Charlie Haden, Veteran Jazz Bassist, Dead at 76

Frans Schellekens/Redferns
Charlie Haden, bass, performs at the BIM Huis on May 18, 1989 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Charlie Haden, one of the most influential bass players of his generation, has died after a prolonged illness, according to his family and his record label, ECM. Charles Edward Haden was born in Shenandoah, Iowa in 1937 and was raised in Springfield, MO. The youngest of four kids, Haden made his professional yodeling debut at the age of two as part of his family’s country music act, The Haden Family Band. As a teenager he lost his ability to sing due to polio, developed an interest in jazz and classical music, and began playing the double bass. 

After moving to Los Angeles in 1957 and working with pianist Paul Bley, Haden joined Ornette Coleman’s iconic free jazz quartet, which caused quite a musical stir during their 1959 residency at the Five Spot Café in New York City. Haden made essential recordings with Ornette Coleman, trumpeter Don Cherry and original drummer Billy Higgins, including albums The Shape of Jazz To Come and Change Of The Century—his solos on tunes like "Lonely Woman" and "Ramblin'" are still remembered—and he also played on the influential Coleman LP, "This Is Our Music."

Addiction to drugs compelled Haden to leave Coleman’s group in 1960. After his rehabilitation he returned to a prolific career as a sideman, eventually joining Keith Jarrett in 1967 as a member of Jarrett’s "American quartet" along with drummer Paul Motian and saxophonist Dewey Redman and recording nearly twenty albums with the band over a twelve-year period. Haden reunited with Jarrett in 2007, which resulted in "Jasmine," a duet CD of standards, as well as the newly released companion piece "Last Dance."

In 1969 Charlie Haden organized the large, experimental and politically outspoken group, The Liberation Music Orchestra with several fellow jazz rebels including Carla Bley, Michael Mantler, Roswell Rudd and Gato Barbieri. Their first album featured the famous Haden composition "Song For Che" as well as Ornette Coleman’s "War Orphans." Haden led the Liberation Music Orchestra in various combinations over the years, with the most recent recording being 2005's "Not In Our Name." He also played and sang (along with Linda Ronstadt) on Carla Bley’s 1971 opus, "Escalator Over The Hill."

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A loving, communal musician, Haden reconnected with his cohorts from Ornette Coleman’s bands and formed "Old & New Dreams" in 1976 with Don Cherry, Dewey Redman and drummer Eddie Blackwell. Uniquely qualified, these four men played a number of Coleman’s obtuse compositions, recording and performing together into the late 1980s. 

In 1987 the bassist formed another important group, the Charlie Haden Quartet West featuring saxophonist Ernie Watts, pianist Alan Broadbent and drummer Lawrence Marable. This elegant quartet fused modernist playing with affection for film noir and music of the 1930s and 1940s. Haden’s Quartet West released eight recordings, most recently 2010’s "Sophisticated Ladies."

In 1997, Haden released a GRAMMY-winning duet album with Pat Metheny, "Beyond The Missouri Sky," which included a moving version of "Spiritual," written by Haden's son Josh. He also put out a series of six recordings from a long stint at the 1989 Montreal Jazz Festival with the likes of Paul Bley and Don Cherry, entitled The Montreal Tapes. Over the years the accomplished bassist played with everyone from Art Pepper to Yoko Ono, John McLaughlin, Joe Henderson, Geri Allen, Beck, Archie Shepp and Rickie Lee Jones. 

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Haden released over twenty albums as a leader and appeared on approximately 150 other recordings. In 2008, he released "Rambling Boy," a return to countrified family music that featured the singing of his triplet daughters, Tayna, Rachel and Petra, as well as appearances by Ricky Scaggs, Jerry Douglas, Vince Gill, Bruce Hornsby, (son-in-law) Jack Black and Elvis Costello.

There’s a 2009 Swiss documentary about Charlie Haden entitled "Rambling Boy," and in 2012 he received the NEA Jazz Masters Award at Lincoln Center in New York City. In recent years Haden had played reunion concerts with Ornette Coleman and recorded beautiful duets with veteran pianists Hank Jones and Kenny Baron. Charlie Haden is survived by his wife Ruth Cameron and his children Josh, Tanya, Petra and Rachel Haden. 


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