[Marxism] Haden Stalinist ? :>)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Aug 3 12:06:33 MDT 2004

Charles Brown wrote:
> Here's a hopeful article about the great bassist Charlie Haden.
> Can jazz stop Bush? John Fordham on the return of the
> Liberation Music Orchestra

Charlie Haden

I have been moved to write about jazz bassist Charlie Haden after 
listening to his latest and greatest CD, "The Art of the Song". It is 
consistent with a number of others that he has released over the past 
half-decade evoking a sort of romantic and retro approach to jazz, 
strongly influenced by a vision of the more innocent Los Angeles of 
post-WWII years and of movie culture.

The songs on the latest include some decidedly obscure tunes drawn from 
even more obscure films. Typical is "You My Love", a ballad originally 
sung by Frank Sinatra in the 1954 "Young at Heart". With west coasters 
Ernie Watts on tenor sax, Larance Marable on drums and Alan Broadbent on 
piano, vocals by Shirley Horn and Bill Henderson, and a 28 piece string 
section, the lush mood created is reminiscent of Charlie Parker's famous 
(infamous to some) Verve records backed by string section and led by 
Mitch Miller.

I am not sure what led Haden to make these kinds of old-fashioned CD's, 
but I have a feeling that it is the same impulse that leads me to buy 
each one faithfully when they come out. Haden, like me, is somebody who 
was deeply involved with the 60s radicalization but on the cultural 
front. Although his politics have not changed, his mood has become more 
wistful and nostalgic, not unlike my own. Perhaps this is what it takes 
to keep old time radicals going in a cold and heartless world, where 
cash seems to be the only thing that matters.

Haden, who is white, burst on the scene in 1959 as the bassist in a 
combo led by African-American Ornette Coleman, who played a white 
plastic alto saxophone. Ornette Coleman had completely redefined the 
jazz idiom by emphasizing his own highly original approach to melody in 
a departure from the typical bebop style of the time. The beboppers, 
still strongly influenced by Parker who had died only 3 years earlier, 
played superfast improvisations over tightly wound "heads" derived from 
popular tunes, scarcely recognizable from their source.

Coleman believed the bebop obsession with chords or key changes had led 
down a blind alley. He also had ideas about rhythm at odds with 
conventional thinking of the time. His drummers sounded more melodic; 
his bass players were freed from having to signal chord changes. 
Ultimately, this type of music gave more freedom to the players, but it 
also required more responsibility. Coleman was constantly evolving each 
tune during performances and demanded that the musicians' listen to each 
other with much more attention than the beboppers were used to. In a 
typical bebop performance, each musician took lengthy solos and it was 
not unusual for one to walk off the stage in the middle to go smoke a 
cigarette until it was their time to blow. The collective improvisation 
of the Ornette Coleman combos was in some ways a throwback to the 
earliest days of jazz in New Orleans, before the solo had been invented.

After 40 years of avant-garde jazz, none of this sounds particularly 
controversial but in its day it unleashed tremendous passions. In 1959, 
when Coleman's band made its first appearance in New York at the Five 
Spot, fights broke out between Coleman partisans and those convinced 
that he was perpetrating a hoax. One night, Miles Davis showed up and 
sat in; another night, a stranger walked up to Coleman and punched him 
in the face. Coleman was 22 and his bassist, Charlie Haden, was the same 

For all of their connections to the avant-garde, both Coleman and Haden 
had roots in working-class dance hall culture. When Coleman was 
traveling around the country in the '40s and '50s with rhythm-and-blues 
bands and in tent shows, Haden was performing with his family, a 
country-and-western troupe from Springfield, Missouri. In the liner 
notes of "The Art of the Song," there's a 1942 photo of the Haden family 
standing in front of the American flag at country station KWTO. They are 
all wearing cowboy boots, including the 5 year old "cowboy" Charlie. A 
January 19, 1997 LA Times profile on Haden reports:

 >>His father, Carl, was an itinerant Midwestern country singer who 
married another singer, Virginia Day. A country vocal group with echoes 
of the Carter Family and the Delmore Brothers, they played the Grand Ole 
Opry. A little later, when children arrived, they became Uncle Carl 
Haden and the Haden Family. Charlie was born in Shenandoah, Iowa, in 
1937, a brief stopover before the family settled in Springfield. Carl 
began broadcasting daily radio shows from the Haden home. The house was 
full of country music and products from radio sponsors--Green Mountain 
Cough Syrup, Sparkalite Cereal, Cocoa Wheats with vitamin G. Chet Atkins 
and Roy Acuff performed on the shows with the family, and Charlie 
remembers the Carter Family visiting and Mother Maybelle singing him to 

"My mom would sing to me at night, but she didn't know that I wasn't 
really sleeping," Haden says. "I was checking everything out, you know? 
Then all of a sudden one day, I started humming with her, and then one 
day I started humming the harmony with her. This was like when I was 
11/2 or something, and when I was 22 months old, that's when they first 
took me to the studio and I started singing. Charlie Haden made his 
musical debut with a version of "Little Sir Echo."

Brother Jimmy was considered the black sheep of the family, drinking as 
a teenager, spending a few nights in jail; he also played bass on the 
show and was a jazz fan who owned Billie Holiday, Stan Kenton and Dizzy 
Gillespie records. When Jimmy was out of the house, Charlie would play 
his brother's bass. When Charlie and his dad caught Charlie Parker on a 
swing through town, the Future Farmers of America lost a prospect.<<

Haden eventually moved to LA, where his jazz career began in earnest. 
Paul Bley, the famed pianist, remembers the country boy bassist showing 
up barefoot for his audition. One night Haden went to a club to hear 
Gerry Mulligan's group. The LA Times reports,

 >>"The place was packed; there was barely room to stand. And then a 
well-dressed guy carrying a white plastic saxophone squeezed his way to 
the front. This was how Ornette Coleman performed back then: a shy, 
deferential insurgent requesting to sit in."

"He starts playing, man, and it was so unbelievably great I could not 
believe it. Like the whole room lit up all of a sudden, like somebody 
turned on the lights," Haden says. "He was playing the blues they were 
playing, but he was playing his own way. And almost as fast as he asked 
to sit in, they asked him to please stop." Spotting a kindred spirit, 
Haden ran out after Coleman into the alley, but the saxophonist had 
already disappeared into the night.<<

Haden eventually tracked down the musician with the white plastic 
saxophone. Haden describes the scene at Coleman's apartment:

"There was music blocking the door; you couldn't get the door open. 
Finally it opened, and the place was filled with music. Manuscripts, 
things he had written out all over the rug and chairs and bed and 
everywhere. I got my bass out, and he picked up one of the manuscripts 
off the rug and said, 'Lets play this.' I said, 'Sure,' but I was scared 
to death. He said, 'Now I got some chord changes written below the 
melody here that I heard when I was writing the melody. You can play 
those changes when you play the song, but when I start to improvise, 
make up your own changes from what I'm playing.' I said, 'With 
pleasure.' Man, we played all day and all night. And the next day we 
stopped to get a hamburger and we came back and we played some more."

Coleman solidified his free-jazz ideas at the Hillcrest Club, which 
closed down years ago. Like many famous venues for jazz, there's only a 
barred front door today and no historical marker. (These are the Buena 
Vista Clubs of North America.) The Coleman group's Hillcrest 
perfromances earned Haden a reputation among Hollywood hipsters. Actors 
Dean Stockwell and Bobby Driscoll came to hear him, and Martin Landau 
advised Haden that he might do well to try acting. Coleman's band caused 
a stir that led him to the East Coast where fame and notoriety awaited them.

Haden eventually separated from the Coleman band and hooked up with the 
thriving avant-garde scene in NYC, where his political beliefs took 
shape. He eventually formed the Liberation Jazz Orchestra, which was 
co-led by Carla Bley, Paul's ex-wife, and an outstanding songwriter and 
pianist in her own right. The 1970 classic recording of this band 
includes Spanish Civil War tunes "Song Of The United Front and "El 
Quinto Regimiento (Fifth Regiment) as well as "We Shall Overcome" and 
"Song For Che."

A January 31, Minneapolis Tribune article on Haden describes the 
willingness of Haden to act on the belief that "music can't be separated 
from politics." In 1971, while appearing with saxophonist Ornette 
Coleman at a festival in Lisbon, Portugal, Haden dedicated his "Song for 
Che," to the black liberation movements in the Portuguese African 
colonies. The day after the concert, he was arrested at the Lisbon 
airport. "I would actually have done some time if Ornette hadn't gotten 
the American Embassy to come and get me," recalled Haden. "It was really 
a fascist government then, and this was the first jazz festival that 
they had allowed there. But as soon as I made this dedication, they 
canceled the rest of the festival. It was scary."

"Music can bring people of all races together," he said. "My mom used to 
take me into the African-American church when I was, like, 8 or 9, and 
we'd sit in the back row and listen to the choir. That was one of the 
most meaningful experiences in my whole life."


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