R.I.P. Charlie Haden

Monday, July 14, 2014
R.I.P. Charlie Haden

On July 11, the jazz world lost one of its greatest bassists: Charlie Haden, known far and wide for his work with Ornette Coleman and Keith Jarrett while also contributing to the music of everyone from John Coltrane and Don Cherry to Rickie Lee Jones and Ringo Starr.

Born on August 6, 1937 in Shenandoah, Iowa, Charles Edward Haden was playing music from an early age, which is the sort of thing which is likely to happen when your family goes around calling themselves the Haden Family Band and performing on the radio. It’s also how Haden came to make his singing debut at the ripe old age of two, which he continued doing until his mid-teens, when he contracted a form of polio that affected his vocal pitch. Thankfully, he’d also developed a fascination with the bass, one which increased in the wake of his inability to sing as he once had, and before he’d even gotten out of his teens, he was performing as the house bassist on the ABC series, Ozark Jubilee, filmed in Springfield, Missouri. By that point, though, Haden had already decided that his true destiny was waiting for him in Los Angeles.

In fact, Haden took the Ozark Jubilee job in order to finance an expedition to L.A., and, boy, did it pay off: attending the Westlake College of Music, Haden soon found himself working with Paul Bley, Art Pepper, Hampton Hawes, and the collaboration which would change his career, Ornette Coleman. An unfortunate addiction to narcotics led to Haden leaving Coleman’s band in 1960, but by then he’d already been a part of one of the most formative jazz albums of the 20th century – The Shape of Jazz to Come – and after he’d gotten himself straightened out, he went on to work with Coleman again. Somewhere in the wake of his rehabilitation, Haden also married his first wife, Ellen, with whom he had four children – Josh, Petra, Rachel, and Tanya – and if you aren’t familiar with his kids’ musical careers, rest assured that there’s plenty of his musical talent in their DNA: you can find their names in the credits of albums by the Decemberists, Foo Fighters, Silversun Pickups, the Rentals, Handsome Boy Modeling School, and that dog.

In addition to his work with other musicians, Haden also led the Liberation Music Orchestra, a collective which recorded sporadically – 13 years passed between their self-titled debut in 1969 and their sophomore effort, 1982’s The Ballad of the Fallen – but always seemed to make an impact on the rare occasions when they did deign to enter the studio. Beyond that, though, it’s not as though Haden was ever really at rest, working with Old and New Dreams, Quartet West, collaborating with Jan Gabaraek, Pat Metheny, Michael Brecker, Hank Jones… Basically, if we tried to run through every single album on which he appeared throughout the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, and into the new millennium, we’d be here all day, and you’d be wasting time reading when you really should be listening to Haden’s work instead.

To celebrate Haden’s career, we’ve put together a playlist filled with several of the albums on which his playing can be heard, including efforts from Coleman, Jarrett, and – more recently – the Ginger Baker Trio. It’s in no way a definitive look back at his discography, but it’s filled with plenty of highlights to help you remember what Haden gave us over the years.