The Jazz bassist Charlie Haden has died. He was above all a musician—a bass player of extraordinary vision and ability.
But he was also a consistent champion of the oppressed and an advocate of radical change. Charlie developed as a musician when the US was torn by the Civil Rights and anti-war movements.
Liberation struggles raged against imperialism across the world. Yet there was also a struggle to reshape and redefine music’s roots. Jazz players such as John Coltrane, Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman led an attempt to reconnect with 1940s Be Bop innovations.
And Charlie Haden was part of that reinvention—he helped revolutionise jazz playing and importantly the way we listen to music.
He played with Ornette Coleman’s band in the 1960s, becoming a regular in 1971. In the same period he formed the Liberation Music Orchestra with pianist Carla Bley.
The album’s first track was Song of the United Front, the last We Shall Overcome. He reformed the Liberation Music Orchestra just after the Iraq war in 2004 to make the album Not In Our Name.
During the last decades of the 20th century, Charlie created some of the best jazz, with his bands Old and New Dreams and Quartet West.
The last time I saw him play live, leaning over his giant instrument, lost in its sound, was at the Royal Festival Hall during Coleman’s Meltdown in 2009.
The voice of Charlie Haden is not silenced by his death.