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Grammy honor lifts spirits of ailing jazz legend

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From page A7 | February 09, 2013 | 1 Comment

NEW YORK— If he’s feeling well enough, jazz bassist Charlie Haden would like to convey a message when he is recognized with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award this weekend about the need for music that leads people “to think about the deeper things.”

“I want to take people away from the ugliness and sadness around us every day and bring beautiful, deep music to as many people as I can,” Haden said.

The triumph of beauty over suffering hits home for Haden, who lost his singing voice to polio as a teenager and says the onset of post-polio syndrome has been even more devastating.

And the recognition by his peers is a far cry from the reception Haden first received in New York a half century ago with the revolutionary Ornette Coleman Quartet.

The Coleman quartet’s 1959-60 engagement at the Five Spot club was a seminal moment in jazz history as musicians intensely debated this new music that challenged the bebop establishment by liberating musicians to freely improvise off of the melody rather than the underlying chord changes.

“Some people didn’t understand what we were doing and they were afraid because they’d never heard anything like that before … so we dealt with it the best we could,” said Haden.

The 75-year-old Haden is joining Coleman as a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. The Recording Academy cited the three-time Grammy winner as “an all-American jazz musician best known for his signature lyrical bass lines and his ability to liberate the bassist from an accompanying role.”

Last year, Haden released two albums that were recorded before the onset of post-polio syndrome in late 2010 forced him on indefinite hiatus from performing. “Come Sunday,” a collection of hymns and spirituals, is a follow-up to his 1995 Grammy-nominated duet CD “Steal Away” with pianist Hank Jones, recorded in February 2010, just three months before Jones’ death. “Carta de Amor” is a recording of a 1981 concert by the bassist’s cross-cultural Magico trio with Brazilian guitarist Egberto Gismonti and Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek.

The Grammy recognition – as well as being named a Jazz Master last year by the National Endowment for the Arts – has helped lift Haden’s spirits as he recovers from his illness.

“I feel very happy because it means all the work that I’ve done trying to make meaningful music – jazz and improvised music and the old country music – is being appreciated by more people,” said Haden, interviewed by telephone from his home in Agoura Hills, Calif.

Pianist Herbie Hancock says Haden’s country music background distinguishes him from other jazz musicians.

“Charlie is able to use that background so that no matter how far out the music is there’s an earthiness to what he plays that makes it connect,” Hancock said.

Haden performed as a child with the Haden Family band which had its own radio show in Springfield, Mo., and toured the Midwest country circuit in the 1930s and ’40s. But polio weakened his vocal cords and ended his singing career at age 15, leading him to turn to the bass.

The onset of post-polio syndrome has meant difficulty swallowing as well as severe headaches, dehydration and chronic fatigue. He became depressed because he couldn’t play his bass at all for a year after his last public performance in September 2011 at a Los Angeles club.

His wife and co-producer, singer Ruth Cameron, worked tirelessly to seek treatment, but it took months of consultations before he was properly diagnosed. Last June, he went to a clinic in Germany for cutting-edge cold laser therapy that has reduced the pain.

Music proved to be therapeutic when guitarist Pat Metheny visited his close friend during a tour stop in Los Angeles in late September.

At Cameron’s urging, Haden picked up his bass and started playing with Metheny. “It was just like picking up where I left off as far as the physical part of your fingers pressing down the strings and the creative process happening inside your soul,” Haden said.

Metheny said the two quickly established the “telepathic rapport” they had in their previous encounters as on their 1997 duo album “Beneath the Missouri Sky,” which earned Haden his first Grammy for best jazz instrumental performance.

“I knew that getting him to play would be good for him – and for me,” Metheny said in an email. “I think it was good for Charlie to hear himself playing with another musician in real time to remind himself just how great he is. He visibly got stronger as he was playing in a really great way.”

Since then, Haden has been playing at home to his favorite jazz and classical recordings by pianist Bill Evans, Bach and Rachmaninoff – as well as “Jasmine,” his 2010 duo album with pianist Keith Jarrett, and with visiting friends such as pianist Alan Broadbent. Last week, he resumed teaching at the California Institute of the Arts, where he established the jazz program.

Haden has also begun talking with arranger-composer Carla Bley about reviving their politically-charged Liberation Music Orchestra for a recording about the environment.

“Charlie has a lot of offers but we want to give it another six months to rebuild his stamina,” said Cameron. “It’s a very heart-warming experience for him to feel like there’s hope.”

Online:

www.charliehadenmusic.com

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

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Discussion | 1 comment

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  • Jean Mc in S.J.February 09, 2013 - 2:35 pm

    Isn't he also Jack Black's father-in-law? Must be a fun family!

    Reply | Report abusive comment
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