Jazz bassist Charlie Haden, part of groundbreaking Ornette Coleman Quartet, dies at 76

  • Article by: CHARLES J. GANS , Associated Press
  • Updated: July 12, 2014 - 5:38 PM
hide

FILE - This Jan. 9, 1997 file photo shows jazz bassist Charlie Haden, right, and his plexiglas reflection as he rehearses during a soundcheck at the House of Blues in West Hollywood, Calif., before a performance by his band Quartet West. Haden died Friday, July 11, 2014 in Los Angeles after a long illness. He was 76.

Photo: Chris Pizzello, Associated Press - Ap

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

NEW YORK — Bassist Charlie Haden, who helped change the shape of jazz more than a half-century ago as a member of Ornette Coleman's groundbreaking quartet and liberated the bass from its traditional rhythm section role, has died. He was 76.

Haden's wife of 30 years, singer Ruth Cameron, and his four children were by his side when he died Friday in Los Angeles after a prolonged illness, said publicist Tina Pelikan of ECM Records.

Haden's career was marked by the triumph of beauty over suffering. He turned to the bass after losing his singing voice to polio as a teenager when he was performing with the Haden Family country band.

The onset of post-polio syndrome in late 2010 forced him to stop performing publicly, though he played at home to his favorite recordings as well as with visiting musician friends such as guitarist Pat Metheny and pianist Alan Broadbent.

During his career, Haden's lyrical bass playing could be heard in a broad range of musical genres, ranging from jazz to country to world music.

"I want to take people away from the ugliness and sadness around us every day and bring beautiful, deep music to as many people as I can," Haden said in a 2013 interview with The Associated Press shortly before receiving a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award.

At the time, the Recording Academy cited Haden as "an all-American jazz musician best known for his signature lyrical bass lines and his ability to liberate the bassist from an accompanying role."

The Grammy recognition — as well as being named a Jazz Master in 2012 by the National Endowment for the Arts — was a far cry from the reception Haden received in the late 1950s as a member of Coleman's revolutionary quartet.

The quartet's 1959-60 engagement at New York's Five Spot club was one of the seminal moments in jazz history as musicians heatedly debated this new music dubbed "free jazz" that challenged the bop establishment by liberating musicians to freely improvise off of the melody rather than the underlying chord changes.

"Some people didn't understand what we were doing and they were afraid because they'd never heard anything like that before — so we dealt with it the best we could," Haden said in the 2013 interview.

Haden found a kindred spirit in Coleman, whom he met after relocating to Los Angeles in 1957. The quartet — with trumpeter Don Cherry and drummer Billy Higgins — released the aptly named album "The Shape of Jazz to Come" in 1959.

"I wanted to play on the inspiration of a composition rather than on the chord structure — and every time I tried to do this the other musicians that I was playing with would be upset with me," Haden recalled in a 2006 AP interview. "The first time I played with Ornette all of a sudden the lights were turned on for me because here was someone else who was ... doing the same thing I was trying to do."

But even as a member of Coleman's quartet, Haden drew on the harmonies and melodies he learned playing country music as a child.

Haden saw the common link between jazz and country — both are poor people's music related to "the struggle for independence, identity and to be recognized," he said in a 2009 AP interview following the release of his first country album, "Rambling Boy" on which he returned to his roots, playing songs by the Carter Family and other traditional country musicians.

He recorded the 2009 album with his wife, son Josh, triplet daughters, Rachel, Petra and Tanya, and son-in-law, actor Jack Black — as well as Elvis Costello, Vince Gill and Rosanne Cash.

"My roots have never left me ... because the very first memory I have is my mom singing and me singing with her," Haden said in the 2009 interview. The CD included Haden's first recorded performance - an excerpt from a 1939 Haden Family radio show on which 22-month-old Cowboy Charlie yodels on a gospel tune.

Haden was born on Aug. 6, 1937, in Shenandoah, Iowa, and soon began performing with his parents and siblings as the youngest member of the Haden Family band, which had its own radio show and was popular on the Midwest country circuit.

But polio weakened his vocal cords and ended his singing career at 15, leading him to focus on the bass. He became interested in jazz after hearing Charlie Parker perform with Jazz at the Philharmonic, and headed to Los Angeles to study music and began performing with such local musicians as pianist Hampton Hawes and saxophonist Art Pepper before meeting Coleman.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close