Jazz luminary Charlie Haden took no small amount of joy Tuesday night in bringing the old-time country music he began playing seven decades ago into the tony surroundings of Walt Disney Concert Hall.
"Man, oh, man," the 72-year-old bassist said upon taking the stage. "Who would have thought we'd have a country audience at Disney Hall?"
In less than three weeks, the hall has hosted Steve Martin's venture into bluegrass music, Kris Kristofferson's solo show and now Haden and a group of stellar Nashville singers and instrumentalists playing what once was referred to as "hillbilly music." If this keeps up, people are going to start confusing Disney Hall with Disney's Country Bear Jamboree.
While this tour takes him back to the music he played with his parents and siblings through the Ozarks and elsewhere before he fell in love with jazz, Haden is hardly slumming. The band members he brought with him to Disney Hall -- most of whom also played on his inspired 2008 "Rambling Boy" album -- are some of the best musicians in the business: Union Station singer-guitarist Dan Tyminski, mandolinist Sam Bush, dobro master Jerry Douglas, fiddler Stuart Duncan, banjo player Jim Mills and guitarists Bryan Sutton and Mark Fain.
Living up to the "family" part of the "Charlie Haden Family & Friends" billing, he brought out his triplet daughters, Petra, Tanya and Rachel, son Josh, wife Ruth Cameron and son-in-law Jack Black to handle most of the vocals on songs that stretched back to the beginning of modern country music. The set spanned old-time standards from the Carter Family ("Wildwood Flower," "Single Girl, Married Girl") to Josh Haden's comparatively recent offerings of Donovan's "Catch the Wind" and his own deeply yearning "Spiritual."
Haden's daughters often appeared uncomfortable at center stage without any instruments of their own, nervously bobbing and weaving in time with the band. Black, however, brought enough performance bravado to compensate for half a dozen wallflowers, doing somersaults from one instrumental soloist to another in the middle of his vocal spotlight on "Old Joe Clark."
Cameron connected the dots between American folk tradition and the older music of Ireland, England and Scotland with her touching rendition of "Down by the Salley Gardens," which she delivered with just a hint of a brogue.
Haden kept the rhythm anchored with unfussy bass lines, reveling in his instrument's fundamental role in country and bluegrass music.
One quibble with the L.A. Philharmonic-presented evening: Music doesn't get much more quintessentially American than what Haden offered up -- unless it's the jazz with which he's most closely identified. Yet it was billed as the first offering on the 2009-10 "world music" series. Isn't it time for an "Americana" or "roots music" series at the venue named for one of the great innovators of American pop culture?