Monday, January 21, 2008

Charlie Haden's Bass Influences

The Mind Of A Revolutionary: Charlie Haden's Bass Influences (Web bonus material from the February 2008 issue)

An Exclusive DownBeat Online Extra

by Ethan Iverson — 1/1/2008

(The February issue of DownBeat includes an extensive interview with bassist Charlie Haden, conducted by pianist Ethan Iverson. The following is exclusive content from this interview that we could not publish in the magazine.)

Charlie Haden: The first bass players I heard were the guys on the records with Bird, Curley Russell and Tommy Potter. There were also guys with Stan Kenton, like Don Bagley, and the bassists with Jazz at the Philharmonic. But the first guy who was really distinctive to me—when I was 19 or so—was Paul Chambers, who I heard on all those Prestige and Riverside records. There’s an underrated player! He had a way of playing chromatic notes in his bass lines that was just unreal. He would go up in to the high register, and then skip down, tying it together. He had this great sound, and this great time. He and Jimmy Cobb really got it together for Kind Of Blue with fire and subtlety. Bill Evans’ comping is so inspiring on that record, too. That’s why those heavy horn players played so great on that record: Bill Evans, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb.

I used to see these pictures of Paul in jazz magazines, and it always looked like his eyes were watering, like he had tears in his eyes.

One night the Miles Davis quintet with John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones came to Jazz City, a club off of Hollywood Boulevard, across from Peacock Lane. I went by myself and sat in the front row right in front of Paul. I stared at Paul Chambers the whole set.

People throw around the words “jazz” and “bebop”—I’m not sure sometimes what they mean. To me, “jazz” meant Bird. Bird and Bud Powell.

I got to see Bird in Omaha when I was fourteen with JATP and later when I arrived in L.A. in 1956, I went to hear the Miles Davis quintet. Man! You could sit in front of these guys and feel the power. The feeling of spontaneity from each musician allied with the technical part: the harmony, the voicings, the cymbals, the bass ... together, it could have generated electricity.

I know if I had got to sit in front of Bird, Bud Powell and Fats Navarro, it would have been the same power.

So, I was watching Paul Chambers to see if he had tears in his eyes. It looked like he did. He looked so great playing, man. Then, when the set was over, he came right over to my table. “Man, you were looking at me the whole time!”

I told him my name, and that I was a bass player, that I loved his playing and that every picture I had seen of him and on stage tonight it looked like there were tears in his eyes.

He looked at me for a moment, and said, “I do. I cry.”

I said, “Man! That is so great!”

He asked to sit down and we hung out for a minute. Look at a picture of Paul Chambers: something about his features is like somebody who was feeling life very deeply. Really something.

Ethan Iverson: Can I ask you about some other ’50s bass players? What about Red Mitchell, who you heard on the Hampton Hawes records.

Haden: He was playing sort of like pre-Scotty LaFaro. He was a piano player, and used his piano concept in his bass solos. I noticed him working that out in Red Norvo’s trio, too. He was a sweet guy and a great bass player, and gave me the Art Pepper gig that I met Hampton Hawes on. Actually, the first night it was Sonny Clark, and what a revelation that was, but then the second night it was Hampton, who would become an important friend.

Iverson: Eventually you would make a duet record with Hawes, As Long As There’s Music. That is an important record, not just because of the considerable beauty of the music itself, but also because it documents a pure ’50s bebop piano player’s first baby steps into freedom. I don’t know of another like it. Did you check out Oscar Pettiford?

Haden: Yes, I did. I didn’t ever meet him, but Paul Motian told me about him a little bit. He had a clear melodic concept. I remember on this one song, “The Man I Love,” where he plays the melody. You can hear him breathing: He put his whole being into every note he played. That’s how I try to play, too.

Iverson: And of course, Wilbur Ware.

Haden: I heard him with Monk. I loved his playing. Then when I met him, he asked to borrow five dollars. This was in Chicago at the Sutherland Lounge when I was on tour with Ornette. I said, “You’re Wilbur Ware! Take the five dollars!”

He disappeared until after the set, then came up again. “Hey, Charlie ... do you have another five dollars?”

“Sure, man!” Then, after the gig, he took me downstairs where Chris Anderson was playing piano. When we were both back in New York, Wilbur and I hung out a lot. We went to each other’s gigs.

I was definitely influenced by his purity of sound. Wilbur had a percussive way of playing solos, like a drummer, but he would play intervals like thirds and fifths in a separated way with this distinctive rhythm and syncopation: you could hear he was a drummer. It was so good, man, and the way he placed his notes made everything swing.

I came in to the Vanguard one night, and he was playing a bass that was covered in Scotch tape and looked terrible. And he made it sound like a Stradivarius.

Iverson: There’s a Johnny Griffin record with Kenny Drew and Donald Byrd that Wilbur is on. It’s high-level jazz playing but a little anonymous. Then on an E-flat blues, Wilbur takes a solo that makes all the fancy fast horn players seem irrelevant. He was the only guy before you I heard who could do that in a bass solo.

Haden: You forget sometimes that you are playing music, not just playing jazz. It’s good sometimes to remind people of the musicality of the moment by going to just one note and letting them hear it.

Iverson: Did you know Percy Heath at all?

Haden: What a beautiful man. We hung out a lot over the years, and we went out to his house in Queens and visited him and his family. He always carried himself with a regal bearing, with perfect posture and royal gait. I respected his playing, especially on the Miles stuff.

Iverson: On Bag’s Groove, the bass is almost as clear and as important as the trumpet.

Haden: Man! And I also admired the way he handled the classical-sounding bass parts in the MJQ. He put everything he could into making them swing.

Iverson: Is their another ’50s bassist you want to mention?

Haden: Teddy Kotick.

Iverson: Oh? I’ve never really listened to him carefully.

Haden: You’ve got to listen to “Kim” with Bird, Hank Jones and Max Roach. Also, he’s on the first Bill Evans album with Paul Motian. Great intonation, great sound, gut strings. He died too young.

Iverson: Like Doug Watkins.

Haden: Wow, another great player. He was a cousin of Paul Chambers.

Iverson: What was your relationship to Mingus?

Haden: I met him at the Five Spot, and I think he liked my playing, because he was there an awful lot, checking us out.

Iverson: That quartet record with Ted Curson, Eric Dolphy and Dannie Richmond is his response to you and Ornette at the Five Spot.

Haden: I think you’re right. We played opposite each other a lot and became friends. Once in 1973 he was playing with his band at the University of Miami and I was playing with Ornette. They had rented a bass for him and apparently it wasn’t good. He called my room and asked me if he could borrow my bass. I said, “Man, you can have my bass!” We all went after the gig to hear Ira Sullivan at the Fontainebleau Hotel, and that’s where I met Jaco Pastorius ... another great bass player.



At 8:27 AM , Blogger es said...

Hey Charlie
Hello from Eleana Tee and Jimmy Cobb. There's a great picture of Richard and Jaco on Myspace Richard Tee....anyway...we hope you're well and please lets get togehter and do a gig with Jimmy? We're doing something for the Drum channel..anyway, take care! et&jc


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