Like few others in his field, double bassist Charlie Haden has left his mark on jazz – and broken new ground. In the 60s he was one of the punks of the jazz scene. For his political commitment he was even imprisoned for one day. The bassist, composer, teacher and political activist turns 75 today.
He has played with jazz greats like John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, with pop and rock musicians like Sting, ex-Beatle Ringo Starr or Yoko Ono. The U.S. jazz bassist Charlie Haden sees the bass player's playing not only as an accompaniment, but as his own voice.
Time magazine called Haden one of the "most restless, talented and intrepid players in all of jazz". British rock singer Ian Dury, who died in 2000, once confessed that the catchy riff of his hit "Sex and Drugs and Rock "n"
Roll" was inspired by a solo by Haden. For his life's work, the bassist received the "NEA Jazz Masters Award" – the highest official honor for jazz musicians in the USA – in New York at the beginning of the year.
Haden's recordings with the Ornette Coleman Quartet, such as 1959's "The Shape of Jazz to Come," are still considered groundbreaking avant-garde albums. Together with alto saxophonist Coleman, Haden virtually single-handedly invented free jazz, wrote the news magazine "Der Spiegel".
Rebellious, feverish, dissonant tone sequences
In the conservative, anti-communist postwar era of the 1950s and 1960s, Haden was one of the punks of the jazz scene: against the orderly harmonic big band and orchestral sound, they fired off rebellious, feverish, dissonant sequences of notes.
Music and politics belong together for Haden anyway. In 1969, at the height of the social and political upheaval in the U.S., he founded the "Liberation Music Orchestra," which still exists today and whose repertoire consists largely of "liberation songs" from various countries and eras.
At a concert in Portugal in 1971, Haden dedicated the composition "Song for Che" expressly to the opponents of the dictatorial regime of the time. Thereupon he was arrested, interrogated by the secret police and put in jail for a day.
In the meantime, there is hardly a genre in which Haden has not made a guest appearance. In recent years, he recorded "Rambling Boy" with high-profile country musicians. Together with the pianist Hank Jones, who died in 2010, he dedicated himself to gospel music ("Come Sunday"). And on "Sophisticated Ladies" he shone together with pop and jazz singers such as Melody Gardot, Norah Jones and Diana Krall.
Born in Shenandoah, Iowa, in 1937, Haden grew up in an extremely musical family. At the age of 22 months, he made his first squawking appearance on his parents' country radio show. As a child, he sang and played several instruments until he settled on double bass at age 19.
To learn to play the bass properly, he moved to Los Angeles in 1956, where the country boy experienced a meteoric rise. Similar to New York, life pulsated there in countless jazz clubs. "Midnight sessions were commonplace, and you could play until your fingers hurt," Haden recalls. "Those were definitely exciting times."
Children make music m
He dedicated numerous recordings to the city of Los Angeles with the "Quartet West", which he founded together with his second wife Ruth Cameron in 1986. A masterpiece here is "Always Say Goodbye". With it, he resurrected the Los Angeles of the crime novelist he admired, Raymond Chandler (1888-1959). In the atmospheric music, he has incorporated soundtracks from Hollywood films of the 1940s and 1950s as well as original recordings by Chet Baker, Django Reinhardt, Duke Ellington and Jo Stafford.
To this day, Haden has the reputation of being a very disciplined, experimental musician. He keeps his private and family life under wraps, but for some productions, such as "Rambling Boy," he enlists his now-grown children as co-musicians.
His music has become softer, more melancholy and romantic within half a century. Music teaches you a lot about life, he said earlier this year in his acceptance speech for the "NEA Jazz Masters Award". In the middle of an improvisation there is no tomorrow and no yesterday. "There is only the moment in which you are right now."