From the Archives : You're a Good Man, Charlie Haden
By Jim Roberts
Mon, 14 Mar 2011
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bp0311_groove2_nr_1This issue [July and August 1991]—my seventh as BP Editor—was a milestone in our early days. In my “From the Editor” column, I said farewell to Tom Wheeler, the longtime Guitar Player Editor, who had hired me to run BP and served as our Editorial Director. Tom was a terrific mentor and friend, and he taught me many things about running a magazine that still serve me well. (Tom was leaving GP to teach journalism at the University of Oregon, where he’s now a full professor.) For the cover story, Art Director Paul Haggard and I headed to L.A. for a photo shoot and interview with Stuart Hamm. Although his manager insisted on a stylist for the cover photo, Stu proved to be a wonderfully funny and unpretentious guy. (When I asked him about the recording sessions for his new album, The Urge, he said: “I’d be sitting there on my stool, with my cigarettes here and my glass of water there, with a wire into my headphones and a line into a tuner and the DI box. Within ten minutes, I’d be hopelessly wrapped up in cords. They’d have to come in and extract me from the chair.”)

After that, Paul and I drove out to Charlie Haden’s house in Malibu. I had long admired Charlie’s strong, distinctive playing, and meeting him was one of the high points of my time at BP. I had the good fortune to talk with him several more times—my August 1996 Haden interview was my last BP cover story—but the opening of this ’91 story is one of my favorite pieces of writing for the magazine. Hearing Charlie tell this story gave me chills, and I tried to get that emotion on the page. —Jim Roberts

bp0311_groove_nrStepping to the microphone to introduce one of his compositions, Charlie Haden dedicates the song to the cause of freedom. A near-riot ensues, and the sound of the Ornette Coleman Quartet is almost drowned out by wild cheering. The next day, Haden is arrested and held by the secret police. After a harrowing night of interrogation, he is released and told to leave the country immediately.

The incident took place 20 years ago [1971] in Portugal, ruled at the time by a fascist government determined to retain its colonies in Africa. Haden was on a 14-country tour of Europe with a Newport Jazz Festival package that included the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Miles Davis, Keith Jarrett, and others. Disturbed by the prospect of performing in a country with a repressive colonial regime, Charlie felt he had to act.

“I thought about refusing to play, but that would have put Ornette in an embarrassing position,” he recalls, speaking slowly in a soft but firm voice. “I’ve been concerned all my life about human rights and racial equality. I knew I had to do something, so I asked Ornette if it would be all right to dedicate ‘Song for Ché’ to the black liberation movements in Mozambique, Angola, and Guinea-Bissau. He said, ‘Yes.’ I had been warned I might be shot immediately on the stage, but I decided to do it anyway.”

This courageous decision typifies Haden’s remarkable career: His dedication to creative music has always been matched by an equally fierce commitment to the cause of human rights. “I never sat down and said, ‘Well, I’m going to become politically involved,’” he explains. “I grew up in the Midwest and the South, and all around was evidence of racism. I felt the injustice, and I just followed my feelings and tried to tell people how I felt.”

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