Charlie Haden: 'Not in Our Name'

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Jazz icon Charlie Haden's new all-instrumental CD is titled Not in Our Name — a not-so-veiled reference to the war in Iraq. The album includes arrangements of Samuel Barber's "Adagio" and "Amazing Grace." Haden and some of his collaborators discuss how to convey a message without words.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

The Liberation Music Orchestra was conceived out of conflict, the Vietnam War. The 12-piece jazz ensemble recorded just four albums in the ensuing four decades. Each is a reaction to wars and policies of the American government. The orchestra's new recording is its first in 14 years. It's called "Not in Our Name." In New York, Tom Vitale reports.

TOM VITALE reporting:

Bass player and composer Charlie Haden says the Liberation Music Orchestra was born one night in 1968.

Mr. CHARLIE HADEN (Liberation Music Orchestra): And this was after Nixon bombed Cambodia. And I was sitting in my car outside a little club on Lexington and 39th Street called The Lost & Found. I was playing there. And I heard about the bombing, and I went home and I called Carla. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: THE FOLLOWING RAN ON 12/29/05 LETTERS SEGMENT: ROBERT SIEGEL (HOST): Some listeners noticed a historical discrepancy in our story about the Liberation Music Orchestra. The ensemble's founder, bassist Charlie Haden, conflated several events in recalling a turbulent time in our nation's history. MELISSA BLOCK (HOST): David New from Bellingham, Washington, writes, `Charlie Haden and Carla Bley may have produced their first music together in 1968, but it was not to protest Richard Nixon's bombing of Cambodia, as Mr. Haden stated. Nixon did not become president until 1969; the bombing of Cambodia began in February of that year. And if memory serves me right, it was not generally known by the public until sometime later.']

VITALE: Pianist and composer Carla Bley agreed to collaborate on the project with Haden. They wrote instrumental jazz arrangements of anti-fascist songs from the Spanish Civil War. And Haden wrote a piece inspired by the chaotic demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago that year.

(Soundbite of music)

VITALE: Music journalist Francis Davis says the record was a breakthrough in jazz.

Mr. FRANCIS DAVIS (Music Journalist): On a musical level, this was really the first successful big-band project or orchestral project in free jazz. On the extramusical level, there had been jazz protest albums before, things that could be called, you know, protest music. But the protest tended to be tied, especially in that era, specifically to the civil rights movement. So the first record, at least the first one that I know of and the first one to make a great impact, that addressed those issues but also addressed other issues, like Vietnam and--it was the first one to kind of put the social problems, the social issues in America into some sort of larger global context.

(Soundbite of music)

VITALE: Charlie Haden says the inspiration for reassembling the Liberation Music Orchestra came two years ago in Europe when he was tourist with guitarist Pat Metheny.

Mr. HADEN: We were playing a lot of concerts, and I noticed, like, when we were walking around in Spain and Italy especially, people had these banners unfurled from their balconies that said, `Not in our name.' And I said, `Man, that's so great that they're doing that. Why don't they do this in the United States, you know?' I guess that was the beginning of when I started thinking about doing something.

(Soundbite of music)

VITALE: And so once again Haden called Carla Bley and asked her to arrange a group of songs by American composers for a tour and recording. The centerpiece of the new CD is a 16-minute medley built around Samuel Augustus Ward's "America the Beautiful."

(Soundbite of Liberation Music Orchestra's rendition of "America the Beautiful")

Ms. CARLA BLEY: I just had some ideas about the harmonies on that. I wanted to change them to be more, you know, grinding against certain notes rather than all pleasant, not all vanilla. I wanted it to be more a difficult flavor.

(Soundbite of Liberation Music Orchestra's rendition of "America the Beautiful")

VITALE: Carla Bley says her arrangements for the Liberation Music Orchestra are meant to suggest political ideas, but listeners may need clues.

Ms. BLEY: We don't have any singers. We don't have any words. But people understand by the titles, by the context of the music what they're listening to.

(Soundbite of music)

VITALE: The latest incarnation of the Liberation Music Orchestra is more melodic and less dissonant than the original ensemble. And even with the clues, the music might not suggest protest.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DAVIS: If you didn't know that this was supposed to be a protest record, you would imagine, I don't know, Charlie Haden and Carla Bley, you know, dancing in front of the Eiffel Tower or something.

VITALE: Critic Francis Davis says music means what we want it to mean.

Mr. DAVIS: Every listener will have his own interpretation of what a piece of music supposedly means. So, in a way, it's very important for the artist, for the performer to tell us what he thinks it means.

VITALE: Charlie Haden says the protest is in the musicians' solos.

Mr. HADEN: Well, I think if you listen to the improvisation, you hear some strong feelings about what we're playing, you know, and why we're playing it.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. HADEN: I hear protest, and I hear anger, and I hear feelings of hopelessness and feelings of hopefulness every night.

(Soundbite of music)

VITALE: Asked what they've achieved over 40 years of musical protest, Charlie Haden and Carla Bley can only sigh.

(Soundbite of sigh)

Mr. HADEN: There hasn't been any progress politically. There's progress in the arts, and that's a struggle. You walk out your door every day and you hear--and this is the thing that's fighting the progress; that's brainwashing and conditioning young people--they hear horrible backbeat, techno whatever it is every day that they go outside their house. You can't go into a department store and not hear this stuff.

VITALE: He may not be able to go to the mall, but Charlie Haden says he can't stop going to the barricades.

Mr. HADEN: This is a dedication that you're doing. You're dedicating your life, and you're thanking the universe that you've been given a gift in music and giving it back to the world. That's what we're about, you know, and we can't give up. I can't give up.

VITALE: Charlie Haden says the ultimate goal of the Liberation Music Orchestra is getting people to respond to the beauty in the music, and if that happens, he hopes the politics will follow. For NPR News, I'm Tom Vitale in New York.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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Correction Jan. 4, 2006

In this story, jazz musician Charlie Haden incorrectly stated that he produced music in 1968 to protest Richard Nixon's bombing of Cambodia. Nixon did not become president until 1969 and the bombing of Cambodia began in February of that year. Haden adds: "I mistakenly noted the recording date as 1968 — when I meant the Orchestra was formed then, and that first album was recorded in 1969 — as the LP/CD clearly states. The sequence of events is important in that the onset of Nixon’s unauthorized bombing of Cambodia pre-dated the first Liberation Music Orchestra recording and the release of the LP/CD, and was the catalyst for me being more determined than ever to follow through with the recording of the music I had been writing. That event — listening to the news of the bombing on my car radio on WBAI — and my sadness and outrage about that and my ensuing determination to produce the recording — remains very clear in my memory."



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