Interview with Charlie Haden @ Macdonald Stewart Art Centre, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada
Friday, September 7, 2007
Patrick Case (interviewer)
"So... are you talking about race?" Leave it to Liberation Music Orchestra band leader - and the world's greatest bass player - to cut right to the chase after puzzling out a painstakingly rehearsed question that did everything but mention race by name. Leave it to Charlie Haden to come right out and say what Canadians are too polite to speak about directly. It's not the first time the race question has come up over the course of Haden's incredible career. He was raised as a traveling country singer in hillbilly country and came to prominence as a jazz bass player with Ornette Coleman's quartet. As the only "white" guy in so many groups he's been asked the race question a lot over the years. He used to hate that. He's always been about making great music and the recorded evidence certainly bears that out. It never mattered to him what color a great musician's skin was. Now, at age 70, he's seen many things and can tell great stories populated by the likes of Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Dexter Gordon and other jazz greats.
And he has plenty to say about race. As an outspoken critic of every Republican administration since the 1960s - each of the four Liberation Music Orchestra studio releases coincides with the dark days of Nixon, Reagan and the two shrubs - Haden's stand against oppression is a simple and deeply resonant assertion of the human truth and value of civil rights. His hope is that he won't have to record another Liberation Music Orchestra CD under yet another fascistic inclined administration.
It's the wealth of stories he can tell that made this interview so amazing to witness. He spoke about being imprisoned and interrogated in Portugal after making a dedication before playing "Song for Che" that held a peculiar resonance for this current age of torture and interrogation being carried out Not in Our Name - as the Liberation Music Orchestra's most recent release is called. On other occasions I've heard him tell other stories that blew my mind with his connection to so much jazz history, such as the one about playing with his eyes closed at his New York City debut with the Ornette Coleman Quartet because he noticed that Charles Mingus was watching him play. Not only is he a great musician, he is also a great resource for the oral history of jazz and I dearly hope his stories are being documented. At least this particular interview was being recorded for posterity.
As for "Liberation Music." The music of the Liberation Music Orchestra is powerful, beautiful, uplifting and tinged with sadness. It's some of the most amazing music of this age. It's a rare treat to hear Charlie Haden speak about something so stirring and meaningful. The inclusion of this interview as part of the Guelph Jazz Festival experience shows tremendous insight into what makes this music so valuable.