The music and humanity of Charlie Haden loomed large over the near-capacity crowd at Town Hall in New York City, on January 13. Organized by Haden’s wife, Ruth Cameron Haden, and billed as a memorial and celebration of his life, the three-hour event flowed as comfortably and compassionately as a Haden bass line. Following the sonic salutation of trumpeter Michael Rodriguez’s “Goin’ Home” and introductory remarks from Ruth, Pat Metheny performed a solo guitar medley of three Haden songs and offered heartfelt thoughts about his late Missouri brother: “No matter who we were playing with, in any style, we always made a moment in the music that was just ours.” Veteran L.A. bassist Putter Smith spoke about early-’60s Charlie, and summed up, “Jimmy Blanton taught us how to drive a band; Wilbur Ware was the first to break up walking lines; and Scott LaFaro took the instrument to a whole new technical level. What Charlie brought to the bass was intimacy—like the kind between a mother and a young child.”
Moving performances and comments by pianist Brad Meldau and alto sax vet Lee Konitz, drummer (and son of Ornette) Denardo Coleman, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane with pianist Geri Allen and harpist Brandee Younger, and pianist Henry Butler ensued, before a bass was first plucked via a quartet with pianist Kenny Barron, drummer Jack DeJohnette, saxophonist Joshua Redman, and Gotham upright ace Scott Colley—who was Haden’s first bass student during his teaching tenure at Cal Arts. Redman concluded touching remarks by respectfully paraphrasing the recent rallying call from France, saying, “Hashtag: We are all Charlie Haden.” Guitarist Bill Frisell and Nashville bassist Mark Fain took the stage to support the vocals of the Haden Triplets—Petra, Tanya, and Rachel—and Josh Haden on a pair of spirituals, followed by a mesmerizing solo piano tribute from Gonzalo Rubalcaba and a humorous video reflection by comedian (and close Haden pal) Richard Lewis.
For the final two performances, Colley returned to guest on an invigorating pair of tunes by Haden’s Quartet West, with Ernie Watts on tenor, Alan Broadbent on piano, and Rodney Green on drums. The 12-piece Liberation Music Orchestra, co-founded by Haden and pianist/composer Carla Bley, boasted the bass guitar of Bley’s husband, Steve Swallow (and drummer Matt Wilson), on “Amazing Grace,” “Silence,” and the closing “We Shall Overcome.” The bassist-infused audience—which included Matt Garrison, Harvie Swartz, and Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra anchor Carlos Henriquez—exited with a better understanding of the personal and musical sides of a man whose bass lines were deep but whose contributions to society were deeper.
Photo: Charlie Haden’s children — from left, Petra, Rachel, Josh and Tanya — sang at the memorial for their father at Town Hall, accompanied by Mark Fain on bass and Bill Frisell on guitar. (By Joseph Blickenstaff)