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Charlie Haden: An Analog Guy in a Digital World

By Published: March 1, 2004
CH: Well, they’re related because I became really close friends with Carla; I was closer to her than I was to Paul. When she was with Paul and we were playing at the Hillcrest, she and I were very close and we really felt [we had] a lot in common in our ideas about life. When I moved to New York, and I think it was when Cambodia was bombed, I was in my car one night (I was playing at this stupid club with somebody) and I heard the announcement. I thought to myself ‘something’s got to be done.’ I’m not really politically involved that much, and I wasn’t then, but I had all these old songs from the Spanish Civil War and I called Carla and said ‘let’s do an album about the tragedy of what this administration is doing in the world.’ And she said okay, so we did the record, and the next record was done under Reagan, and the next record was done under Bush’s father.

AAJ: Is there another one in the offing?

CH: As a matter of fact there is, we’re going to tour this summer and Carla’s involved.

AAJ: Who else is still a mainstay in the group?

CH: Well, that’s a secret.

AAJ: So it’s essentially convened whenever there are some major political high jinks.

CH: Everything’s getting more out of hand. Just even thinking about it makes me so angry, the way the culture’s going and Bush is taking the culture with him. It’s a pickup truck-driver mentality in this country. And even among the professionals there’s this mentality, to see these mothers taking their kids to school in Hummers and big trucks, listening to gangsta rap. Nobody reads literature anymore, nobody thinks anymore, it’s like everybody’s becoming a redneck.

AAJ: You go to art museums and nobody’s in the galleries...

CH: There you go. I tell people every time I do a concert, I say ‘you people are so beautiful’ and every time I go into a gallery and I see people looking at paintings, I have the same feeling. I just want to multiply everybody thousands and thousands of time so that we’ll have more people like them in the world.

AAJ: Well, this is the first time I’ve been totally conscious of an administration tanking everybody. I can’t understand what’s going on.

CH: I understand completely: it’s the result of greed. It’s these guys, most of whom are stupid, and with the ones who have a kind of intelligence it’s not a creative intelligence. It’s very narrow-minded, thinking of ways to acquire power and money. They’re from a world that most people don’t know about, and most people don’t know what’s going on, and if they knew what was going on they wouldn’t believe it. There are a lot of sensitive, creative and intelligent wealthy people. That’s not the problem; this is about cruelty and greed, not caring about who you hurt, not caring about anything that’s sensitive or meaningful.

AAJ: Well, if a CD of the orchestra was sent to every politician...

CH: The thing is that they’re too far gone and they’re surrounded by people who don’t care about life, who don’t understand the preciousness of life and of creativity.

AAJ: How did you get your start composing music? Where did you get the impetus for that?

CH: Well I used to write songs when I was a little kid on the radio with my parents; I’d sit at the piano and write melodies. The first song that I felt the need to write was when I did the first Liberation Music Orchestra record, “Song for Ché.” And from then on I wrote a lot, and I’m still going.

AAJ: And you got a Guggenheim [fellowship], too, right after the Impulse record. How did that come to be?

CH: Well, when you apply for a fellowship, whether in medicine or whatever, you tell them what you want to do and they just send you the money. I told them I wanted to write more music, and that was that. You have to be good, you have to fill out an application, and you have to have some pretty good references. There are stipulations; it’s very strict and there’s a different jury every year. They give them in biology, archaeology, architecture, everything.

AAJ: So you’ve recorded in all these different settings: orchestras, duets, the Ornette group, piano trios, Bolero. Is there a particular setting you find most fruitful for your work, or an ideal one? Or do you just try everything?

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