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In Memoriam: Charlie Haden

Charlie Haden

American jazz bassist Charlie Haden, who made waves with artists like free jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman and pianist Keith Jarrett, has passed away after a prolonged illness, according to a statement from ECM Records. He was 76.

Born in Shenandoah, Iowa in 1937, Haden was raised on a farm and started on bass at an early age. His family had a band that performed on the radio, and after years of singing he picked up the double bass at fourteen. His interest in jazz and classical mixed with his country and folk upbringing would give the bassist a unique perspective and voice on the instrument.

He attended Westlake College of Music in Los Angeles, during which time he played with Paul Bley, Art Pepper, and Ornette Coleman, with whom he recorded the groundbreaking album The Shape of Jazz to Come in 1959. Later that year he moved to New York City with Coleman’s quartet for a residency at the Five Spot, where the group began to experiment more with more free improvisation.

“At first when we were playing and improvising, we kind of followed the pattern of the song, sometimes,” he told Jazz Times. “Then, when we got to New York, Ornette wasn’t playing on the song patterns, like the bridge and the interlude and stuff like that. He would just play. And that’s when I started just following him and playing the chord changes that he was playing: on-the-spot new chord structures made up according to how he felt at any given moment.”

The ’60s saw Haden team up with Keith Jarrett’s group, while the bassist led the Liberation Music Orchestra in the ’70s. The group focused on experimental music with political overtones, which at one point led to Haden’s detainment in Portugal for dedicating a song to the nations revolutionaries.

Haden played and recorded with numerous musicians throughout his life, with hundreds of recording credits. He was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards in 2013. His final release with Keith Jarrett, Last Dance, was released last month.

Here’s a video of Haden performing “First Song” with his Quartet West group:

Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Charlie Haden.