Charlie Haden has passed away. Sad news for all fans of free jazz, of jazz, of music. A great loss for music indeed. Haden was part of the original Ornette Coleman band, on the seminal "The Shape Of Jazz To Come" (1959), with Don Cherry and Billy Higgins, one of the real breakthrough albums of what was going to be called "free jazz". The opening track of the album was the magnificent "Lonely Woman", of which you find a solo performance by Haden on the video below.
Haden stayed in the Ornette Coleman Quartet till the early seventies. He joined two other major bands at that time : Keith Jarrett's American quartet, with Dewey Redman and Paul Motian, and Old & New Dreams, the actual Ornette Coleman Quartet with Coleman being replaced by Dewey Redman.
He set up his own "Liberation Music Orchestra", a larger band which could more strongly articulate his political opinions of freedom. I will not go into his entire discography or biography. Ample information on both can be found on wikipedia and other sources.
Even if Haden never received legendary status as a musician or as a bass-player, he was actually part of some of the most significant innovations in jazz, or even music, in the last 60 years, which by itself says enough. He was at the same time an avant-gardist, willing to attack the system, including musical systems, out of a political conviction that the establishment of that time needed to be destabilised, and that the oppressed peoples should be liberated, just like music had to be liberated from its shackles.
At the same time, he was both a romantic and a sentimentalist, who was not afraid to compose and perform sensitive material such as "Silence", a side of his personality that fit well with the ECM concept, and which resulted in great collaborations on the label with Jan Garbarek and Egberto Gismonti, at the same time showing the importance of world and folk music as influences throughout his career.
He was a man who was authentic and true to his own self, music is life and life is music.
So what can I recommend out of his huge discography? Probably first and foremost the Verve series "The Montreal Tapes", on which Haden gets the entire spotlight, on each album playing with one of jazz' leading icons.
The first two albums of his Liberation Music Orchestra are phenomenal, mixing Spanish folk songs with free jazz and marching band arrangements, performed by an all-star group of musicians, including Don Cherry, Carla Bley, Paul Motian, Gato Barbieri, Roswell Rudd, Perry Robinson, Andrew Cyrille. The first album gave us his "Song For Ché", a composition which would remain part of his playlists throughout his career. The second album, "The Ballad Of The Fallen", brought us amongst others "Silence", one of Haden's signature compositions.
The four Old & New Dreams albums are easy to recommend. I am less of a fan of his Quartet West releases, which released a series of more mainstream performance of standards.
And then of course there are the eighteen albums with the Keith Jarrett American quartet, of which my favorites are "The Survivor's Suite" and "Eyes Of The Heart", not surprisingly two albums on which Haden's role is critical.
And last but not least his collaboration with Ornette Coleman in the sixties, albums which are bizarre to listen to today, and on which Haden forms the perfect counterbalance to the sounds of Coleman and Cherry.
I also really enjoyed, and still do, his smaller combo work on ECM, with Egberto Gismonti and Jan Garbarek, if only because his own role in these smaller settings becomes more prominent and more determining.
He was a fabulous bass-player, yet first of all a lyricist, and it was clear from his later years that his preference went to the deeply felt, emotional moments.
A great musician, a great artist, a great human.
Our thoughts are with his family and friends.