Born on August 6, 1937, in Shenandoah, IA; parents were country-western entertainers; married Ruth Cameron (second wife); four children. Addresses: Management--The Merlin Company, 17609 Ventura Blvd., Suite 212, Encino, CA, 91316.

When he was 15 years old, Charlie Haden traveled to Omaha with his father to hear a performance by jazz saxophone greats Lester Young and Charlie Parker. The experience was a revelation; after the event, as Haden recalled to Jay Cocks of Time, "it was pretty much decided inside my soul that jazz was what I was going to do. It was like having the music born inside you." Over five decades later, Haden remained one of the most sensitive and innovative masters of the string bass, whose impact on both his chosen instrument, and jazz in general, continued to be felt. On saxophonist Joshua Redman's 1993 recording, Wish, for example, the veteran Haden teamed up with one of jazz's fastest-rising young stars. Redman's youthful ebullience blended effortlessly with Haden's seasoned musicianship, bringing jazz to a generation of new listeners at the same time it paid homage to an illustrious lifelong career.

Haden's playing of the 1990s, though firmly rooted in tradition, seemed far distant from the early history of the jazz bass. In the first two decades of the twentieth century, the bass filled mainly a supportive role in the jazz ensemble, providing the fundamental notes of the harmonic structure and adding rhythmic momentum. During the swing era of the 1930s and 1940s, however, especially in the work of the great Duke Ellington bassist Jimmy Blanton, the instrument began to play a more prominent part in the ensemble texture, interacting with the improvising soloists and occasionally employed in solos.

Haden built on the contributions of players such as Blanton and developed something of a musical "sixth sense" by which he could follow the complex lines of many of the avant-garde players of the 1950s and 1960s--especially saxophonist Ornette Coleman--and continually align his playing to what he heard. This unusual perceptiveness, combined with a richness of tone and an economy of means--in which one senses each individual note is significant--made his style instantly recognizable.

Began as Country-Western Performer

Strangely enough, Haden's early roots were not in jazz but in another uniquely American art form--country-and-western music. His parents were regulars at Nashville's Grand Ole Opry and became close associates with some of the venue's most prominent names, including Hank Williams, the Carter Family, and the Delmore Brothers. When he was only two, Haden joined his parents on their own radio show, "Uncle Carl Haden and the Haden Family"; as the character Cowboy Charlie he sang harmony and developed a talent for yodeling. These early experiences were crucial to Haden's musical development. As he expressed to Bill Forman of Grammy magazine, "The way [Mother Maybelle Carter] sang and played guitar had a big influence on me. And the Delmore Brothers were a real influence on my harmonic sense, because they were the first deep harmony in country music."

Haden began to perform on bass during his teen years and in 1957 moved to Los Angeles to establish himself as a professional musician. Anxious to absorb all he could from the vibrant West Coast jazz scene, he aggressively sought out a wide variety of groups and performing venues. As he told Forman, "I used to go up on the bandstand at jam sessions and grab the bass out of the bass player's hands and start playing." Soon he had drawn the attention of some of the greatest names in the Los Angeles area, including saxophonist Dexter Gordon and trumpeter Chet Baker.

Met Ornette Coleman

The direction of Haden's career was changed forever when he was introduced to saxophonist Ornette Coleman in a club in Hollywood. Born and raised in Texas and largely self-taught, Coleman obtained his early musical experience by performing with rhythm and blues groups. However, after moving to the West Coast in 1954, Coleman quickly traveled into uncharted musical terrain. Seeking to move jazz performances beyond the usual technique of improvising over a set harmonic pattern, Coleman began to experiment with more flexible organizing principles in his playing, including tonal centers and melodic motives. Haden sensed an immediate empathy with Coleman's ideas, which became loosely grouped under the heading "free jazz"; as Haden explained to Cocks, "Sometimes I would want to improvise on the inspiration, the feeling rather than the chords. And that's what Ornette was doing."

As a member of Ornette Coleman's quartet, which included trumpeter Don Cherry and drummer Billy Higgins, Haden helped shape the course of jazz history. A four-month stint at New York's Five Spot club in 1959 and influential albums, such as The Shape of Jazz to Come in 1960 and Free Jazz in 1961, brought the group's revolutionary approaches to jazz improvisation to a wide audience. The instinctive communication between Haden and the other members of the ensemble--what Jazz Tradition author Martin Williams has called "responsive inspiration"--assured a sense of structure and balance in these performances, without sacrificing their startling audacity and freedom.

Haden continued to perform with Coleman throughout the 1960s and later, in 1976, helped found Old and New Dreams, a group dedicated to keeping the spirit of Coleman's music alive. Then, in 1969, another important phase of Haden's career began when, with pianist and composer Carla Bley, he founded Liberation Music Orchestra. As Haden explained to Down Beat's Josef Woodard, the formation of the group "was brought about by the Vietnam War, by the turmoil that was going on in the world caused by United States aggression. I felt I had to do something about it in my own way." The group's self-titled first album, a deeply emotional statement about freedom that incorporated themes from the Spanish Civil War, was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1969. With some changes in personnel, the group continued to perform throughout the 1970s and 1980s and in 1993 staged a concert at New York's Lincoln Center.

Haden had always held a special affection for the atmosphere of the 1930s and 1940s so vividly captured in the novels of Raymond Chandler. Therefore, in the late 1980s, when he made his first venture as the leader of a small group, he tried to "pass along the feeling of standing in Philip Marlowe's office looking out at the neon lights blinking off and on in the night," as he expressed to Time's Cocks. His Quartet West, which recorded four albums between 1987 and 1993, reflected Haden's fascination with a time when, as he stated to Woodard in Down Beat, "popular music had deeper values."

The group's 1993 release, Always Say Goodbye, for example, opened with Max Steiner's 1937 fanfare for Warner Brothers, and featured, along with contemporary performances by the group, snippets of movie dialogue and vintage performances such as Jo Stafford's "Alone Together." The use of these musical artifacts contributed both an atmosphere of nostalgia and, as Musician writer Tom Moon put it, "guideposts to a world where emotionalism still lives."

In 1991 Haden's affection for classic pop music carried over into another project, Rickie Lee Jones's album Pop Pop. On this recording Haden accompanied Jones's performances of such classic standards as "My One and Only Love," lending the tunes his sensitivity, passion, and sense of taste. The album brought Haden's work to a new group of listeners who were perhaps unaware of his long and fruitful career and his unique contribution to American music history.

Collaborations Proved Fruitful

Haden continued to play with Quartet West as his main project throughout the 1990s and into the new millennium. "We have developed an intuitive sense musically and spiritually," he wrote in a biography on his official website. "Just like the Modern Jazz Quartet, we've developed a sound that has come from playing together for a long time." The Quartet released The Art of Song in 1999. "I wanted to gather together a collection of complete melodies that tell a story in the music and the lyric and that have rarely been recorded." Haden continued: "Plus, I wanted them to be sung by vocalists who are masters at exploring the depth of a song. I'd always hoped to work with Shirley [Horn] and Bill [Henderson], who are both singers who perform at the creative level of Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker."

In addition to vocal performances by the aforementioned artists, Haden makes his vocal debut on the album, on a track titled "Wayfaring Stranger." This development was inspired by an appearance on National Public Radio's Fresh Air program with Terry Gross. He sang "Now is the Hour" on the program, and Gross complimented his vocal abilities, telling him he should think about recording something similar on an upcoming album. He is modest about the results. "Well, I really just talk through the lyrics," he noted on his website. "I've been looking for an opportunity to record this song ["Wayfaring Stranger"] for years and if my singing hadn't worked, I would have ended up playing the melody on the bass."

Haden released Nocturne, the latest of a series of collaborations with Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, in 2001. Haden and Rubalcaba first met in 1986, when Haden performed with the Liberation Music Orchestra at a festival in Havana, Cuba. The two musicians collaborated on Rubalcaba's The Blessing in 1991 and Haden's Montreal Tapes in 1998. Down Beat writer Andrew Gilbert opined that a collaboration between the two was inevitable, given their similar backgrounds and sensibilities. "They both possess profound improvisational sensibilities and have always rejected stylistic boundaries. They are both artists in the grand Romantic tradition, deep souls on a quest for the sublime." The album earned widespread praise, hailed by as "a languid, meditative, headily romantic collection ... a slow and thoughtful album, so full of lush beauty it almost drips, but for the masterful control of emotions by the players." Rubalcaba underlined the importance of the album in Down Beat, "It's ... important to illustrate the historic communication between the United States and countries like Cuba.... This doesn't have to do with copying, but with exchanging messages, concepts and ideas back and forth."

American Dreams, a set of all-new material performed by Haden and a backing band that included, at times, a 34-piece orchestra, was released in 2002. "[T]he venerable bassist/bandleader paints a picture of the American experience with a set of compositions that, for a person immersed in jazz, are intrinsically part of this nation's fabric." Haden was inspired to put together this collection of songs by the terrorist attacks on the United States that took place on September 11, 2001. "I felt they all belonged together for a reason, which is to tell a story about people who are free to dream and free to follow their dreams.... [The United States] should be viewed as a place that inspires people to be their very best." The collection features interpretations of the compositions of past Haden collaborators Ornette Coleman, Pat Metheny, and Keith Jarrett.

More than half a century after he first began performing music, Haden remains a relevant figure in the jazz music world. Francis Davis, music biographer and writer for the Atlantic Monthly, summed up Haden's importance in a single sentence: "No instrument in jazz is more essential than the bass, both backbone and heartbeat, and Haden is its master."

by Jeffrey Taylor

Charlie Haden's Career

From age two to 15 sang with family's country-and-western act, "Uncle Carl Haden and the Haden Family"; began playing bass during teen years and in 1957 moved to Los Angeles and worked with saxophonists Art Pepper and Dexter Gordon, trumpeter Chet Baker, and pianists Hampton Hawes and Paul Bley; joined saxophonist Ornette Coleman's quartet, late 1950s; worked with Coleman as well as with saxophonists John Coltrane and Archie Shepp, 1960s; toured with pianist Keith Jarrett, 1966; cofounded Liberation Music Orchestra with composer/arranger Carla Bley, 1969; helped form group Old and New Dreams with trumpeter Don Cherry and several other former Coleman sidemen, 1976; participated in a reunion of the original Ornette Coleman Quartet and formed Quartet West, 1987; performed and recorded with his own groups and with pop artists such as Bruce Hornsby and Rickie Lee Jones, late 1980s-early 1990s; released The Art of Song with Quartet West, 1999; released collaborative effort with Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcabacalled Nocturne, 2001; released American Dreams, 2002.

Charlie Haden's Awards

Guggenheim Fellowship recipient, 1969; Grand Prix du Disque (Charles Cros) Award for Liberation Music Orchestra, 1969, and Ballad of the Fallen, 1983; Grammy nominations for Liberation Music Orchestra, 1969, and Dream Keeper, 1990; winner of Down Beat critics' poll, 1982-96, and Down Beat readers' poll, 1985-94, both for acoustic bass category; Newsday Jazz Artist of the Year, 1991; Grammy Award, Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Individual or Group for Beyond the Missouri Sky, 1997; four National Endowment for the Arts composition grants.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

August 31, 2004: Haden's album, Land of the Sun, was released. Source: All Music Guide,, September 2, 2004.

February 13, 2005: Haden won the Grammy Award for best Latin jazz album for Land of the Sun. Source:,, February 14, 2005.

Further Reading



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