Charlie Haden died last Friday at the age of 77. He had contracted polio as a teenager in Springfield, Missouri, and the dreaded disease returned in 2011 like Faust from Hell.
Charlie was a great friend of KCRW. He probably visited both myself and Chris Douridas at least 30 times on Morning Becomes Eclectic. But he didn’t want us just to play his music; he loved being a guest deejay, bringing in old-timer hillbilly music, modern classical music, and jazz classics. He debuted the Estonian composer, Arvo Pärt, with me in 1986. He also liked obscure jazz singers like Lee Wiley. It was Charlie who pretty much put Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba on the map, championing his music in festivals and clubs around the world. Charlie was always in demand, too, always on the road.
His transition from hillbilly bass player and singer in the Ozarks; Shenandoah, Iowa; and Springfield, Missouri to the avant-garde music of Ornette Coleman is uncanny. But when you hear him quoting an old hillbilly fiddle song, “Old Joe Clark,” on Ornette Coleman’s song, “Ramblin,'” he made you realize that the two musical worlds weren’t that far apart for him. He made them fit together nicely.
Charlie loved music. He lets out an excited yelp in Ornette’s signature song, “Lonely Woman” and would emit similar expressions of delight when we listened to music in KCRW’s master control studio. It was never just about Charlie. He was passionate about all kinds of music and loved sharing his passion with others. I always looked forward to his visits. I have around 20 hours of his Guest DJ appearances in my archives. Hopefully one day, I will get the chance to review and savor them again.
A year ago, Ariana Morgenstern and I wanted to have Charlie in as a guest on Rhythm Planet. But by the summer of 2013, the ravages of his returning bout of bulbar polio had wrecked his voice. It must have been excruciating for this peripatetic bassist to have to give it all up. This last KCRW visit was not meant to be.
Charlie Haden worked with everybody: Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett, Carlos Paredes, Brad Mehldau, and countless others. His discography is extensive enough to fill several pages.
Charlie also championed human rights in his music. He wrote a song dedicated to Dolores Ibárruri, the Spanish Civil War heroine known as “La Pasionaria.” In his Liberation Music Orchestra albums, he wrote songs like “War Orphans” and “We Shall Overcome.” Once, he was even jailed in Lisbon, Portugal, by agents of the ruling Salazar government for speaking out in support of the independence struggle in Angola and Mozambique. He was fearless and uncompromising in both music and life.
There’s the old joke I’ve told before about the couple who go to see a marriage counselor. They tell him that they don’t speak to one another anymore, so the therapist tells them to go to a jazz club. Sure enough, the bass player begins soloing and voilá! They start talking again.
This wouldn’t have been true if they’d gone to see Charlie. Unlike 99% of acoustic bassists who use steel strings, he used gut strings and a big bass for a powerful, deep sound. Nobody talked while he soloed. Check out this clip of “Lonely Woman” and see what I mean.
Rest in peace, Charlie Haden. You gave us so much great music and inspired us all.
Rhythm Planet Playlist for July 18, 2014
- Charlie Haden / Old Haden Family Show / Rambling Boy / Decca
- Interview Excerpt – Meeting Hampton Hawes
- Charlie Haden, Hampton Hawes / Rainforest / As Long As There’s Music / Artists Share
- Interview Excerpt – Meeting Ornette Coleman
- Ornette Coleman / Lonely Woman / The Shape Of Jazz To Come /Atlantic
- Ornette Coleman / Ramblin’ (1958 Live Recording Hillcrest Club) / Coleman Classics Vol. 1 / Improvising Artists
- Interview Excerpt – Meeting Gonzalo Rubalcaba
- Charlie Haden / Noche De Ronda (Night Of Wandering) / Nocturne / Verve
- Pat Metheny w/ Charlie Haden & Billy Higgins / Tears Inside / Rejoicing / ECM
- Charlie Haden & Pat Metheny / Cinema Paradiso / Beyond The Missouri Sky (Short Stories) / Verve
- Interview Excerpt – Wayfaring Stranger Intro
- Charlie Haden & Quartet West / Wayfaring Stranger / Art Of The Song / Verve