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Haden's Bass Instincts Keep Him Busy : Newport Beach-Bound Jazzman Totes Full Schedule With Live Shows, Studio Work


In a few days, Charlie Haden will head to an isolated Canadian island for atwo-week vacation. No phones. No outside distractions. It's a break the bassist certainly has earned.

Haden, who appears with his Quartet West tonight at the Hyatt Newporter's Jazz and Pop Series, has been as busy this year as any in his long career. The folk-influenced musician, who began playing with Ornette Coleman as a teen-ager, has been heard this summer in Europe, on the East Coast and around his Southern California home--most recently in a program with the Los Angeles Chamber Ballet.

He can be found playing on any number of current recordings, not the least of which is Quartet West's "Haunted Heart," a tribute to Hollywood's glory days.

Then there are the albums Haden, 58, has appeared on this year as a sideman, including vocalist Abbey Lincoln's "A Turtle's Dream" and drummer Ginger Baker's "Going Back Home," a trio date that teams him with forward-thinking guitarist Bill Frisell. There's also a recent disc he did with pianists Kenny Barron, another with harmonica player Toots Thielemans as well as upcoming releases with South African saxophonist-keyboardist Bheki Mseleku and a blues date with James Cotton and Joe Louis Walker.

With all this activity, you'd think Haden would be looking forward to his time off. But vacation seemed to be the last thing on his mind during a phone conversation earlier this week from Los Angeles. Always enthusiastic about his own music and that of fellow jazz artists, Haden is particularly excited about the forthcoming Quartet West album, recorded this summer in Paris with a French string section.

"We did seven numbers with a 26-piece string ensemble and five with just the quartet," he said. "We do a Bud Powell piece, a tribute that Lennie Tristano wrote for Charlie Parker when he died called 'Requiem.' It's an unbelievably moving thing. Alan [Broadbent] arranged the strings for it. We're doing Cole Porter's 'All Through the Night' and three originals. There's a beautiful piece by Victor Young from the movie, 'The Left Hand of God' with Humphrey Bogart. Some others."

If this all sounds seriously romantic, it is. Quartet West has specialized in romance over the course of its four albums, especially the last two, in which Haden looked to the bygone days of Hollywood for inspiration.

"The whole Quartet West thing is to celebrate beauty, to celebrate Los Angeles, the uniqueness of this city. These elements of romance are missing in today's pop music," he he said. "The people out there who like my music find something in it that touches them. And it's not all older people. There's evidence of a new, young sophisticated audience out there.

"We were playing in Boston earlier this summer, and I was coming off the stage and was confronted by a bride and groom. This kid had to be 19 and was still in his tux. There was a big smile on his face and rice still in his hair. And he said, 'Your music inspired us to get married; we came right from the chapel to hear you.' That blew me away, man."


But Haden doesn't limit himself to romantic material. Haden's style--built on a folky lyricism, solid rhythmic foundations and a droning undercurrent--seems to fit well into almost any kind of project. In 1984, he was asked to sit in at a live performance with the thrash-punk band the Minutemen. Surprisingly, his acoustic sound fit right in.

It's this kind of utility that keeps Haden so busy. But he doesn't see the same degree of interest being bestowed on fellow musicians in his generation, something that bothers him greatly.

"All the writers today are concentrating on the young lions, but nobody is writing about people like Tommy Flanagan or Hank Jones or Kenny Barron. I don't know, man. Maybe it's better press to write about something that's in vogue and to stir up that interest.

"People tend to forget that Miles Davis was only 18 when he played with Charlie Parker, that Stan Getz was 18 when he played with Stan Kenton. I was just a kid when I went to New York with Ornette [Coleman in 1959]. There have always been young players but never this kind of focus on them. The musicians who have contributed to this art form in an innovative way, many of them for years and years, they're being overlooked. And I think that's sad."

Though praising many of the new generation players for their dedication and knowledge, Haden finds one aspect lagging.

"The thing I miss with the young lions is innovation. I just hope that all the young musicians start placing importance on originality, that they want to add to the vocabulary of the art form and make it grow."

"The main thing with me right now is to raise the level of thinking about the art form of jazz. It's important that the new people who are being introduced to this music see that it is truly beautiful and that it has the same significance as any other art form."

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