Monday, July 14, 2014

Goodbye, Charlie Haden

Charlie Haden 1937-2014
(source: his own website)

Charlie Haden was the unlikely bassist. A product of the Grand Ole Opry, of all places, he became the young, fresh, white face of the "new thing" in 1959, when Ornette Coleman opened at the Five Spot in NYC on Tuesday, November 17th. The chronicles tell a tale of "everybody" checking out the new group, from Willem De Kooning to Leonard Bernstein, and Haden himself has told how he played with his eyes closed in front of such an imposing jury of bass players as Charles Mingus, Paul Chambers, Wilbur Ware, and Percy Heath, among others.

Charlie Haden with Ornette Coleman's Quartet in 1960

Since then, during his long and fruitful career, Haden proved to be extremely adaptable: he played and recorded with everybody. There seems to be, in his approach to music, a sort of universal root that enabled him to connect with anyone. At the same time, he wasn't afraid to speak his mind, as he did with his four Liberation Music Orchestra albums, and yet everybody seemed to love him.

He was also unlikely because of his hearing ailments, tinnitus (persistent buzz in the ears), and hyperacusis (extreme sensitivity to everyday sounds), which made him shield himself behind Plexyglas baffles when playing with a drummer, certainly not the best situation to hear the rest of his colleagues on stage. He had also suffered from polio as a child, and after a complications due to post polio syndrome, he passed away last Friday. He was 76.

I never met the man in person, but Zev Feldman, record producer, boss at Elemental Music, and general manager of Resonance Records, did, when they both were at PolyGram. He's shared his memories on his Facebook page, and has kindly allowed me to reproduce them here.

Rest in peace, Mr. Haden.

Goodbye, Charlie Haden

Sadness. My heart breaks for Charlie Haden and his family. I was touched to say the least by this giant, by his music, but also by his warmth and kindness. I was fortunate to meet him and see him perform on many occasions throughout the mid-1990's and 2000's when I worked for his record company doing retail marketing and sales.

My favorite memory of Charlie was a very special time in 1997 when I got to spend an entire day with him. I was 24 years old at the time, and living in New York City. David Neidhart, one of the heads of Verve knew I loved Charlie and arranged for me to escort him to meet my key jazz retail accounts in Manhattan (Tower, HMV, J&R). The label paid for everything, car service between stops and even lunch. I remember, David said to me, 'just get receipts!" We'd go to the shops, Charlie would sign 8x10 press photos and take photos with the buyers and other store staff. It seemed like for every shop we'd hit, we would also hit a Starbucks for coffee right after! Charlie loved coffee. He also loved meeting people. Anyone who worked with him knew he was hands-on and loved to talk with the folks in the field, on the front lines at retail who supported his projects. He was grateful for their support and was never shy to share his gratitude.

For lunch this day, I suggested, 'how about we go to Tribeca Grill?' Charlie said, 'Sure!' I'll never forget this next part. In the downstairs bathroom area was a framed movie poster of Taxi Driver, (for those that don't know, Robert DeNiro is, or was then, a co-owner of the restaurant.( Anyways, Charlie comes back to the table and says to me (looking me right in the eyes) 'Hey Zev, you talkin' to me?!!' He did the most fantastic impersonation of the character Travis Bickell, but in his own voice. I lit up and was just smiles. I was in heaven. He was having fun and so was I. The conversation flowed as we talked and I would ask questions about music and life, whatever. He made me feel comfortable and like I was his friend.

After hitting some shops, Charlie says to me, "Hey man, let's go see John Snyder. He's mixing my upcoming album." (The record he was referring to was Haden & Kenny Barron's 1998 duet release, Night & The City). Charlie proceeds to ask me if I knew John. I politely said I didn't, but I loved the Artists House label (which Snyder ran), and the record they did together As Long As There's Music (with Hampton Hawes). Anyways, we go to Clinton Recording studios on 10th Ave. I remember getting there and a session was literally going on with vocalist Jeanie Bryson and the great Eddie Gomez was on bass (Snyder was producing). I was also a huge Gomez fan and I remember vividly meeting him there. In between a take, Charlie introduced me to everyone and we got to hear them perform a track. This was the very first time I had ever set foot in a recording studio. Again, I'm floating.

Charlie then proceeded to take me to this one green room area in the studio for musicians. I remember there were these cigarette burns all over the furniture and floor. Charlie said to me something to the gist that a lot of cats 'used' in the room. The walls literally spoke to him. Throughout the day, Charlie also spoke with me and shared voluntarily intimate details about his sobriety and life and how things were better off now all because he was not using.

After we left the studio, we started walking down 10th Ave. A fire truck started to get closer to us with a piercing siren that got louder and louder. Charlie suddenly dropped to his knees on the sidewalk and tried with all his might to close his ears as the truck hurled by with its siren blasting. It was just awful. I felt terrible. He was clearly in pain. I knew right there that him having sensitivity with his ears was very serious. The truck eventually passed, he got up and we walked on. During the day, Charlie had also shared with me how having the sensitivity with his hearing re-taught him how to be a better listener. He explained, that music doesn't always need to be loud to be heard.

I remember the sun setting as we walked on down 10th Avenue. It must have been at least 8 o'clock. We eventually got a car and I dropped him off at his hotel. Charlie gave me his phone number and mailing address and asked me to keep in touch. It was a day I'll never forget. I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to hang with this master. I'll miss him. So thankful we have so much wonderful music to remember him by.

Thank you Charlie Haden for all the music and memories. Thank you David Neidhart for making the day possible.

-Zev Feldman

Zev Feldman is not only a very nice guy; he's also embarked, both with Elemental Music and Resonance Records, in the release of previously unissued jazz recordings to the highest possible standards, regarding sound quality, presentation, and paying whatever moneys are due to the musicians involved and their estates. His release of New York Concerts by the Jimmy Giuffre Trio and Quartet is a good example of his work.

~ ~ ~

More reading:

Besides the regular obits and many other articles available on line about Charlie Haden, I recommend Ethan Iverson's interview with him, and Francis Davis's profile for The Atlantic

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