Friday, August 8, 2014

Charlie Haden with Ornette: unforgettable

I had been looking for a place for this memory of hearing Charlie Haden with Ornette Coleman. It didn't seem to fit in my weekly music column, so it's here, adjacent to a reprint of the column.

Haden the agitator

Roughly 40 years ago, some time after I got my driver’s license and before I finished college, I saw the Ornette Coleman quartet at Joe Segal’s Jazz Showcase in Chicago.

Coleman was wearing a full-length, bright blue robe covered with silvery stars and moons. Dewey Redman wore a dashiki. This was the mid-'70s — no coat and tie and starchy white shirts. Haden stood out in his ordinary walkaround pants and shirt.

Coleman played long fluid passages punctuated with jarring blasts and shrieks. Dewey Redman on tenor growled, burbled and ululated. Drummer Ed Blackwell held things together, driving the band in lively swing figures with New Orleans flavors.

Eyes squinted shut, the bass player agitated the others, spewing speedy, intricate walking lines, weaving rugged textures of brief repeating patterns that felt almost like strumming, mixing motifs and toggling back and forth.

I had never heard a bass played that way, and I had never heard a group stirring up so much tension. They were not exactly playing together; they were playing against each other. It was thrilling, a little scary, and widely ear-opening.

Haden’s post-Coleman work, especially with Quartet West, became decidedly gentler, but I think the overarching quality of his work was to bring to the music whatever he thought it needed.

Haden leaves city a jazz legacy with bright moments

Published in the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader, August 8, 2014
This content cannot be reproduced without permission of the News-Leader.

Charlie Haden, the great bassist who died last month, made an impression in Springfield as part of his family's band back in the 1950's, but his recent contributions to the city's jazz community promise long-lasting rewards.

Randy Hamm, director of the Missouri State University Jazz Studies Program, came to know Haden during the conceptual stages of the MSU program and the first Springfield Jazz Festival, during the end of the last decade. Hamm also had a mind-blowing musical experience playing with Haden at that time.

Planners recruited Haden as guest artist for the inaugural festival and as artist in residence for the first year of the MSU Jazz Studies Program. Haden's presence was crucial to the launch of both efforts, Hamm said.

In Springfield in 2010 for the first festival, Haden said he was impressed with the renovation of the Gillioz Theatre and pleased to have the opportunity to perform there with his band, Quartet West.

In 2009, Haden appeared at an important fundraiser for scholarships and equipment for the new program. MSU jazz ensembles provided entertainment for the event at the Kentwood Ballroom on campus. In addition, Hamm on alto saxophone and faculty member Kyle Aho on piano played as a duo.

Haden wasn't planning on playing. He didn't have his bass, and he was uncomfortable using other people's equipment, Hamm said. However, after a couple of tunes by the duo, Haden stepped forward and joined Hamm and Aho.

"We let him call the tunes he wanted to play," Hamm said. "One of the tunes that he called, which he had recorded several times, was 'Body and Soul.' "

"I tell you, playing with Charlie Haden in that intimate setting, without a drummer — that Steinway in that room, the acoustics — it was one of the most rewarding musical experiences I've ever had."

The three musicians had never played together as a trio. It was a leap of faith. "Just to call a tune, there was immediate, deep trust all around," Hamm said.

He paused for a moment, looking for words:

"Playing with Charlie Haden must be what it feels like to ride on a magic carpet. His time, his intonation, his note choices, his rhythmic feel. It was gorgeous. I didn't want to stop."

The Jazz Studies Program has graduated its first group of musicians. The fifth annual Springfield Jazz Festival is Oct. 3.

Ed Peaco writes about locally grown Ozarks music for the News-Leader. Contact him at 417-413-9029 or

No comments: