Charlie Haden tribute

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Charlie Haden. Photo by Brian Mcmillen/Wikicommons

Whenever there is a sold out jazz performance, you know you are in right place and here at The Redcat tonight, we are all truly blessed as we wait here in silence for the presence of the great Charlie Haden. The re-interpretation of the Liberation Jazz Orchestra, original music fueled by politics and passion and arranged with such graceful distinction brings back days of old as the sign of the times reins again!

Charlie and his orchestra, students from Cal Arts, take the stage as we stand and salute with generous applause. Charlie has always been a part of and engaged in the freedom of the music, freedom in the form of the music but also, freedom in reference to the souls of people and their rights as human beings. Weather it’s the Spanish War, the Vietnam Way, Apartheid or American relations with Central America, the music represents views, as Beyonce would say, “To the left, to the left”! Freedom, equality and the extraordinary intensity of rhythm and brass will all come together to express the sentiments of power that belongs to the people! The stage is filled with Cal Arts students and as they tune for sound, we wait in the nostalgic anticipation for the Carla Bley arrangements that moved us so and made us feel closer to the struggle. Charlie has been doing the jazz studies at Cal Arts since 1982 and his humor has not vanished but is tactfully present, as we get ready for the music explosion. He says that in 2013 that there are so many young people who still come out to play this music. He stresses the importance to make this world a better place and music is the one common denominator that spans the lines of color, race, religion, creed which slips past rhyme and resonates directly with reason.

He wants you to look at all of the beauty around and concentrate on that. He grew up in a racist place and has always paid attention to the wills and ills of society. As a child Charlie had polio an in recent years his post polio syndrome reappeared. We don’t know why things happen as they do but Charlie appreciates the miracle of life, music and his family even more. His wife is in the front row helping and supporting her husband and she steps up to do the introductions. Out of respect for the recent passing of Nelson Mandela and his legacy, they performed “Dream Keeper”, the title track of the album dedicated to the strife and struggles of South Africa as well as El Salvador.

Carla Bley has done all of the arrangements. Charlie’s wife introduces the entire set and we sit in silence as Charlie speaks about all of the pain suffering and wrongdoings in the world. America the Beautiful, what does that really mean and has this country ever lived up to that. The musicians go from solemn dirge and drop right down into the crust of rich density.Young cats, old souls, the sound is more than compelling, it really shows that this next generation has something really special in store for us.

“Not in Our Name” – President Bush had just attacked someone and Charlie saw these banners hanging off of these balconies and he thought that the slogan would be a fitting title for the album. When you listen to the band play, there are times when you feel the richness and others when the music is too clean, but all in all there is heart and compassion. These students did not live the experience and probably only reference these times in history through books and the stories of the elders. You feel their attempt at recreation through the music as they all keep a sharp eye on their teacher and masterful bandleader, a life and a lifetime of a man who paid attention to the world in all of its not so glorious times. There is honor love and respect amongst every human here tonight witnessing the music and reflecting on the life of brother Haden, who took his stand and offered a musical opposition to social injustices and inequalities.

Carla Bley has been a friend since 1957 was the cigarette girl at Birdland back in the day and she also agreed with Charlie’s politics, which made their collaboration a successful passionate endeavor. Charlie told bartender jokes about ducks, grapes and nails. His delivery and agility have changed drastically over the years as he looks at his wife for the punch line, but the spirit, love and humor are so special, especially at this very moment on this stage, making us just adore him much, much more.

The band is very careful in its respect for and approach of the music, more technique and timing than liberation however, they are here with Charlie and in the game, so important with the focus on over marginalization of the music in the industry these days. These experiences will challenge their minds and hopefully teach them to reach deep inside and beyond the norm for truth in the music and in themselves. Honesty is a key ingredient in spectrum of intelligent, creative sonic vibrancy. Charlie remembers back to one year at the New Orleans Jazz Festival where Lawrence Marable is onstage listening to his bass solo and shouts, “tell your story Charlie” and shouts, “shut up”. Charlie certainly has many stories to tell and the smile on his face knows that there isn’t enough time to tell them all.

These are song medleys that mix in American classics with original structured Improvisations.

The most spectacular moment of the evening happened when a few of the musicians ask Charlie if he was going to pick up the bass lying at his feet and the rest of the musicians cheered on! For most of the evening, Charlie had conducted the orchestra but now, we were going to hear him play! They stood up the bass for Charlie and he talked about this tune he played with Bill Evans. It reminds him of friend and fellow bass player Scott Lafaro. They were very close. He said he was going to stop playing music because people did not really understand what they were doing. Charlie said “We have to continue to show the people the beauty”.

As the bass was stood up and placed in Charlie’s arms he gazed as he took it close and caressed its body. It was a familiar dance with an old lover who gave us the impression that it had been some time since they had seen each other. As they embraced and took position before the beauty of the music began, with his back to the audience, Charlie turned around and said, “Fuck Polio”.

We cheered with applause and as the “Blue and Green” chords of the piano gently struck the strings there was silence and the two lovers started to dance. The resonation of that solo penetrated everyone to their core. The pianist started to come back in but Charlie signaled to lay out as he continued the deeply felt beautiful vibrations that ascended a spirit much more than mere music. There was an entire life cerebrally swirling in those improvisations and we were there for the story, we were intoxicated by it, inebriated. A solo that said so much in such a short span of time. A reminder of us all to say what is in our hearts during this short span that we exist here, make the dash count!

As he closed, Charlie spoke of his good friend Jim Hall who had just passed away. “Can’t understand why life takes beautiful people away. Beautiful people give of themselves.” He pauses and starts to reminisce of the playfulness of his dog Jackson. You can tell that there is so much that he wants to say and these brief moments that we spend together don’t allow us to get it all out. If there was any message or theme for the evening, the key word would be, “Beauty” and to spread as much of it as you can while we can.

Check out this video of a poem I wrote for Charlie: