Charlie Haden

Biography

In the midst of a fragile, post-9/11 atmosphere, legendary bassist-composer-bandleader Charlie Haden was inspired to create his meditative American Dreams as a kind of healing balm for a shattered national psyche. As he wrote in the liner notes of that majestic 2002 symphonic offering: “I always dreamed of a world without cruelty and greed, of a humanity with the same creative brilliance of our solar system, of an America worthy of the dreams of Martin Luther King, and the majesty of the Statue of Liberty...This music is dedicated to those who still dream of a society with compassion, deep creative intelligence, and a respect for the preciousness of life -- for our children, and for our future.”

Two years later, in the aftermath of the 2004 presidential election, Haden was inspired to speak out this time using the Liberation Music Orchestra to articulate his concerns. Not In Our Name, the title of this new cd, stands as a musical manifesto for the disaffection many people in America and all over the world feel about the manner in which the present administration is conducting its affairs both at home and in the global arena.  The material on Not In Our Name comes strictly from American composers. As Haden explained, “There was a necessity that I felt to play music from American composers in protest to what’s going on, to make a statement that just because you’re not for everything that this administration is doing, doesn’t mean that you’re not patriotic. So I wanted to do ‘America the Beautiful’ to show everybody that there’s a lot of work that needs to be done here in this country. And inside that song, Carla put the African-American anthem ‘Lift Every Voice And Sing.’ and Ornette Coleman’s provocative ”Skies Over America” (the title track of Coleman’s first recorded orchestral symphonic work from 1972). And then there is a Pat Metheny song that I’ve always liked, which he wrote for the movie, The Falcon and the Snowman. At the end of the movie they do this song with David Bowie singing called ‘This Is Not America.’ We do ‘Amazing Grace,’ Dvorak’s ‘Goin’ Home, which is from his New World Symphony. And we also do ‘Throughout,’ which is a Bill Frisell song that my daughter Petra did with Bill on a duet record that they did (2003’s Petra Haden & Bill Frisell on True North). When I heard it I really loved it and wanted to put it on the record. We also do ‘Adagio for Strings’ by Samuel Barber, put to a chamber orchestra, which I always wanted to do.”

This fourth Liberation Music Orchestra recording reunites Haden with his longtime friend and colleague Carla Bley. Recorded in Rome last summer at the end of a triumphant tour of Europe, Not In Our Name, produced by Haden, Bley and Haden’s wife Ruth Cameron, features a Liberation Music Orchestra lineup comprised of seasoned LMO veterans like French horn player Ahnee Sharon Freeman and tuba ace Joe Daley along with newcomers like trumpeter Michael Rodriguez and alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon (both of whom played on Haden’s Grammy Award-winning Land of the Sun last year), tenor saxophonists Chris Cheek and Tony Malaby, trumpeter Seneca Black, trombonist Curtis Fowlkes, guitarist Steve Cardenas and drummer Matt Wilson.

Haden says that the genesis for the title of this latest Liberation Music Orchestra project happened two years ago when he was on tour in Europe with guitarist Pat Metheny, performing music from their 1996 Verve collaboration, Beyond the Missouri Sky. “I noticed when we were walking around in Italy and Spain that there were banners unfurled from different balconies of apartment buildings that said, ‘Not in Our Name,’” recalls Haden. “That’s the first time I had seen that slogan before, and that really impressed me...that the people in the apartments would do that. And then this past summer when we were on tour in Europe with the Liberation Music Orchesta, Miguel Zenon came up to me at some point and said, ‘Man, I just had this dream last night that you should call your song ‘Not In Our Name.’ And I thought that it was a great idea to also call the album that as well.”

Bley’s brilliant arrangements underscore pieces by Antonin Dvorak (“Goin’ Home” from the New World Symphony), Samuel Barber (a gorgeous chamber rendition of “Adagio For Strings”), Bill Frisell (an adaptation of Bill’s lyrical gem “Throughout” from his 1982 debut on ECM, In Line) and Pat Metheny (a reggaefied feel on the pensive “This Is Not America,” with sly quotes from “Dixie,” “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic” dropped in for ironic effect). Elsewhere, Bley’s singular arranging skills enhance Haden’s poignant waltz-time title track and her own dark, dirge-like “Blue Anthem,” as well as adding layers of texture and mystique to a stirring interpretation of the traditional gospel number “Amazing Grace” and a potent, 17-minute medley of “America The Beautiful”.

Haden writes in his liner notes to Not In Our Name“, “the beautiful arrangements and performance of Carla Bley are to be marveled at.” Her use of dissonant, minor key voicings in the horns on “America The Beautiful,” for example, adds layers of innuendo and irony to that staid patriotic theme. Throughout Not In Our Name, Bley’s subtle tweaking of harmonies sets an appropriately pointed tone for what is essentially a jazz protest record. “Carla is something else!” says Haden. “She voices her chords so special, I can tell in a minute that it’s her. She’s the person that I really trust to do the arrangements for the orchestra. She’s done the arranging on every record and I’ve never, ever been disappointed.”

Aside from creating beautiful arrangements for all the pieces on Not In Our Name, Bley takes us to the Church with her piano playing on ‘America The Beautiful,’ though Haden admits, “I always have tried to get Carla to play more piano but she’s very shy. She doesn’t want to play that often and I keep encouraging her because when she does play, it’s so great, man. She really opened up on that tour we did last summer, especially when we did ‘We Shall Overcome’ as a blues!”

Bley’s slow-moving, gospel-inflected arrangement of “Amazing Grace” serves as a perfect vehicle for Haden’s signature deep-toned bass solo, while her luminous interpretation of Dvorak’s “Goin’ Home” provides a beautiful showcase for trumpeter Rodriguez’s golden tone and soulful restraint and also for alto saxophonist Zenon’s pungent tone and fluent lines. “Michael has this sound on the trumpet that you don’t hear much today,” says Haden. “He’s got this really Chet Baker-Fats Navarro sound. It’s more gentle, soft...gorgeous. On that Dvorak piece, ‘Goin’ Home,’ he gets this beautiful breathy sound that Chet and Fats used to get, and Miles too. And it’s rare when you combine that with the gift of improvisation. The guy is so spontaneous and gifted at creating these beautiful melodies. Miguel, of course, I had played with on Land of the Sun. I called him to do that record because I had heard him play over in Europe and he really impressed me.”

On “Throughout,” the sparseness of Bley’s own piano playing blends with Cardenas’ arpeggiated figures on nylon string guitar, bringing a rare delicacy to that poignant Frisell piece. Haden contributes another resounding low-end solo here while the piece also provides a perfect example of the two distinctly different solo approaches taken by tenor saxophonists Cheeks and Malaby. “Tony and Chris I had heard before playing with Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band. They have two very different ways of approaching the music, but both of which are brand new. They’re searching for new intervals, new melodies, which is something I strive for and always have and always will. So these guys really impressed me by having very distinctive sounds. That’s another secret of this artform, if you’re dedicated to it, is discovering how to get your sound through the instrument the way your ears are really hearing it. And that’s what they all do. You can really hear the difference between Tony and Chris when they play their separate solos on the Bill Frisell song. It’s just amazing.”

On the closer, Barber’s hymn-like “Adagio,” the LMO strikes an uncommon balance between delicacy and emotional power, just as the LMO had some 17 years earlier on Haden’s own fragile opus, “Silence” (from 1982’s Ballad of the Fallen). “I was a little bit afraid of the ‘Adagio’,” admits Haden, “because Samuel Barber’s composition with string orchestra is so delicate that you really have to play it precisely and in tune. But everybody did great. And the arrangement is so great. It’s in all different time signatures. Carla makes it happen, man. She is a great conductor.”

Grounding this edition of the Liberation Music Orchestra with a deft, eminently musical touch on the kit is drummer Matt Wilson “I had met Matt in Norway at the festival in Molda when I was working there with Pat Metheny,” recalls Haden. “Actually, he had called me right before that festival and said, ‘Charlie, you don’t know me. My name is Matt Wilson. I know you and I love your music and all the stuff that you do with Dewey. I play a lot with Dewey, who gave me your number. Anyway, my wife’s about to have triplets. I just wanted to ask your advice.’ So that cracked me up. And I just told him, ‘Man, be prepared for a trip!’ I had a chance to play with him a couple of times after that (including at the San Francisco Jazz Festival a couple of years ago). I’m really glad he could make this tour with Liberation Music Orchestra because he really propels that band.”

“The key to everything to me is the power behind every note you play,” he continues. “And that power can be quiet power. And it also is a dynamic tone. It’s just the way you touch your instrument, whether it be keyboard or the drums or the bass or the horns. This power gives you an assuredness and you can instantly hear it when someone’s playing music with this quality...that they’re very sure of why they’re playing music. And every phrase that they play is coming from that. And that’s the way that Matt plays the drums. I’ve played different concerts with different drummers and the real musical ones have this ability. And Matt does.”

As a musical statement, Not In Our Name is a profoundly moving and beautiful collection of tunes, full of exhilarating ensemble work and bristling, emotive solos by some outstanding musicians on the New York scene. As a political statement, it stands as Haden’s rallying cry against an administration that would subvert the greater good of the country. As he writes in the album’s liner notes: “So now, although we lost the election, we have not lost the commitment to reclaim our country in the name of humanity and decency. Don't give up -- the struggle continues!”

In a career spanning five decades, Haden continues to create music that is at once revolutionary and uplifting. “I want to expand jazz,” he says. “I don’t want to keep the audience limited. I want to reach people who have never come to a jazz concert before. One way to do that is by making records that have a lot of different kinds of music on them.” He succeeds royally with Not In Our Name.

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Born in Shenandoah, Iowa on August 6, 1937, Charles Edward Haden began his life in music at the tender age of 22 months, singing on his parents’ country & western radio show. He started playing bass in his early teens and eventually left America’s heartland for Los Angeles. “This is the first town that I came to when I left high school in Missouri,” he recalls. “I came to L.A. just to find Hampton Hawes. And when I got here in 1956, there were a lot of jazz clubs and there were a lot of great musicians on the scene. It was a lot like New York in that aspect -- lots of after-hours jam sessions, and playing as much as you could play. Those were definitely exciting times.” Along with Hampton Hawes, Haden also played with such jazz legends as Art Pepper, Dexter Gordon and Paul Bley before teaming up with saxophonist Ornette Coleman, trumpeter Don Cherry and drummer Billy Higgins for regular gigs at the Hillcrest Club. In 1959, that pioneering quartet came east to New York, secured an extended residency at the Five Spot and began recording a series of seminal avant garde albums, including The Shape of Jazz to Come and Change of the Century, which revolutionized the course of modern jazz. In addition to his hugely influential work with Ornette Coleman through the ‘60s, Haden subsequently collaborated with a number of adventurous jazz giants, including John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane, Archie Shepp and Roswell Rudd.

In 1969, Haden joined forces with pianist/composer Carla Bley, founding the Liberation Music Orchestra. The group’s self-titled debut 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. From 1967-1976, Haden played in Keith Jarrett’s stellar trio, quartet and quintet which included drummer Paul Motian, percussionist Guilherme Franco and tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman. In 1976, he joined with fellow Ornette Coleman alumni Don Cherry, Dewey Redman and Ed Blackwell to form Old and New Dreams. A few years later he played alongside Dewey Redman, Michael Brecker and Jack DeJohnette in Pat Metheny’s 80/81 band.

In 1982, Haden established the jazz studies program at California Institute of the Arts and in 1986 he formed his straight ahead Quartet West with saxophonist Ernie Watts, pianist Alan Broadbent and drummer Larance Marable. Through the ‘90s, he continued playing with Quartet West and the Liberation Music Orchestra while also producing and recording or performing with Pat Metheny, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, John Scofield, Tom Harrell, Hank Jones, Kenny Barron, Ginger Baker, Bill Frisell, Jack DeJohnette and Michael Brecker. He has garnered countless awards and Grammy nominations as well as three Grammy’s. There have also been a few rare concert reunions with Ornette Coleman. More recently, Haden has collaborated with such jazz greats as Lee Konitz, Brad Mehldau, Joe Lovano, Alice Coltrane and even players outside the jazz genre such as Beck and Ringo Starr. 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, Argentinean bandoneon master Dino Saluzzi and Portuguese guitarist Carlos Paredes. Charlie Haden is beyond category.