Charlie Haden

I was introduced to the music of Charlie Haden in the early 1980s. A friend of mine was a Pat Metheny fanatic, and during one of those days when we were at his house after school listening to records, he pulled out 80/81. Charlie Haden's bass really hit me. Prior to this I'd thought about bass in two ways - the walking acoustic line epitomized by Ray Brown, and the newer, wilder electric side shown off by Jaco Pastorius. Haden was completely different. He played slow tunes in a big way, getting a huge sound out of his instrument, with a lyricism I hadn't heard before. There was an intensity to his playing that was stunning, and that didn't rely on playing fast. He simply played the right note at the right place every single time.

Over the years I bought many of his records, and he became my gateway to so many other musicians I grew to love. I got to Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Carla Bley, Jane Ira Bloom, and Jan Garbarek because they played on Haden's records or he played on theirs. In more recent years, I've loved the recordings of spirituals he did with pianist Hank Jones, and the series of albums he did with Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba. I have never hesitated to buy a record if the credits listed Haden on bass.

Another thing I owe to him, oddly enough, is that he introduced me to the music of The Carter Family. In the late '80s when I was a full-fledged jazz snob, I devoured every issue of downbeat. In an interview with that magazine, Haden talked about guest hosting KCRW's great radio show, “Morning Becomes Eclectic,” and he mentioned the variety of music he'd play, including a tracks by the original Carter Family. And since they were mentioned by Charlie Haden, I had to find their records. Yet another gateway to musicians I grew to love.

Charlie Haden passed away on Friday, July 11th, 2014, leaving a rich legacy of recordings (Wikipedia lists 167 albums), giving us all plenty of music to explore. revisit, and cherish.
- by Greg Harness

Photo: The Recording Academy, 2013

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