Archive | February, 2013

Charlie Haden and the Grammys

10 Feb

Charlie Haden and Hank Jones 1995 album Steal Away

I’ve never watched the Grammys, and don’t intend to start tonight (music, to me, is primarily for the auditory sense, not the visual, which is why I couldn’t find MTV without a well-directed remote or the date of the Grammys without a Hollywood calendar).

But I won’t object if I stumble on to the only few minutes that might be worth it — the recognition of bassist Charlie Haden.

Haden received a Lifetime Achievement Award Saturday, and the timing couldn’t be more appropriate. When he was in his teens, Haden suffered from polio, and it took his singing voice; in his 70s now, Haden suffers from post-polio syndrome, and it’s taken much from the last two years of his life.

According to published reports, Haden has difficulty eating and swallowing, suffers from headaches, tires easily, is in frequent pain and is deprived of interaction with two groups vital to him: fans and students.

He hasn’t played publicly since September 2011, and he only recently returned to the classroom at the California Institute of the Arts, where according to Charles Gans’ Associated Press story, Haden started the jazz program.

“I miss (playing live) very much,” Haden told the Los Angeles Times’ Howard Reich. “A lot of people call me to play . . .

“Oh, man – one of the main things I want to do is play my bass again (publicly). It’s why I live.”

Haden’s playing is why we listen — from Ornette Coleman to the Liberation Music Orchestra to Old and New Dreams to the Quartet West to associations with Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Egberto Gismonti and so many others. He made them all better.

“The one thing that should always be said about Charlie, though, is that there is a whole genre of music with ‘improvised harmony’ that can’t exist without him,” wrote pianist Ethan Iverson on his blog “It started with Ornette, then moved to Keith Jarrett, Dewey Redman and Paul Motian . . . All of that canonical music requires Charlie Haden.”

My favorite Haden albums tend to to the softer: his 1997 duet with fellow Missourian Pat Metheny, Beyond The Missouri Sky (written about previously in this entry), and his two releases of spirituals with pianist Hank Jones, 1995’s Steal Away and 2010’s Coming Sunday, the latter recorded just months before Jones’ death.

“Charlie Haden has made it his life’s mission to uplift the lives of others,” wrote The Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s Flea on “In my case he has succeeded dramatically.”

I didn’t know Flea had won six Grammys when I read what he wrote about Haden; I hadn’t seen any. But if they awarded them for writing about music, or explaining Charlie Haden, they’d quickly give Flea another.

“A few years ago, I had the fortune to play with the great Ornette Coleman,” wrote Flea. “. . . I’m just an uneducated punk rocker, but I did my best. I did OK.

“. . . A lot of different musicians played that night, all of whom were very well-respected, but at one point, all the many musicians left the stage, Charlie walked on it, and it was just Charlie and Ornette. After all the intense virtuosity that had gone on through the night, Charlie began to play a simple, bluesy, twangy, country riff, a little folk melody, and I felt Ornette really come alive, saw the audience fall into a reverent silence, and Charlie just schooled everybody, shredded everything that came before.

“He had the ability to play anything, but just came from the gutbucket with the humble truth, and he and Ornette began to dance around each other, and it was the greatest thing I ever saw. These two giants, who turned jazz upside down 50 years earlier, just connecting on the highest level, and the sheer beauty and violence of it reduced me to joyous tears.”

A link below to a piece from Haden and Jones’ version of Take My Hand, Precious Lord off their 2010 album Coming Sunday.


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