Charlie Haden

I learned at a very young age that music teaches you about life. When you’re in the midst of improvisation, there is no yesterday and no tomorrow — there is just the moment that you are in. In that beautiful moment, you experience your true insignificance to the rest of the universe. It is then, and only then, that you can experience your true significance.

Charlie Haden

I want to write about Charlie Haden. I have to. I don’t want to write about his life or to try to explain how he changed Jazz music and the role of the double bass within it. Others are more qualified to do that. I want to write about the influence that Charlie Haden has had on me as a Jazz fan and as a bass player. I wanted to do it a long time ago, to celebrate his music while he was still alive. I missed that chance.

Charlie Haden died this morning at 10:11 Pacific Time, 76 years old. He grew up singing in the family band and switched to the bass after his vocal cords were paralyzed by polio at age fifteen. The medium changed, but Charlie never stopped singing.

Charlie Haden’s playing is the perfect combination of freedom and beauty.

I first heard Charlie when I found the early Ornette Coleman records as a teenager. Although the aesthetic was strange, the spirit behind the music appealed to me as an angsty metalhead.1 As I got deeper into the music and the bass, I fell in love with Charlie’s sound, ears, and commitment.

Suggested listening

Here are a few albums and tracks that have been especially important to me. It’s a very personal list, as I could never hope to represent Charlie Haden’s fifty year career as a professional musician here. Nor would I want to.

Ornette Coleman

Charlie Haden is known for the early Ornette Coleman more than anything else. I remember buying Change of the Century at Borders and rushing home to listen to it. Lots of great tracks, but two for checking out Charlie Haden are “The Face Of The Bass” and “Una Muy Bonita”. The Shape of Jazz to Come is also great and known for it.

Charlie’s playing on Science Fiction from 1971 is ridiculously good. I especially like “Street Woman”, “School Work”, and “Law Years”.

Change of the Century, recorded 1959

Keith Jarrett American Quartet

I love the Keith Jarrett group with Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, and Paul Motian, especially the stuff on Impulse! Records. My favorite is Bop-Be. The last track, “Pocket Full Of Cherry”, is a Charlie Haden composition. The feel is epic, as is Keith Jarrett’s soprano sax playing on it. It’s free improvisation, and the resolution leading up to 3:30 is an example of Charlie’s giant ears.

Bop-Be, recorded 1976


Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, and Geri Allen released a few records together. I’ve not heard them all, but I like Etudes. It has a great version of “Lonely Woman” (originally from The Shape of Jazz to Come), and a version of Charlie Haden’s “Silence”, which was also recorded on Bop-Be.

Etudes, recorded 1987

Night And The City

I love duo albums, and Night And The City with Kenny Barron is one of my favorites.2 Charlie’s playing is so good. All ballads, recorded live. I play something from Charlie’s solo on “Body And Soul” every time I play the song.

Night And The City, recorded 1996

  1. I still maintain that there’s a deep, mysterious connection between free jazz and death metal. 

  2. Two other favorites are Jim Hall & Red Mitchell, which I mentioned here, and I Concentrate On You by Lee Konitz & Red Mitchell, which I should write about some day.