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Jazz legend and triple-Grammy-winner CHARLIE HADEN has been hailed by Time magazine as “one of the most restless, gifted, and intrepid players in all of jazz.” His career has spanned more than 50 years, beginning with his work as one of the original members of the groundbreaking Ornette Coleman Quartet that turned the jazz world on its head in the late 1950s, to Cuban bolero, Argentinian tango, and Portuguese fado (not to mention a consistently revolving roster of sidemen and bandleaders that reads like a list from some imaginary jazz hall of fame) to vintage country, the last of which is featured on his latest album, Rambling Boy, and which he brings to Walt Disney Concert Hall tonight.
Haden revolutionized the harmonic concept of bass playing in jazz by improvising melodic responses to Coleman’s free-form solos (rather than sticking to predetermined harmonies). This was both radical and mesmerizing. His virtuosity lies in an incredible ability to make the double bass “sound out” and cultivate the instrument’s gravity like no one else in jazz. With his innovative approach, Haden helped liberate the bassist from a strictly accompanying role to becoming a more direct participant in group improvisation.
Haden was born in Shenandoah, Iowa in 1937 and began singing on the family show with his parents and siblings when he was two years old. “One of my earliest memories was my mother holding me in her arms up to the microphone so that I could sing on the radio. We moved a few years later to Springfield, Missouri to sing on Radio Station KWTO (Keep Watching the Ozarks). Lots of the country bands from Nashville would come to guest star. That’s how I got to know the Carter Family, Porter Wagoner, Chet Atkins, and many others. When they came to Springfield they’d come over to our house, as they all knew my parents from the early days. Mother Maybelle Carter would visit us and she would sing songs in our living room with her guitar.”
Then Haden heard Charlie Parker in concert and he knew he wanted to play jazz. After graduating high school in 1955, he played bass on Ozark Jubilee to earn enough to go to Los Angeles, where he met Ornette Coleman, with whom he began his legendary career.
In the ’70s and ’80s he went on to form a career in his own right – performing with Keith Jarrett for eleven years and forming his own bands, one of which is the ground-breaking Liberation Music Orchestra. With arrangements by Carla Bley, their first recording, which received France’s Grand Prix Charles Cros as well as Japan’s Gold Disc Award from Swing Journal, is a true milestone of modern music, blending experimental big band jazz with the folk songs of the Spanish Civil War to create a powerfully original work of musical/political activism. Since the ’80s Haden has collaborated many times with Pat Metheny, with whom he still performs and records. Haden also formed his noir-inspired award-winning band Quartet West, which still records and tours.
In 1982, Haden established the jazz studies program at California Institute of the Arts. The program he developed is unique in that it emphasizes smaller groups and the spiritual connection to the creative process and helps students discover their individual sound, melodies, and harmonies. For his educational work he was recently honored by the Los Angeles Jazz Society as “Jazz Educator of the Year.”
Over the years Charlie Haden has received a Guggenheim Fellowship as well as three Grammy awards and more than 16 Grammy nominations and countless international awards. In 1997 he was awarded a Grammy for his duet recording with Pat Metheny Beyond the Missouri Sky (Verve), which Haden dubbed “contemporary impressionistic Americana”; in 2001 Haden received the Latin Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz CD, for Nocturne, featuring luscious boleros from Cuba and Mexico, and in 2004 he was again awarded a Latin Grammy for his follow-up CD Land of the Sun, which explores the compositions of the great Mexican composer José Sabre Marroquín. His love of world music has also seen him teaming with a variety of diverse international players for many years, including Brazilian guitarist Egberto Gismonti, and even players outside the jazz genre such as Rickie Lee Jones, Beck, the Minute Men, James Cotton, and Ringo Starr. He was just awarded this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award by Bassplayer Magazine.
This year Swiss TV released a documentary film about Charlie Haden also called Rambling Boy, which has been screened at RedCat as well as the Telluride and Vancouver International Film Festival and will be shown at other festivals in the U.S. and world-wide.
“Since continuing my career in contemporary music and the world of jazz, the richness of the music that I sang and heard during those early experiences in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri has stayed inside my soul, my heart, and my being, and I continue to draw on it whenever I play.
“Recording the album Rambling Boy and performing this music live is a dream come true.”