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Charlie Haden: An Analog Guy in a Digital World

By Published: March 1, 2004
CH: Well, I don’t really put music into any category, and my kids have hipped me to all sorts of things in alternative rock [Josh Haden is in the band Spain; Petra and Rachael were in that dog. and The Rentals] that they’re all recording and playing. One of my daughters just made a beautiful record with Bill Frisell for violin and guitar. And so I seek out musicians that have the same musical values that I do. It’s about making as much beautiful music as you can. I’ve recorded with Egberto Gismonti from Brazil, Salucci from Argentina, Carlos Peredas on an album called Dialogue. I’ve done albums with Rickie Lee Jones, Bruce Hornsby, Beck, and I just recorded on Ringo [Starr]’s new record called Ringo-rama. I’m interested in people who create meaningful music.

AAJ: How do you feel about the use of amplification in modern jazz, specifically with the bass? A lot of bassists stand on either side of the coin; do you feel that the bass being amplified is a necessary tool in the music now or not?

CH: Well, it’s not a matter of amplification; it’s just a matter of being able to be heard in an acoustic way. Sometimes I play concerts – for instance, with Nocturne – and we don’t even have any microphones. We play in concert halls with great acoustics, and you don’t need microphones. In a club sometimes you don’t need microphones. Sometimes I use a little bass amp for myself so I can hear myself a little bit better, and that’s turned way, way down. I don’t usually have monitors on the stage or anything like that. Sometimes, depending on which band it is, you need the mike. When I do concerts with American Dreams and strings, you’ve got to have a monitor in front of Michael Brecker so he can hear the bass and he can hear the drummer a little bit better. And you’ve got to put the monitor close to the violinists so they can hear the drummer. If you’re playing a big hall and the people in the back need to hear, of course you have to have a great soundman who knows how to bring out the sound of acoustic instruments.

AAJ: With woody instruments it’s very delicate.

CH: Most soundmen are real truck-driver mentality rock and roll guys, and all they know is cranking it up. We live in a cranked-up world, a dysfunctional, cranked-up world.

AAJ: I’ve never been able to successfully amplify my ‘cello, and whenever it’s amplified it just sounds awful.

CH: Well, I’ve got one of the best pickups ever made, and I got one of the first ones ever made 25 years ago by this guy Stefan Shirtler. His pickups cost a lot of money now, but he gives them to me and they’re made out of cork. They blend in with the wood of the instrument; there is no [independent] personality. I don’t know if he makes them for ‘cello, but one of my daughters, Tanya, plays the ‘cello and she always uses an acoustic mike.

AAJ: Well, it always ends up with this horrible, high-pitched electric whine that is certainly not what I’m looking for. But when you’re playing with a bunch of saxophonists who are very loud and a loud drummer it’s necessary.

CH: You just have to tell them to shut up. In my class at Cal Arts, I’ve been there for 20 years... its’ not about the bass, it’s not about jazz – it’s about beauty. In order for me to hear your sound, I want you to play as soft as you can so that you can hear yourself and you can discover your sound. Everybody hears music differently, just like we all have different fingerprints. You’ve got to find your genetic musical makeup, and that’s one of the important things. What the class is really about is that if they strive to become a great human being, maybe they have a chance at becoming a great musician. It’s all about striving to be the creative person you are when you’re playing in the other parts of your life. This is a hard thing to do.

AAJ: Living your life as an artist irrespective of what medium you work in.

CH: When you’re going to the bank or going to get your haircut, whatever you’re doing. Going throughout your day as a creative person and always having internalized the creative part of you that has objectivity.

AAJ: I wished that more people lived their lives that way.

CH. As I tell my students, as long as I have my bass in my hands I’m fine. When I put my bass down, I’m in trouble. You’ve got to live up to the person you are when you have your bass. But I tell bassists to forget they’re bass players; pretend you’re a pianist.

AAJ: Which is what you did when you were with Ornette: coming up with a creative solution to the context that you were in.

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