I first came across Charlie Haden’s double bass playing when listening to Ornette Coleman’s music. Ornette is arguably the guy that founded the beginnings of what we now call free jazz. His compositions would involve themes (melodies) and would have short forms, often without specific chords. The tunes themselves would often have a heavy groove to them: this was a big part of Ornette’s music. While all the mad solos from Ornette and Don Cherry were going on, underneath it all were Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins (or Ed Blackwell) giving the music its unbelievable feel. This is what first drew me to Charlie Haden. I soon realised that there weren’t any bass parts written for these tunes: Charlie would make up his own parts to fit the melodies, and this approach would carry on in the solos. Ornette would improvise freely, without a chord sequence, and Charlie would follow him harmonically – using only his ears. I thought it was amazing to be able to follow another improviser without the safety net of a chord sequence, and for it to still sound together and coherent.
Soon I became aware of Charlie’s playing with other greats, such as Keith Jarrett, in Keith’s American Quartet, and before that, with his trio. This is where I first heard Charlie play with the late Paul Motian, another great jazz drummer who had played with Bill Evans and many others. The hook-up that Charlie had playing with Paul was so heavy that it became a precedent for this kind of music, and a huge influence on anyone that came after. I highly recommend checking out Charlie’s own music, he recorded a great duo CD with the late pianist Hank Jones.
Recently I heard that Charlie is not well, but hopefully he will be up and playing again soon. I highly advise making the trip to see him – he is unique. His sound is instantly recognisable and his time, space and note choice are so strong that it is hard not to be influenced by him, on any instrument.