Charlie Haden Brings His Quartet West to the Lobero
by Josef Woodard
Few jazz artists have such a vast collection of hats, guises, projects, and ambitions as Charlie Haden. He’s a much heralded bassist, a bandleader of multiple projects, a political activist, a CalArts teacher, and a diehard film noir buff. He made his debut as the ideal, open-spirited bassist for Ornette Coleman’s iconoclastic late-’50s quartet, and went on to stints with Keith Jarrett and the post-Ornette group, Old and New Dreams (which played at the Lobero, once upon a long ago moon).
When Haden returns to the Lobero Theatre next Wednesday, it will be with an outfit, Quartet West, which could be called his “party band.” The group, with pianist Allan Broadbent, tenor saxist Ernie Watts, and drummer Rodney Green (replacing the ailing Lawrence Marable), dishes out an ear-pleasing menu of bebop, film noir nods, classic ballads, and romantic originals.
Haden’s most recent release is Not in Our Name, which is by the widely acclaimed Liberation Music Orchestra (LMO), which he also leads. The LMO has been blending free jazz with revolutionary ideals and global awareness, all to the tune of Carla Bley’s brilliant charts, since the late 1960s. Not in Our Name didn’t get as much attention as it should have, perhaps partly due to the nation’s current political climate. Don’t expect politics though from Quartet West, whose last appearance at the Lobero was pure and simple sonic pleasure. Haden checked in with us on the phone recently from his home in Agoura Hills. You were the feature interview on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now recently. Do you think that gave you exposure to listeners who wouldn’t normally be aware of your work? I’ve been getting so much exposure for my politics over my career that I think that’s one thing that prevents me from getting gigs. She [Goodman] asked if my politics might hinder my career. I stopped in my tracks because usually I never think about that. I haven’t played in Chicago for 15 years, or Washington, D.C. Maybe it is having an effect on my career. I know that Not in Our Name really should have been nominated for a Grammy. It was on 30 Top 10 lists throughout the country. I started thinking, “Well, I guess the [Grammy] committee is getting more and more conservative.”
But I’ve got to rise above all that stuff because I’ve got too much stuff to do. I can’t be thinking about that. I may have another Liberation Music Orchestra record to make. It depends on what happens politically during the next couple of years.
When Quartet West started in 1986, it was a departure for you; it didn’t compare with other things you’d been doing at the time. Yeah, it was new. Ruth [Cameron, his wife] had mentioned to me, “You’ve got to get a band together in L.A. You’re traveling all the time.” I had just heard Ernie Watts playing with Michel Colombier at the Dorothy Chandler. When I heard Allan Broadbent play on KKGO, I pulled off the road and called up on a pay phone to ask who the piano player was. Then I thought about Billy [Higgins, drummer], because he was living back here.
We did that gig and then made a record. Ruth named the band Quartet West and helped produce it. We both loved Raymond Chandler and film noir, and that’s what it turned into. It turned into a lot more than that. The songs that we played were so beautiful. I guess it’s really about having a commitment to beauty. All the guys feel the same way.
Is another Quartet West album in the works? Yeah, we’re going to do a new record. But before I do that, I have to go down to Nashville and do a country record. That’s going to be something. My daughters and my son and Ruth and I are all going down and we’re going to sing on different stuff and get some people in from Nashville who really want to do it.
Your musical life seems like a complicated puzzle. How do you keep it all together? It’s not a challenge to stay focused, because my focus is always on new music. But it’s a challenge to make the focusing become a reality, especially with what’s going on in the record business now.
It partly comes out of wanting to do all the things that you’ve wanted to do ever since you started doing this. For me, that was as a kid playing with my family’s band and thinking about making music, and then starting a career and discovering new things as you go along that you want to do and meeting musicians who you want to play with.
That’s the way my whole career has been. I’ve sought out musicians who have the same musical values I do. Whether it’s tango or bolero or fado or whatever it happens to be, I try to do it, and I’m not happy until I do everything that I’ve been thinking about. The whole premise is to be happy.
Charlie Haden and Quartet West play the Lobero Theatre (33 East Canon Perdido Street) on Wednesday, November 29 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35 or $45 and can be purchased by calling 966-4946 or visiting lobero.com.