Music Interviews

Charlie Haden's Lessons On Music And Life

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American bass player, composer and band leader Charlie Haden passed away Friday at age 76. NPR's Rachel Martin spoke with Haden in 2012. (This interview originally aired in January 2012.)


We take a moment now to remember jazz musician and composer Charlie Haden, who died Friday at the age of 76. Haden was one of the most respected and admired musicians in jazz. His fierce commitment to the music was matched by his intense belief in the rights of all human beings, and he spoke out for those rights verbally and musically around the world. As a young singer, Charlie Haden was struck by polio which foiled that career. So he switched to the acoustic bass where he developed a signature sound. In Los Angeles in the late 1950s, he teamed up with saxophonist Ornette Coleman to help pioneer a new style of music called free jazz. Later, Haden went on to lead his own groups, most notably the Liberation Music Orchestra. There were lots of other collaborations, including a duet with pianist Hank Jones, with whom Haden recorded a CD just a few months prior to Jones's death. Two years ago, Charlie Haden spoke to WEEKEND EDITION SUNDAY's Rachel Martin about the album he made with Hank Jones and his approach to music. Here is an excerpt.


CHARLIE HADEN: I came from being a singer going into jazz. And that's one of the things that polio did for me is it took away my ability to sing with a range because it paralyzed my vocal chords so that was when I started playing. But I hear the music as if I were singing even when I am playing.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: You and Hank Jones recorded all 14 of these tracks included in the album in just two days, which is really incredible. It's a very quick pace. Can you give us a sense of what it was like in the studio?

HADEN: Well, you have to understand, Rachel, I've been doing this a long time. So it's not frenetic and it's not a mad rush. It's loving the music and playing and enjoying it. In this life that we are in right now, there's a lot of turmoil and strife. And we want to bring beauty to the world as much as we can because I think that's one of the responsibilities that the jazz musician feels because he's one of the only art forms that has improvisation and can reach the listener in a way where they can feel the depth of the songs.

MARTIN: You wrote in your liner notes that when you hear Hank Jones play that you can hear the universe, the heavens. What did you learn from him as a musician?

HADEN: I learned about beauty and about depth. And, you know, he was 91 when he passed away. I loved asking him questions about the times where I wasn't there, and he'd tell me the stories about Charlie Parker and stories about the jazz life.

MARTIN: Is there any other message that you hope this album reaches people with?

HADEN: I think that everybody should listen to this music because you don't ordinarily hear it in the context of jazz. You know, one of the things my mom used to do - I don't know why she chose me but she chose me out of her six children to take to the African-American church that was in the town that we lived in Springfield, Missouri. And we would go to the church and we would sit in the back row and we would listen to all of the spirituals in the hymns. And that went into my music. It really inspired me to be a human being that cares about life and that has compassion for living and helping people and giving to people. That's what I tell my students at California Institute of the Arts where I taught for 27 years. I thought them if you strive to be a good person maybe you might become a great jazz musician.

RATH: Bassist Charlie Haden speaking with Rachel Martin in 2012. Haden died on Friday. He was 76 years old. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Arun Rath.

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