HadenCharlie Haden, (August 6, 1937 – July 11, 2014), jazz bassist.

Charlie Haden was one of the most important and influential bass players in the history of jazz. He was born into a musical family in Iowa and raised in Springfield, Missouri. He started out singing as a yodeling two-year old in his family’s radio show. After contracting a form of polio at the age of 15 which affected his voice and throat, Haden was no longer able to sing and took up the upright bass, eventually performing for ABC’s Ozark Jubilee.

Charlie (standing on the chair) with the Haden family band

Charlie (standing on the chair) with the Haden family band

He moved to Los Angeles in the late 1950’s to study music. He quickly established himself, playing with Art Pepper, Hampton Hawes, and pianist Paul Bley. Bley’s band included a young Ornette Coleman, who formed his own group with Haden playing an integral role in Coleman’s groundbreaking “free jazz” recordings, such as the landmark Shape Of Jazz To Come. Haden’s early experience with country, gospel, and folk harmonies allowed him to provide both a grounding and a counter melody to Coleman’s freeform improvisations. In the late 1960’s, he formed the Liberation Orchestra with Carla Bley, (Paul Bley’s ex-wife), who composed and arranged much of the group’s music. Over the years, the group released four politically charged albums, seeking to be a voice for the oppressed. Haden’s outspoken political views briefly landed him in jail while on tour in Portugal. In the 1970’s, he performed in Keith Jarrett’s quartet, which lead to a lifelong partnership on various recordings, as well as a member of the group Old and New Dreams, which reunited former members of Ornette Coleman’s group.

The 1980’s were a very productive time for him. Haden founded the jazz program at the California Institute for the Arts in 1982 and  in 1987, he formed his “Quartet West,” a group that performed and recorded together for over 20 years. The group, which featured the arrangements of pianist Alan Broadbent, celebrated the great American standards of Tin Pan Alley and Hollywood movies.

Haden’s final decades often involved important pairing with other jazz legends, such as Kenny Barron, (Night And The City), fellow Missouri talent Pat Metheny, (Beyond The Missouri Sky, which won a Grammy Award), Michael Brecker, (American Dreams), and two albums of gospel music and spirituals with pianist Hank Jones, (Steal Away and Come Sunday, Jones’ final recording). Two albums with Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba (Nocturne and Land Of The Sun), won Latin Grammy Awards.

Haden returned to his roots with 2008’s Rambling Boy, a country and bluegrass album that featured Pat Metheny, Bruce Hornsby, and Béla Fleck, as well as his own family members, including wife Ruth Cameron, children Josh, Petra, Rachel, Tanya, and son-in-law actor/musician Jack Black. A documentary biographical film of the same title was released the following year. Haden was named an NEA Jazz Master in 2012 and awarded a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2013. Appropriately, his final album was a duet of with Keith Jarrett consisting of  cherished standards entitled Last Dance. Haden died at the age of 76 from complications related to his childhood polio. He is survived by his wife and children.

In presenting the Lifetime Achievement Grammy, bassist Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers had this to say about him:

His sound is one that touches everyone — it will make you weep, dance like a lunatic, and sit back and listen to the story unfold. The most highly spiritual thing that anyone can do is have faith and be completely in the moment. When Charlie Haden makes music, that’s exactly where he is… When one is playing the kind of improvisational music that Charlie Haden does, he is constantly, through the vehicle of technique and knowledge, channeling magic, the cosmos, letting God speak.

Visit the official Charlie Haden website here.