Jeff Ballard, Larry Grenadier and I were playing in L.A. just a few months ago and on the way out of town we got to visit Charlie and his wife Ruth at their home. Charlie was suffering a lot and we talked with him and Ruth about the post-polio syndrome that had consumed their lives for the last several years. Ruth is a dynamo, an incredibly strong and devoted woman, and was the best partner for Charlie through all of their trials. God bless her. They had been to a variety of different specialists in different parts of the world and had run the gamut from Occidental medicine to a macrobiotic diet. The treatments had helped and brought some temporary recovery - two years ago, Charlie and Ruth came to see us play in a double bill concert with The Bad Plus and Joshua Redman in L.A. and he looked great and was in good spirits, saying he was starting to play again.
Eventually he succumbed to the complications of the illness, but not without a valiant fight from Ruth and himself.
When we saw Charlie last, he played us a record that he was hoping to release soon. It was a live duo performance with guitarist Jim Hall, another recently passed jazz musician who embodied some of the same musical principles that inspire me so much from Charlie: A total commitment to melody at all times; within that constant melody, the unmistakable unbroken thread of a song; and whether in a supporting role for another soloist or out front himself, the complete absence of arbitrary playing. How can we avoid playing arbitrary, glib musical ideas, yet remain intuitive and not get locked into something in the white heat of improvisation? These are the things that Charlie demonstrated to me when I played with him, often with the great Lee Konitz and more recently with the late great Paul Motian.
And there are all the records that inspired us and will continue to inspire: Charlie and Ed Blackwell with the paradigm changing early Ornette Coleman Quartet, Charlie and Ed Blackwell later in Old and New Dreams, Charlie and Billy Higgins on the early Ornette records and later on great records from Pat Metheny like Rejoicing. The list of great associations could go on, with musicians like Keith Jarrett and Paul Motian. I just mention these two rhythm sections that were big for me in my formative years as a musician and that I go back to still - they created such a strong feeling.
The feeling is not something you can parse too well with words, but some of its characteristics are: An untouchable, eternal hipness. A feeling of dance, with an element of danger. Sometimes, something like a polished diamond, precious to behold, unbreakable. Other times, just as remarkable: Something like a sand sculpture or mandala - a beauty that is breaking apart and blowing away, disappearing even as you witness it. A confrontation with mortality - a reckoning, but maybe a kind of acceptance or even a celebration. That unbreakable feeling and that feeling of ultimate vulnerability meet together in Charlie's perfect tune, "Silence."
Charlie talked a lot about Scott LaFaro -LaFaro was big for him. They came up at the same time and both opened up what the bass could do in jazz in different ways; LaFaro was taken early by tragedy and Charlie went on. That affected Charlie. Charlie loved be-bop, and he loved singers. He loved the period right after Bird had passed and right before hard-bop become codified into something more defined and less open-ended - maybe because that was the period in the early 50's when he was coming up. He talked about piano players like Elmo Hope and Herbie Nichols a lot. Charlie talked about Billie Hollyday with special reverence, having met her once when he was very young. He also loved singers from the great 50's era like Jeri Southern and June Christy. Charlie was married to a singer, and more recently had made a project with Ruth, as well as the Art of The Song, which featured musical soulmates like Shirley Horn.
Besides Ruth, Charlie leaves behind a legacy in his four children - the triplets, Rachel, Petra and Tanya; and his son Josh. They are all remarkably gifted, creative people. Check out their music. My heart goes out to Charlie's extended family at this time. I thank Ethan for giving a forum here for people to share their thoughts on Charlie. Let's all celebrate the legacy of Charlie Haden!