Jazz Stars Gather For Memorial To Bassist Charlie Haden

Pat Metheny, Josh Redman and other jazz stars turned out for a memorial concert to celebrate the music and life of Charlie Haden, one of the most influential bassists in jazz history.

Photo: Chris Pizzello/AP, file
Laughing with bandmates during a soundcheck at the House of Blues in West Hollywood, Calif.

Singer Ruth Cameron Haden, who hosted Tuesday night’s gathering at Town Hall, said her late husband made it his life mission “to impart and bring beauty to the world” through his music. Haden died in July at age 76 after strugging with complications from post-polio syndrome, related to the polio he contracted in his youth when he performed with his family’s country band on their radio show from Springfield, Missouri.

After playing an intimate medley of Haden songs on acoustic guitar, Metheny noted the deep connection he had with Haden based on their shared Missouri roots reflected on their recordings together starting with the album “80/81.”

“He always understood what I was trying to do in music … like no one else,” Metheny told the audience. “There was this feeling that we could play anything together from the most out stuff to the most complex harmonic stuff to things of total simplicity.”

Drummer Denardo Coleman, representing his father, recalled how the Ornette Coleman Quartet, with Haden, saxophonist Dewey Redman and drummer Billy Higgins “made history together” when they came to New York in 1959 to play a new style of jazz, courageously and stubbornly holding on to their convictions despite harsh criticism.

Josh Redman, who played Haden’s “Blues For Pat” in a combo featuring pianist Kenny Barron and drummer Jack DeJohnette, said he gained insights about his largely absent father by listening to his recordings with Haden, including those with Coleman’s quartet.

“Charlie brought out the love of my father’s playing – the tenderness, warmth, soulfulness, sensitivity and honesty,” Redman said.

Saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, the son of jazz legend John Coltrane and a former student of Haden’s at the California Institute of the Arts, joined pianist Geri Allen and harpist Brandee Younger, to play “For Turiya,” which Haden wrote for and recorded with his mother, Alice Coltrane.

Also paying tribute to Haden were saxophonist Lee Konitz, pianist Brad Mehldau, Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba and New Orleans pianist-singer Henry Butler.

Haden’s children –triplets Petra, Rachel and Tanya and son Josh – recreated the harmonizing of the old Haden family country band by singing the hymn, “Voice From On High.” Petra, accompanied by guitarist Bill Frisell, then softly sang the folk song, “Oh, Shenandoah,” a nod to her father’s birthplace of Shenandoah, Iowa.

The evening also included performances by two of the bands Haden was most closely associated with for decades.

The mainstream acoustic Quartet West – with pianist Alan Broadbent and tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts – performed Haden’s “Hello My Lovely” and “Child’s Play.”

Pianist and arranger Carla Bley resurrected Haden’s left-leaning Liberation Music Orchestra – which melded experimental large ensemble jazz with world folk music, to perform Haden’s “Silence,” followed by rousing, brassy renditions of “Amazing Grace” and the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.”

Comedian Richard Lewis, in a video clip, added a lighter note by observing that his friend deserves to be “immortalized” as a jazz innovator, even though his joke-telling made him want to run away.

“Charlie, play jazz in heaven if there is a heaven, but do not tell God, if there is a God, any jokes. No jokes,” Lewis said.