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Bassist Charlie Haden, Dead at 76

By , UK News Editor | The Jazz Line

Charlie Haden has died at the age of 76.

The highly influential jazz bassist had his wife of 30-years Ruth Cameron and his four children Josh, Petra, Rachel, and Tanya by his side when he finally passed away, succumbing to a “prolonged illness,” according to a statement released by his record label ECM Records.

Born Charles Edward Haden in Shenandoah, IA in 1937, he was the youngest for four children and spent most of his childhood in Springfield, MO.

His first instrument was one of his own making, his voice. Born into a musical family that performed country and American folk music under the Haden Family Band moniker, a young Haden made his vocal début yodeling with the band at just two years of age.

He continued singing with his family until he contracted polio at the age of 15, which damaged his vocal chords and left him unable to sing. Around the same time, Haden started to take an interest in both classical music and jazz, and started to experiment with his older brother’s double bass. He eventually set his sights on Los Angeles; moving to the city in 1957, and after working with pianist Paul Bley he joined Ornette Coleman’s innovative free jazz quartet and appeared on many of his most iconic albums – Including “The Shape of Jazz To Come.”

Although he became a pioneer of the avant-garde early on, Haden would go on the play in countless other contexts in a career that ultimately came to span well over five decades. From his work creating meaningful protest songs with the Liberation Music Orchestra with newly minted NEA Jazz Master Carla Bley, to duo work with Pat Metheny, to more traditional jazz with the likes of Michael Brecker and Ernie Watts with his Quarter West ensemble, he truly knew no bounds when it came to genre.

Ultimately, his career would come full circle when he formed a new family band with his wife and children. The group released an album deeply rooted in country-western called Rambling Boy in 2008, featuring collaborations with Jack Black (Haden’s son in law, marred to Tanya Haden), Pat Metheny, Elvis Costello, and many more.

Haden was named an NEA Jazz Master in 2012.

His musical legacy will live on in the countless people he has influenced, and in his children, who are all musicians.

Watch Charlie Haden perform “First Song” with his Quartet West ensemble below:

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