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July 15, 2014


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Benjamin R.

I'm a fan of the weird a cappella stylings of Petra Haden, whose looped solo take on The Who's Sell Out was pretty bravura, in my opinion. I'd read about the passing of Charlie Haden, but hadn't heard of the connection between the two until this write-up. Thank you Glenn; I'm sorry for her and her family's loss.

Jonathan Rosenbaum

Many thanks, Glenn, for this invaluable contribution to film as well as jazz history!

Kent Jones

Charlie and I got to be friends in the last years of his life, and I remember how startled I was when I watched SYNANON and suddenly saw him sitting there behind the drum kit. I asked him about it. There wasn't much of a story - he was just there at Synanon and found himself in the scene. Good movie, by the way.

He was a beautiful guy. He was indeed gentle and kind, though maybe less quiet than he was when Glenn met him. Charlie was a great raconteur, and he loved to tell jokes. (One of his favorites: A guy is driving down the Santa Monica Freeway with a bunch of penguins in his back seat. A motorcycle cop pulls him over. "You can't drive around with all those penguins in your car," says the cop. "Take 'em to the zoo!" "Yes, officer," says the driver, and he heads off. Three days later, the same guy is driving down the freeway, the penguins are still in the car, but this time they're all wearing sunglasses. The same cop pulls him over. "I thought I told you to take those penguins to the zoo!" screams the cop. "I did, officer. Now I'm taking them to the beach.") He also loved to eat. (I told him about the Shake Shack and I could practically hear his mouth watering over the phone. He was coming to New York to record SOPHISTICATED LADIES and as soon as he and his wife Ruth arrived he jumped into a cab and said, "Hey man, take me right to Shake and Bake!") And of course, he loved to play. Sadly, maybe tragically, he was unable to do either for the last couple years. He also loved movies, crime movies in particular (as you would guess from those Quartet West albums), and that was the topic the last few times we talked.

Charlie's playing is like no one else's. Always a dialogue, with the other players, with the listener, and with…I think that transcendence is the word that he might have used.

Glenn is correct – he does not even pronounce the word “drug” in Reto’s film. That was a conscious decision. He’d had enough of drugs – doing them, experiencing their after-effects, remembering how they had ravaged so many people – and he wanted to talk about what he loved and cherished: his children, his friends, Ruth, and the music. By the way, if you haven’t listened to the album RAMBLIN’ BOY, you should do so right away. A heartbreaking musical autobiography.

One of the last times I saw him play was at Birdland. He did a series of dates with Brad Mehldau, Paul Motian and Lee Konitz, and it was a pretty motley crew - they had all played together but never as a quartet, and there were times when they went in four different directions. But whether it was Mehldau diving into one of his grand explorations, or the great Motian on his own rhythm clock, or Konitz doing his own thing, Charlie was always right there WITH them. Manfred Eicher made a great album out of it (LIVE AT BIRDLAND) - not surprising.

And yeah, he used the word "cat" a lot, always unselfconsciously. Writing these words, I realize how much I'm going to miss him.


Thanks for this piece, GK. I consider myself a mid-level fan of jazz, at best. I don't listen to it enough or as much as I should but when I do get into it it is for days on end. Nice to see people paying respect to the giants passing. Seems to be more and more as we all get older and it's nice to see such a piece written without the sarcasm and vitriol so many "writers" or "critics" bring to these types of things nowadays.

John Warthen

Atlanta, like other cities, is down to its last record shops. But WUXTY has atmosphere to burn, long as it lasts-- you enter from its shopping center parking lot through a slight arch-door which is covered top to bottom with the obituaries of great musicians: the blues, classical, jazz, bluegrass, gospel. Most are from NYT and some so aged-yellow as to be hard to read past the headlines. But the shop-owners keep the faith, as does the elegy above (and in KJ's response), and it is a lovely induction to a wholly different state of mind inside, where the music goes on.

Darrin Navarro

What a strange, small world it is. Many years after Haden was in Synanon, I was there too, as a kid in the Synanon School, circa 1970s and 1980s. Being there situated me to get a fairly decent education in jazz (there's something about jazzbos and addiction) and of course we were made aware of the famous musicians who'd come to Synanon for help back in the day--Joe Pass, Stan Kenton, among others. Frank Rehak, who had played trombone for Kenton and Miles Davis, was my music teacher when I was just a tyke, and he remained in Synanon for many years, until he passed.

Anyway, for some reason, Haden's name didn't get mentioned much in that context, or else I'd failed to retain it. I became aware of him in the 1990s when he made the noir-ish "Haunted Heart" and "Always Say Goodbye" with Quartet West. By then, I was working as an assistant editor in the movies and was lucky enough to be working with William Friedkin on a remake of "12 Angry Men," with Jack Lemmon and George C. Scott in the roles that Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb had played in the original. Though Friedkin didn't want there to be any musical score during the body of the film, he did want to record a new version of Kenyon Hopkins' main theme to use only at the end of the film; he just needed to figure out who should record it. As I'd been fairly obsessed with the recent Quartet West albums, I suggested Haden to Friedkin, and he liked the idea. Three weeks later, we were all in Studio A at Capitol Records with Friedkin, Haden, Quartet West and the music of Kenyon Hopkins. This was a heady experience for me, not just because it was the first time I had made a such a significant creative suggestion to a director and seen it take full form, but because I had the rare opportunity to meet a man who had recently become one of my musical heroes.

(It was only later, when relaying the story to my family, that I learned he had in fact been in Synanon all those years before me. And I didn't even recognize him when I finally did get around to watching the "Synanon" movie a year or two ago.)

Haden was, of course, a generous and lovely man during the brief time we spent together that day. He thanked me for getting him the gig, which struck me as absurd even as it was beautifully polite. He said he really wanted to do more film score work, and that if ever I was on another project that I thought he'd be good for, that he hoped I would make the same suggestion. I only wish that there were more opportunity for jazz scores in movies these days--I've hoped ever since then to find another excuse to work with him. Alas.


The man behind the drums is Bill Crawford, NOT Charlie Haden. He lived in Synanon from 1958 until 1977 and although he played the drums (including on the album Sounds of Synanon recorded with Joe Pass), he was initially not a drum player but a sax player.

James Keepnews

Exceptional work once more, my man -- I love your ability to thread together otherwise undiscussed cultural histories across multiple artforms (cf. your great Kathryn Bigelow/Art & Language/Red C/Krayola essay). I also mourn the loss of Mr. Haden, not only the most modern of bassists who helped ensure the instrument could be both unstuck in time while also capable of swinging with the toughest, richest-toned 4/4 feel this side of Mingus. His embrace of such a wide array of music — from his early C&W days on the radio with the Haden Family Band, to the indelible work with Ornette and friends, through the multi-cultural folk songs with the Liberation Music Orchestra, Hank Jones and others, and of course his appearance with the Minutemen in the 80’s that I posted on my Facebook page upon news of his passing — has a significance in global music history that cannot be overestimated.

He was decidedly more outspoken about his survival of junk hell around the time SYNANON was released, having a association with the institution that pre-dated his perhaps-non-appearance (sure does look like him from the front -- the profile view, however, does suggest Rebekah's correct) in the film by several years. Whether or not he played traps on camera in the screen shots above, he did public relations work for them and subsequently helped set up a Synanon residence in New York. He was uniformly positive about the organization and how it had helped countless addicts like himself in an interview with Dan Morgenstern in Downbeat magazine in 1967 — it isn’t available online as far I could tell, outside of a “snippeted” (sp?) excerpt on Google Books of Mr. Morgenstern’s collection Living with Jazz, from which a relevant portion of Charlie’s interview may be found here: http://bit.ly/WDzvmy

RIP, the late, truly great Charlie Haden.

Dave Reaboi

Great post. Thank you. Where can I find the Rafi Zabor interview with Charlie from 84? Is it online somewhere?

Glenn Kenny

It is not online, but it is in the print compilation "The Jazz Musician," co-edited by Mark Rowland, available used via Amazon and other online vendors.

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