art, focused on his role in the world. He knew what he was supposed to do and he was getting on with it. But the one thing I hope to carry is his statement (and I summarize) that it’s the role of all of us to recognize beauty when we see it, to seek it out and celebrate it.
And so, this morning, as I sit in a hotel room in Washington, DC, I’m listening to Charlie Haden (“Nocturne”), letting the beauty wash over me.
With great gratitude, I celebrate the music and the life of Charlie Haden.