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Jazz Profiles from NPR
Charlie Haden
Produced by John Dilberto

Charlie Haden  

Charlie Haden has one of the most personal and recognizable bass sounds in jazz. His deep resonance and rich melodicism helped Ornette Coleman introduce free jazz in the '60s. Since then, he's become one of the most influential bassists and composers in jazz history.

Listen to saxophonist Ernie Watts and pianist/vocalist Bruce Hornsby describe Haden's bass playing

Before Haden took the jazz world by storm, he was known as "Little Cowboy Charlie," a singing toddler in his family's band. Born Charles Edward Haden on August 6, 1937 in Shenandoah, IA, he grew up in a musical household, listening mostly to bluegrass and country & western.

Listen to Haden reflect on his musical childhood


You're on the front lines, because we're here to bring beauty to the world, and make a difference in this planet. That's what art forms are about.
--Charlie Haden  

After a bout with polio at age 14, Haden stopped singing and began playing the bass. It was during this transition that he first heard jazz and when his family moved to Springfield, MO, Haden became obsessed with the music, buying jazz records and haunting the local jazz music clubs.

Listen to Haden recall the first time he saw saxophonists Charlie Parker and Lester Young perform

After a few years in Missouri, Haden's family moved to Los Angeles where he attended Westlake School of Music for a time. He dropped out to explore the city's bustling jazz scene and he was soon playing with, among others, saxophonists Art Pepper and Dexter Gordon, and pianist Paul Bley, who became one of his first mentors.

Listen to Paul Bley remember the first time he heard Haden play


Ornette Coleman  

Haden played on Bley's debut album Solemn Meditation and continued performing with him at the Hillcrest Club in Los Angelels. On his nights off, Haden would troll the city's other jazz clubs and one night he saw a sax player that would change his musical perspective -- Ornette Coleman (left).

Listen to Haden recall the first time he played with Ornette Coleman

Haden was captivated with Coleman's music and after the show, he sought the saxophonist out. They began a fruitful musical relationship, and once Coleman added trumpeter Don Cherry (below left) and drummer Billy Higgins to the band, Haden found himself in one of jazz's most groundbreaking ensembles.

Listen to Haden and Coleman talk about their innovative musical concepts


Don Cherry  

When Coleman left Los Angeles for New York City, Haden followed. In 1959, The Ornette Coleman Quartet changed the course of jazz with their appearance at New York' Five Spot Club. Everyone from Thelonious Monk to classical conductor Leonard Bernstein attended.

Listen to Don Cherry (above left) and Coleman reflect on their Five Spot performance debut

As the members of The Ornette Coleman Quartet were making radical changes in jazz, America's social and political climate was undergoing major changes as well. Social injustice greatly affected Haden and his frank outspoken political views sometimes led him into trouble.

Listen to Haden and saxophonist Dewey Redman talk about an incident in Portugal, in which Haden's political views landed him in jail


Liberation Music Orchestra  

Haden's passion for human rights began to creep into his music. In 1969, he brought together some of jazz's most innovative players -- saxophonists Dewey Redman and Gato Barbieri, trumpeter Don Cherry, and arranger Carla Bley -- and formed the Liberation Music Orchestra.

Listen to Haden explain the concept behind The Liberation Music Orchestra

While working with The Liberation Music Orchestra, Haden also began collaborating with pianist Keith Jarrett. Playing in a group comprised of Jarrett, Redman, and drummer Paul Motian, Haden was again involved in yet another influential jazz group.

Listen to Jarrett share his love for Haden's playing

Haden played with Jarrett between 1968 to 1975, a successful run cut short only by Charlie's persistent drug problem. He checked himself into The Delancy Street Foundation in San Francisco for rehabilitation. After getting clean, Haden formed another group, Old & New Dreams, which contained other former Ornette Coleman sidemen -- Don Cherry, Dewey Redman, and drummer Ed Blackwell.

In 1986, Haden formed Quartet West with saxophonist Ernie Watts, drummer Lawrence Marable, and pianist Alan Broadbent. The group focuses on music associated with '40s and '50s Hollywood "film noir." Although Quartet West remains Haden's main musical vehicle today, he still organizes Liberation Music Orchestra events and continues to push musical boundaries with musicians ranging from Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba to pop singer Rickie Lee Jones.

Listen to Haden share his love for classic Hollywood movies



SHOW PLAYLIST

View the Charlie Haden show playlist

NPR RESOURCES

Read the CD review for Charlie Haden's Nocturne

More InfoBrowse the NPR Jazz Web site -- NPRJazz.org

OTHER RESOURCES

  • Browse the Official Charlie Haden Web site