Jazz bass legend Charlie Haden yearns to perform again

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Charlie Haden

Charlie Haden performs at Nashville's Grand Ole Opry in 2009. (Taylor Hill, FilmMagic / January 29, 2013)

In recent years, too, Haden has been equally prolific, bringing that robust tone but softly cushioned touch of his to recordings such as "Jasmine" (2010), a series of ethereal duets with Jarrett; "Come Sunday" (2011), a sublime collection of spiritual music with pianist Hank Jones; and "Magico: Carta de Amor" (recorded in 1981 but released in 2012) a feast of melody with saxophonist Jan Garbarek and Gismonti. Haden's musical philosophies also unfold in the disarming 2009 documentary film "Rambling Boy."

These contributions have not been lost on younger generations of musicians, with the noted pianist Ethan Iverson, of the trio The Bad Plus, recently writing expansively about Haden's forthcoming award on Iverson's blog Do the Math (dothemath.typepad.com).

"The phrase 'revolutionized the harmonic concept of bass playing' is actually dead on," wrote Iverson, quoting the Recording Academy's press release. "Charlie is endlessly provocative in his choice of notes.

"The one thing that should always be said about Charlie, though, is that there is a whole genre of music with 'improvised harmony' that can't exist without him. It started with Ornette, then moved to Keith Jarrett, Dewey Redman and Paul Motian. … All of that canonical music requires Charlie Haden."

Haden says he draws comfort from words like these, and he hopes he can continue to prove worthy of them by eventually returning to the stage.

"I miss it very much," he says. "A lot of people call me to play. …

"Oh, man – one of the main things I want to do is play my bass again (publicly). It's why I live."

Though Haden still struggles daily with his illness, he sees reasons for optimism. This week, he will try to begin teaching again at the California Institute of the Arts, a particularly meaningful return because he founded its jazz program in 1982.

"Now that his pain level has been reduced by new treatments, that has improved his spirits," says Cameron. "But he's very challenged by the fact that he can't swallow the way he wants to. We never ate meat, but he'd give anything for a cheeseburger right now."

On the other hand, until last Thanksgiving, "he wasn't really listening to music – now he's listening," adds Cameron. Playing with his friends "is giving him a bit of a boost. … He sounds as beautiful as ever. That's the one thing. It's remarkable. … All great musicians, just their touch has a vibration, and he hasn't lost any of that vibration or sound."

Says pianist Broadbent in an email, "When we got together to jam, even though he hadn't played in awhile, it was 100 percent Charlie, with that big, round, warm sound that's so identifiably his and the youthful energy of his playing that belies his age. How he immediately taps into it is a mystery to me."

For the next several days, Haden will be rehearsing the text he hopes to deliver at the awards ceremony in Los Angeles, says Cameron, "so he can control his speech. He'll see if he needs to keep it short."

But even if he utters just a few words, says Haden, he'll do it.

"I've got my fingers crossed that I'll be OK to accept that award," says Haden, who was unable to travel to New York last year to receive the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award.

"If nothing else, I'll just get up on stage and say: 'Thank you, folks. My doctors said I shouldn't talk so long.'"

Considering all the indelible music Haden has given us, not much more is necessary.

To read more from Howard Reich on jazz, go to chicagotribune.com/reich.


Twitter @howardreich

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