Here is an interview from the archives of KUSP’s program guides. Despite being dated, it helps to put Charlie’s music and life in perspective, so I thought it would be good for this interview to again see the light of day.
Charlie Haden: The Music of Liberation [first printed in the KUSP Review, Volume 5, Number 5, December ‘84]
In 1958 and ’59 the music of the Ornette Coleman band turned the jazz community on its ears, not only changing the shape of jazz to come, but introducing the world to a group of sidemen who would mature to become major figures on the jazz scene in their own right. As bassist of the band, Charlie Haden recorded over 13 albums with Ornette and went on to record and perform with John Coltrane, hold down the stand-up bass position for the 1970s’ Keith Jarrett American Quartet and more recently play with Pat Metheny.
To date [‘84], Charlie has four albums as a leader as well as having co-led dates with Norweigian Jan Garbarek and Brazilian Egberto Gismonti, and the critically acclaimed “Old and New Dreams” band with fellow Ornette alumni Don Cherry, Dewey Redman and Ed Blackwell. Haden is a composer of whole tunes and finely crafted solo and accompaniment work. His well-developed technique and musical sense place him in the ranks of master musicians in the realm of creative improvisatory music.
September 15 of this year Charlie Haden performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival with the Denny Zeitlen Trio. That same evening, he visited the KUSP remote van and spoke with KUSP jazz programmer Leon Allen. The following text is drawn from that conversation.
KUSP: We’re here talking with premiere bassist Charlie Haden. Charlie, could we get an idea of where you are now and how you got there?
Haden: Well, right at this point in my life I have many projects. I’m doing a lot of writing with something in mind that I started in 1968 called the Liberation Music Orchestra. We recorded an album in ’69 with the orchestra which included eleven of the fines musicians in jazz. It had music about the Spanish Civil War and about what was going on politically in this country at the time the album was recorded. There was “A Song for Che,” there was a piece about the Chicago Democratic convention and there was a piece about Vietnam. I tried to correlate everything to convey a message and communicate honest and meaningful and human values to as many people as I could. At that particular time human rights were in jeopardy because of Vietnam and a lot of other things that were happening in this country, too.
I just completed an album called “The Ballad of the Fallen” for ECM which reorganized the orchestra. Already the album has won the Critic’s Poll “Record of the Year (Downbeat). Carla Bley did the arrangements again (as on the first record) and it has Don Cherry, Dewey Redman, Jim Pepper, Gary Valene, Mick Goodrick, Paul Motian, Carla and myself, and a lot of great musicians on the album. We play music again from the Spanish Civil War and also this time from more current things which are happening now in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Chile. There’s a piece “The People United Will Never Be Defeated,” which is a very famous revolutionary song that comes from when Pinochet murdered Allende in 1973 with the help of the CIA. We have another song from Portugal that was played over Portuguese radio to signal the revolution there in 1974 as well as original music of mine and a piece of Carla’s.
I’ve played with so many people over the years: from Keith Jarrett to Pee Wee Russell to Ornette to John Coltrane. I love to play with a lot of different musicians from different parts of the world… and that’s the way I learn about life, just the way I learn about life from my own kids, you know, buy playing with different people.
These days I’m playing a lot with Pat Metheny and Billy Higgins. We just recorded an album on ECM called “Rejoicing.” The great thing about playing with someone like Pat is that his band has a particular young audience that really loves that sound, that fusion sound, and he has a big following. Whenever we do a tour, a lot of these kids, his fans, come to see him play not necessarily knowing what they will hear. They think they are going to see his band and then they hear Billy and I play. It’s fantastic because it’s like you’re broadening their musical horizons. They come to hear us play and these little cherub-faced preppy kids come up to you afterwards. I’m used to having jazz fans come up to me and say “Hey, baby, you soun’ cool.” These little kids come up to me with their college sweaters on, and they say “gee, Mr. Haden, you play really beautiful. Would you sign my record?” It’s a really great feeling! I really admire Pat because he loves to improvise and he’s a great improviser and a great composer, so we have lots of fun, man, me and him and Billy. We’re going to do another record and another tour – a lot of tours. Hopefully in January, we’re going to play with Ornette ‘cause we do a lot of Ornette’s songs.
KUSP: You played one tonight with Denny Zeitlen.
Haden: Ed Blackwell and I played duets at the Atlanta Jazz Festival just a couple weeks ago, and Ornette’s band played right after us. We had breakfast with him the next morning, and Ornette really wants to play with Pat and Billy and I. He also wants to make another album with Don Cherry, Blackwell and Billy and I so…
KUSP: Charlie, you’ve taken us up to the here and now of your career. Let’s hear a little bit about the beginning… about how Charlie Haden started out as a musician.
Haden: Well, I was born in Shenandoah, Iowa and started singing on the radio with my parents when I was two. My parents were entertainers on the Grand Ole Opry, in Dallas, in Wichita Falls… all over eh Midwest and South. We travelled from radio station to radio station performing, so that’s how I got started in music. I had a very special upbringing in a real special place which is middle America, real America. Most of the jazz musicians that I’m close to were raised in large cities. As a jazz musician I have this special perspective and view of the United States that I’m really lucky to have because it’s a place where people really come from the earth, and there is a lot of folk music.
In my family we learned very young how to sing all the harmony parts by ear and develop good intonation. I made really good friends in Nashville – like the Carter family. My father was friends with people like Ernest Tubb, the Delmore Brothers, Jimmy Rogers, Woody Guthrie, and I used to sit on Mother Maybelle Carter’s lap. She used to come to our house and she would sing folk songs to me when I was a baby. She would pick up the guitar and I would be closer to her than I am to you! You know, when you hear a guitar played that beautifully when you’re a child, it rubs off on you.
KUSP: Well, it rubbed off on the bass, in your case.
Haden: Yeah. Sometimes my background comes out in my playing. During a solo on one of Ornette’s early albums on a piece called “Rambling,” I played “Old Joe Clark” and “Ft. Worth Jailhouse” and a lot of folk songs in my solo. The solo that I played on that record where I played “Old Joe Clark” was later used by Ian Drury and the Blockheads when they wrote “Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll.” They used the melody line from my solo. Whenever they play it in Europe they dedicate it to me. On the album “80/81” with Pat Metheny and Michael Brecker and Jack DeJohnette I play a lot of folk songs on the bass that are from my background. I love to do that… folk and jazz… I mean it’s the same beautiful art form, you know! It comes from the same blood, the same earth, the same realness… from the soul.
KUSP: Beautiful… so you’ve been on stage ever since you can remember. When did you identify the instrument you wanted to play?
Haden: One of my brothers who played bass on our radio show ws bringing home recordings like “Jazz at the Philharmonic,” Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday. I started listening to these records and I just loved it. I didn’t know what it was or what improvisation was, I just loved the sound. Pretty soon, as soon as my brother would leave the house, I would pick up his bass and start trying to play with the records because there weren’t that many (jazz) musicians in that area of the Midwest to play with. After high school, I got to play with some people won the Ozark Jubilee who came up from Nashville and Springfield, Missouri, namely Hank Garland who was the guitarist with Eddie Arnold. Although known as a country player, he was as great jazz guitarist, and we played together every day.
Soon after I got a scholarship to go to L.A. and go to a school of music there. I turned down a scholarship to Oberlin in Ohio because I wanted to play jazz and the school in L.A was like Berklee is now in Boston. It was a jazz school. It turned out not to be that great so I dropped out very quickly and started working with really good musicians. That’s how I learned how to play. I was playing right away with people like Hampton Hawes, Elmo Hope, Sonny Clark. Truly great, unbelievable players. I mean there’s no more beautiful musician in the world than Elmo Hope, Hampton Hawes or Sonny Clark. I used to play with them every day. L.A. was a different place back then. There were a lot of musicians that were dedicated to creative music back in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. I was there in ’56 and moved to New York with Ornette in 1959.
I moved back to L.A., about four years ago to be near my children, and it’s a different place. It’s all oriented toward commercial music and movie studios. I have to leave town a lot to play the music I feel is really important. You know, there are different levels, both in music and in how you can approach it. The really great musicians who are really contributing to this life that we are living, they do what they do without choice because they have to… to change the world for the better. That’s on a higher level, away from things like making a living and paying bills. It’s really difficult because sometimes you don’t think about making a living and paying bills. You start feeling guilty because you know that if you were in the studios or playing commercial music or compromising your values a little bit you could be providing more for your children. Still, that is something that I have to do… I really have to do what I feel is a big responsibility, and that’s to make whatever this is we’re living in a better place for people and for all the children… so that’s what I’m doing.
~~~~~~~ He may truly rest in peace, as he lived his life with integrity and beauty, leaving a legacy of thoughtful creative music which reflect his views of struggle and humanity. Charlie Haden – August 6, 1937 – July 11, 2014~~~~~~~
Here’s a link to a Democracy Now interview with Charlie Haden from 2006!
… and, two great videos: