Charlie Haden Brings His Quartet West to the Lobero

by Josef Woodard

Charlie-Hayden-Quartet-cred.jpgFew 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


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