2019 American Music Awards

Late Bassist Charlie Haden Honored by Pat Metheny, Richard Lewis, More at New York Memorial

Jacob Blickenstaff
The Haden Triplets, Josh Haden and bassist Mark Fein at the Charlie Haden Memorial in New York City on Jan. 13, 2015.

The influential jazz player died in July at the age of 76.

A large and loving gathering of friends and family honored late bassist Charlie Haden with a memorial on Tuesday night (Jan. 13), bringing together a bevy of heartfelt remembrances, music and song at New York's Town Hall. The free event was hosted by Haden's wife Ruth Cameron Haden along with support from family and friends like Pat Metheny, Henry Butler, Geri Allen, Brad Mehldau and Bill Frisell. Haden died in July at the age of 76, and was one of the most influential bass players of his generation, anchoring saxophonist Ornette Coleman's original quartet in the late 1950s and playing a crucial role in pianist Keith Jarrett's "American Quartet" through the 1970s.

Haden was a perennial hipster and recovering drug addict who was also an incredibly unifying player, bridging the East Coast and West Coast jazz scenes as well as befriending, collaborating and educating several generations of gifted musicians. Ruth Haden, acknowledging Haden's lifelong struggles, quoted her husband as saying, "When I put the bass down, I'm in trouble."

Guitarist Metheny performed a solo acoustic medley of Haden's music and spoke of their deep relationship, how they both came from Missouri, and the countless gigs they'd played together over the years. Drummer Denardo Coleman spoke earnestly about Haden's devotion to his father Ornette, and the groundbreaking music they'd created in spite of great resistance at the time. Pianist Henry Butler, who'd sang at Charlie and Ruth Haden's wedding thirty years ago, put his grand, opera-trained voice into a emotionally powerful rendition of "Deep River."

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Some of the group performances were lacking a bass player but not lacking in spirit. Sadly, elder saxophonist Lee Konitz and younger pianist Mehldau seemed a little lost without their bass compatriot on "Body and Soul." Saxophonist Josh Redman performed with pianist Kenny Barron and drummer Jack DeJohnette, and he also spoke about Haden's collaborations with his own father, saxophonist Dewey Redman, and how listening to their music on records had helped him find a way to feel closer to his much-absent dad. Saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, pianist Geri Allen and harpist Brandee Younger performed a stirring version of "For Turiya" which Haden had originally written for (and recorded with) Ravi's mother, Alice Coltrane.

Charlie Haden's children are musicians, and they reprised the gospel/country "singing family" tradition that spawned their father, who made his professional yodeling debut at the age of two as part of The Haden Family Band back in Springfield, Missouri. The Haden Triplets -- Petra, Tanya and Rachel, and Haden's son Josh (accompanied by guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Mark Fain) harmonized on the hymn "Voice From On High" before Petra sang a starkly beautiful version of "Oh Shenandoah."  Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba performed a solo piece that was reverent and evocative, while comedian Richard Lewis sent a goodbye shtick via video that was sweet, humble and very funny.

The lengthy memorial ended with performances from two very different groups that Charlie had worked with for decades. Quartet West with saxophonist Ernie Watts, pianist Alan Broadbent, drummer Rodney Green and guest bassist Scott Colley played two swinging tunes in a classic jazz vein, while the Liberation Music Orchestra, led by longtime Haden conspirator Carla Bley, pushed things towards an edgier peak. The ebullient and political big band, anchored by bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Matt Wilson, concluded this most special evening with rousing versions of "Amazing Grace" and the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome."  


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