NPR

Charlie Haden: A Moment Of Clarity

Charlie Haden's latest album is Come Sunday, a collaboration with the late pianist Hank Jones. (Courtesy of the artist)

Charlie Haden is a legend in jazz music. He started as a singer on his family's country radio show when he was just 2 years old. After losing his voice to polio as a teenager, he found a new voice by picking up the bass. That decision launched a career that spans jazz, country and gospel music.

This week, Charlie Haden was inducted into the National Endowment for the Arts 2012 class of Jazz Masters. He couldn't attend the ceremony at Lincoln Center in New York, so his daughter went and gave the acceptance speech instead. But, speaking with NPR's Rachel Martin, Haden read an excerpt:

"I learned at a very young age that music teaches you about life. When you're in the midst of improvisation, there is no yesterday and no tomorrow — there is just the moment that you are in. In that beautiful moment, you experience your true insignificance to the rest of the universe. It is then, and only then, that you can experience your true significance."

Charlie Haden's latest album, Come Sunday, is a collaboration with the late pianist Hank Jones. Jones died in 2010, three months after recording the 14 spirituals, hymns and folk songs that make up this new recording. Haden says the union of those styles with the cadences and rhythms of jazz was mostly a natural fit.

"When you think about the art form, jazz, coming from this country, and you think about the underground railroad and all the music that came from that struggle, and then all the music coming over from Scotland and Ireland and England into the Appalachian and Ozark mountains — it's all one, really," he says. "And it can only have been born in this country."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Charlie Haden is a legend in jazz music. He started as a singer on his family's country radio show when he was just 2 years old. After losing his voice to polio as a teenager, he found a new voice by picking up the bass.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: His new album of hymns and spirituals, "Come Sunday," was his last collaboration with the late pianist Hank Jones, who passed away in 2010. Charlie Haden was recently inducted as a jazz master by the National Endowment for the Arts, but polio has compromised his voice again, so he couldn't attend the awards ceremony.

PETRA: I'm very honored to accept this award for my dad, Charlie Haden.

MARTIN: So, Haden's daughter Petra went and read his acceptance speech on his behalf.

PETRA: (Reading) I learned at a very young age that music teaches you about life because you are in the midst of improvisation, there is no yesterday and no tomorrow.

CHARLIE HADEN: (Reading) It was just a moment that you were in.

MARTIN: And now, here's Charlie Haden reading to us from that same speech.

HADEN: (Reading) In that beautiful moment, you experience your true insignificance to the rest of the universe. And it is then and only then that you can experience your true significance.

MARTIN: That was lovely. Thank you.

HADEN: Thanks.

MARTIN: Why did "Come Sunday" capture your imagination, this the title track and the title to the album?

HADEN: It's written by Duke Ellington for this church piece called "Black, Brown and Beige," and the lead song in that was "Come Sunday." And it's so beautiful, I thought that would be an appropriate song.

MARTIN: It was made famous by gospel singer Mahalia Jackson in 1943. Let's take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COME SUNDAY")

MAHALIA JACKSON: (Singing) Lord, dear Lord, I've learned. God Almighty, God above...

MARTIN: And now we hear your version with Hank Jones coming in.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COME SUNDAY")

MARTIN: I'd love to hear from you what you think is complimentary about gospel music, about these hymns and the jazz music that you're so famous for. I mean, you can imagine, they're both, to a certain degree, driven by the individual performer's inspiration in that moment. Do you see other connections between those two musical genres?

HADEN: When you think about the art form jazz coming from this country and you think about the Underground Railroad and all the music that came from that struggle, and then you think about all the music coming over from Scotland and Ireland and England into the Appalachian Mountains and the Ozark Mountains where I was born and raised, you know, it's all one really. We can only have been born here in this country.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COME SUNDAY")

MARTIN: Did you go into this understanding that some people out there were going to think these songs were meant to be sung this way, with the organ in the church, and not kind of deconstructed by jazz musicians?

HADEN: Well, Hank told me before we started a lot of these songs were not written to be improvised. They were written, you know, for the church and to be strictly adhered to. And he said if we do anything, we'll just do, like, interpretations of our own feelings about the songs instead, jazz improvisations.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HADEN: You know, a couple of times, Hank looked up at the sky while we were in the studio and he looked up and he said, forgive me, Lord for that flat 13 and the, you know, just the harmonies that go into jazz. And, you know, it was a lot of fun.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: There are moments in this album - I could be hearing things - but it sounds like one of you is kind of humming. Am I right?

HADEN: I think both of us hum a little bit when we play. Most improvising musicians do that, you know, especially ones that used to sing. I came from being a singer going into jazz. And that's one of the things that polio did for me is took away my ability to sing with a range because it paralyzed my vocal chords. So, that's when I started playing. But I hear the music as if I were singing even when I'm playing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: You and Hank Jones recorded all 14 of these tracks included on the album in just two days, which is really incredible. It's a very quick pace. Can you give us a sense of what it was like in the studio?

HADEN: Well, you have to understand, Rachel, I've been doing this a long time. So, it's not frenetic and it's not a mad rush. It's loving the music and playing and enjoying it. In this life that we're in right now, there's a lot of turmoil and strife and we want to bring beauty to the world as much as we can because I think that's one of the responsibilities that the jazz musician feels because he's one of the only art forms that has improvisation and can reach the listener in a way where they can feel the depth of the songs.

MARTIN: You wrote in your liner notes that when you hear Hank Jones play that you can hear the universe, the heavens. What did you learn from him as a musician?

HADEN: I learned about beauty and about death and yet he was 91 when he passed away. I loved asking him questions about the times where I wasn't there. And he'd tell me the stories about Charlie Parker and stories about the jazz life.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Is there any other message that you hope this album reaches people with?

HADEN: I think that everybody should listen to this music because you don't ordinarily hear it in the context of jazz. You know, one of the things my mom used to do - I don't know why she chose me - but she chose me out of her six children to take the African-American church that was in the town that we lived in Springfield, Missouri. And we would go to the church and we would sit in the back row and we would listen to all of the spirituals and the hymns. Then that went into my music. It really inspired me to be a human being that cares about life and that has some passion for living and helping people and giving to people. That's what I tell my students at California Institute of the Arts where I teach for 27 years. I tell them if you strive to be a good person, maybe you might become a great jazz musician.

MARTIN: Charlie Haden's new album with Hank Jones is called "Come Sunday." He joined us from NPR West in Culver City, California. Mr. Haden, it's been a pleasure. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

HADEN: OK. Same to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: And you can hear more from Charlie Haden's new album "Come Sunday" at NPRMusic.org. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Most Popular