Charlie Haden playing with his Liberation Music Orchestra on stage at Town Hall Friday, October 31
Born in Shenandoah, Iowa, Charlie Haden began his career in music at 22 months old, singing as Cowboy Charlie in his family’s hillbilly band. It may then seem a challenge to see how, in 1959, Haden became the bassist in Ornette Coleman’s famed quartet, yet this only speaks toward his diversity of interests and the nature of Charlie Haden’s legendary life in music.
Haden’s first exposure to jazz music came from radio broadcasts, but it was witnessing concert performances by Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, and Lester Young at the Nebraska Philharmonic that guided Haden toward a life in jazz performance. In 1956 he moved to Los Angeles, seeking out jazz performance opportunities and performers such as bebop pianist Hampton Hawes. In LA Haden was immediately impressed with a young saxophonist performing on a white plastic horn. The saxophonist
was, of course, Ornette Coleman, and through Paul Bley, Haden quickly formed what would become a life-long relationship with the maverick altoist. Alongside Don Cherry and Billy Higgins, Haden worked on the historic Ornette Coleman Quartet albums for Atlantic, including The Shape of Jazz to Come, Tomorrow Is the Question!, and Change of the Century. Still enormously influential today, Haden’s work in the Coleman Quartet helped pioneer an entirely-new approach to jazz improvisation.
It wasn’t until 1969, however, that Haden recorded his first project as a leader. In explicit response to the Nixon administration’s ongoing campaign in Vietnam, Haden brought to life the Liberation Music Orchestra, taking great inspiration from the music of the Spanish Civil War. Haden approached Carla Bley about the material, and together they produced the dramatic arrangements, which refocused the Spanish source material toward the musical and political context of America in 1969. Bley and Haden took into the studio with them a collection of many of the era’s finest jazz musicians – including Don Cherry, Dewey Redman, Paul Motian, and Roswell Rudd – and produced the self-titled LP on Impulse Records.
Though the album was largely ignored, if not chastised by the mainstream jazz press, it has remained a cult classic, and the Liberation Music Orchestra has since developed into one of Charlie Haden’s principal creative outlets. In 2004, in reaction to George W. Bush’s re-election and the ongoing occupation in Iraq, Haden and Bley reconvened the orchestra, utilizing both veterans of the ensemble and newcomers such as Michael Rodriguez, Miguel Zenon, Chris Cheek, and Matt Wilson. This new incarnation then recorded the ensemble’s fourth album, appropriately titled Not In Our Name.
Together, Haden and Bley investigate the national consciousness of America with insight, gravity, and ultimately optimism. Adventurously incorporating folk music from around the world into its unique compositional styles, the LMO creates music that is both thought-provoking and accessible. As Haden has commented: “I want to expand jazz. I don’t want to keep the audience limited.” Undeniably, Haden’s commitment toward artistic integrity, human compassion, and social justice continues to inspire new audiences at each performance.
Click here for the complete schedule for the rest of the upcoming shows at the 2008 Earshot Jazz Festival
Photograph by photographer in Seattle Daniel Sheehan, a photojournalist who specializes in portrait photography and photojournalism for publications and corporations. He is also a wedding photographer at A Beautiful Day Photography and one of the best wedding photographers Seattle.