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Christmas 2012, Part II: Charlie Haden and Hank Jones

C. Michael Bailey By

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Pianist Hank Jones (1918-2010) was the senior member of musical siblings that included trumpeter Thad Jones (1923-1986) and drummer Elvin Jones (1927-2004), both of whom he outlived. Jones was a musician of impeccable elegance and a holy grace who could be compared with Teddy Wilson and Tommy Flanagan had he any peers. Everything bassist Charlie Haden touches turns to gold starting with saxophonist Ornette Coleman and The Shape of Jazz to Come (Atlantic, 1959). When he met up with Jones to record Steal Away in 1996, they spun platinum. When they rejoined in 2010, shortly before the pianist's death, for Come Sunday, they weaved sublimity.

Strictly speaking, these two releases are not holiday fare. That said, Come Sunday does host two traditional Christmas Carols in "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "It Came Upon The Midnight Clear," which, by extrapolation, should qualify these as seasonal music. Within Christmas lies a 2000-year old tradition that you do not need to believe in to fully enjoy this music. The musical elements of these recitals are an important part of a unique American civilization. The popular modern allergy to belief systems can interfere with a full appreciation of this music. From a historical perspective, in the US, this music is as important as The Constitution and The Emancipation Proclamation. What better time to celebrate this music?

Charlie Haden and Hank Jones

Steal Away

Polygram Records


Approaching 20 years old, Steal Away was one of Charlie Haden's first entries into the American Vernacular, ostensibly outside of jazz. There is plenty of jazz here, but the true focus is on a solid core of faith-based music mostly associated with the durable Christian myth. Haden was a product of midwestern Protestantism , hailing from Shenandoah, IA, where he performed with his family on the radio, out of Shenandoah and Springfield, MO. Hank Jones grew up in the church. His father was a Baptist deacon, transplanted from Vicksburg, MS to Pontiac, MI. Their bona fides are secure.

The collection of spirituals and folk songs is rugged and true. Haden and Jones are both respectful and celebratory in their treatment of this sacred and well-known material. They are not so much churchy as reverent and are not afraid to slip head first into a 12-bar blues as they survey these hymnal standards. The most contemporary piece here is a complete reworking of John Coltrane's "Spiritual" as a domestic gospel piece that fits among the remaining titles, hand in glove. "Danny Boy" is also played like it belongs among spirituals. The title tune is a processional, gentle and nostalgic, where no notes are wasted. "Go Down, Moses" is stately and cascading modulating into a "Hit the Road, Jack" descending figure in the solo sections. Haden is his most emotive and Jones gracefully accommodating.

Charlie Haden and Hank Jones

Come Sunday



Breaking ahead to 2012, just three months prior to 91-years old Hank Jones' death, Come Sunday retains all of the reverence of Steal Away while warmly opening the face of the music fully to the sun. Jones and Haden alternate who will first carry the melody, handing off to one another without getting too wild. The music is carefully crafted to capture the spirit of the music. The disc opens with an expansive reading of Thomas A. Dorsey's "Take My Hand Precious Lord," that composer's centerpiece where he united the blues with the spiritual to make gospel music. Haden introduces the melody while Jones soulfully improvises in the solo section. The pianist's touch is light and sure, while Haden is searching and plaintive.

The two Christmas Carols: "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" are delicately presented. Jones uses block chords with Haden following closely. "Down By The Riverside" gently bounces with Haden's presentation, urged forward by Jones' carefully chording. Jones puts the jazz into his solo as Haden hits 4/4 swinging. "Give Me That Old Time Religion" receives the same treatment without the Haden introduction. Haden does swing in a solo section that illustrates why he is so well respected. "Deep River" is the briefest piece, is almost an apparition of intense thought manifesting as prayer, introspective yet tangible. "Nearer My God to Thee" and Duke Ellington's "Come Sunday" round out a great a homage to the late Hank Jones as one could expect. Hold this music close.

Tracks and Personnel

Steal Away

Tracks: It's Me, O Lord (Standin' in the Need of Prayer); Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen; Spiritual; Wade In The Water; Swing Low, Sweet Chariot; Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child; Amour de Moy, L'; Danny Boy; I've Got a Robe, You Got a Robe (Goin' to Shout All over God's Heav'n); Steal Away; We Shall Overcome; Go Down Moses; My Lord, What A Mornin'; Hymn Medley: Abide With Me/Just as I Am Without One Plea/What a Friend: Abide With Me / Just As I Am Without One Plea / What A Friend We Have In Jesus / Amazing Grace.

Personnel: Charlie Haden: double bass; Hank Jones: piano.

Come Sunday

Tracks: Take My Hand, Precious Lord; God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen See All; Down By the Riverside; Going Home; Blessed Assurance; It Came Upon the Midnight Clear See All; Bringing in the Sheaves; Deep River; Give Me That Old Time Sweet Hour of Prayer; Old Rugged Cross; Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?; Nearer My God to Thee; Come Sunday.

Personnel: Charlie Haden: double bass; Hank Jones: piano.


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