Charlie Haden, Jazz Bassist and Ornette Coleman Playing Partner, Dead at 76
Polio, for all its debilitating effects, still managed to create some American icons. Franklin Delano Roosevelt became even more of a badass when he was forced to take to a wheelchair for one, and Charlie Haden became one of the best bassists in American jazz history.
Haden was born into a musical family, yodeling in the The Haden Family Band until polio cost him his ability to sing...and his fate was sealed. He took to the double bass. He moved from the Plains to the West Coast where he fell in with jazz legends such as avant garde pianist Paul Bley and saxophonist Ornette Coleman, another fan of free jazz. Haden recorded with Coleman for the seminal album The Shape of Jazz To Come. He would later tour with pianist Keith Jarrett as well as founding his own controversial group, the politically-charged The Liberation Music Orchestra.
Haden won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance with Pat Matheny for the 1997 album Beyond The Missouri Sky. Although born to an Iowan family, Haden always sympathized with the Latin American and Spanish causes, including his notable release "Song for Che" while with the Liberation Music Orchestra. His interest in those musical styles resulted in two Grammys for Best Latin Jazz Performance, in 2001 for Nocturne and Land of The Sun during 2003.
He spent the last two years of his life playing the music he loved, being awarded the NEA Jazz Masters Award at Lincoln Center, and reuniting with Ornette Coleman for a concert series during 2013.
Haden's family and label, ECM, released a joint statement stating that the bassist had died after a prolonged illness. He was 76.