ON MARCH 5, LEGENDARY JAZZ bassist Charlie Haden had a long awaited homecoming at Nashville’s legendary Grand Ole Opry, some 60 years after his family band last performed on the Ryman stage. As a child growing up in Missouri, many famous Nashville musicians would stop by and visit the Haden home while on tour, including Chet Atkins, Grady Martin, and Hank Garland, who advised Charlie to “head west and study jazz”. By his late teens, Haden was quickly becoming one of the preeminent bassists in jazz, establishing himself with free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman and going on to collaborate with a innumerable pillars of the art form. He’s also made his own compositional statements with groups like the Liberation Music Orchestra and Quartet West.
In 2008, Haden came to Nashville to make his country-tinged family album Ramblin’ Boy— Family and Friends [Decca/Universal] at bluegrass great Ricky Skaggs’ studio with bassist Mark Fain on board as coproducer. To celebrate the album’s release, Charlie returned to Nashville with the Family and Friends ensemble in tow to play the Opry, and it was certainly a night to remember.
Charlie’s red-hot band of Nashville pickers included mandolinist Sam Bush, Andy Hall on Dobro, Jim Mills on banjo, fiddler Stuart Duncan, guitarists Bryan Sutton and Mark Fain, and Haden himself on bass. His daughters Tanya, Petra, and Rachel and his son Josh sang tunes from the record and were warmly received by the crowd. A highlight was Haden’s son-in-law, actor/musician Jack Black, who sang and danced his way through a riotous “Old Joe Clark” with extreme gusto. It was very special to watch and especially to hear Charlie’s beautiful tone resonate through the hallowed space. I had the chance to chat with him in between shows and was impressed with his humility, sense of humor, and passion for music. On behalf of all Nashville musicians, I thanked him for his many contributions to our art form, and I felt very fortunate to witness such a historic and touching musical moment.