Man. This was sad news to wake up to. To hear that Charlie Haden has died – he seemed so vital, so urgent – prolific. And all the while he was fighting an illness. You couldn’t hear that in his playing. All I heard was warmth and strength, that which he gave too as the patriarch of an extraordinarily talented musical family. That which you hear in his playing – always. I’d been thinking about him a bit recently too – that new-ish album from his son Josh, with his band Spain, and the daughters; The Haden Triplets – anytime the family name came up it was back to Charlie too, back to where it all started.
But also just this week I reviewed Last Dance, a gorgeous set of duos between Haden and old pal Keith Jarrett. That album’s going to mean even more now – both seemed so sure of the notes, always – and so correct in their choices, in the spaces and places between the notes.
And reviewing Ginger Baker’s new album had me going back to when Ginger was hitting it right in the mid-90s; had me going back to those albums where Charlie Haden was part of the band.
It was hearing Ginger’s jazz albums from the 1990s that clued me up on Charlie Haden. I knew the name – knew he was a giant of jazz, a legend – living legend (seems so cruel, so sudden, to now not be able to say that). But it was his playing with Frisell and Baker that made me do the digging, find out exactly where he’d been before that. And turns out he’d been everywhere. Man!
Back with Ornette Coleman and Archie Shepp, with the Coltranes – John and Alice, with the groups Liberation Music Orchestra and Quartet West. He had a couple dozen albums under his belt as a leader. But in that great bass-playing way he did some of his finest work – some of the finest work – as sideman, as part of the gang, and/or hired hand. You’d find his name on pop records too – Ringo Starr, Rickie Lee Jones, Beck and Yoko Ono – and playing country and bluegrass, even heading up a family album, so proud of the work his children were doing. So eager to lend a hand.
But if you were going to build a list of the key recordings that could show you some – just some – of the brilliance that Haden offered you might start with Ornette’s The Shape of Jazz To Come and Free Jazz, with Jarrett’s Life Between The Exit Signs and Expectations and Jasmine, you might want to include some of his work with Archie Shepp and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, with Dewey Newman and Gato Barbieri, with Geri Allen and Carla Bley. I’d always include Ginger Baker’s Going Back Home because, well, that record just means a lot to me – personally. And it got me to digging back through Charlie Haden’s finest moments.
And you’d end it – of course – with Last Dance, the brand new record he made so recently with Keith Jarrett. That’s where it has to end – for now at least. And what a gorgeous send-off that record is, bitter-sweet, so perfect and lovely and real. So wise. You feel the spirit, the thoughtfulness – the certainty in the playing. In where and how to place the note.
There’s a couple of lifetimes to be spent finding all of the magic that Charlie Haden offered us. And such a weight for his children. And such a loss to this world.