[JPL] A Jazz Artist Goes Back to His Roots Music
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Tue Sep 23 11:55:13 EDT 2008
ARTS & ENTERTAINMENTSEPTEMBER 23, 2008
A Jazz Artist Goes Back to His Roots Music
By JIM FUSILLI
For the renowned jazz bassist Charlie Haden, his new country album "Rambling
Boy" (Decca) isn't a departure. It's a return to the music of his youth.
Long before he played alongside Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Carla Bley,
Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny and others, he was Cowboy Charlie, who first
appeared at age 2 on his parents' country-music radio show "Uncle Carl Haden
and the Haden Family." On the new disc, a clip from the show features
2-year-old Cowboy Charlie singing and yodeling, with gentle prodding from
For "Rambling Boy," which includes references obvious and obscure to his
childhood influences, the 71-year-old Mr. Haden is united with another
generation of the Haden Family: his triplets, Rachel, Petra and Tanya; son,
Josh; and wife, Ruth Cameron. They're bolstered by an impressive collection
of friends, including Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Mark Fain,
Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs and Bryan Sutton -- surely the country equivalent
of the jazz musicians with whom Mr. Haden usually keeps company.
Rosanne Cash sings "The Wildwood Flower," a song popularized by Maybelle
Carter, a frequent visitor to the Haden family home in Springfield, Mo.,
back in the 1940s. Dan Tyminski -- who provided the singing voice to George
Clooney's character in the Coen Brothers' film "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"
-- is onboard, as is pop's Elvis Costello and Bruce Hornsby. Mr. Metheny,
with whom Mr. Haden collaborated in 1996 on the lovely "Beyond the Missouri
Sky," plays guitar on, and helped arrange, many of the tunes on the new
"I thought originally it was going to be the kids with my dad," Petra Haden
told me when we met in New York. "But it turned into one big party."
When I met with Charlie Haden later in the day, he told me he began thinking
of recording a country album with his family about 20 years ago when they
gathered in rural Missouri to celebrate his mother's 80th birthday.
"Ruth wanted everybody to be together," said Mr. Haden, whose four children
were joined by his brothers and sisters. "At some point, we were sitting in
mom's cabin and Ruth said, 'Why don't you sing something?' We hadn't sung in
The kids joined in. "Josh and the girls were experimenting. They hadn't sung
with me before," he recalled. "It really sounded great."
As well it might have. All the Hadens are musical. Tanya is a cellist and
vocalist, Josh leads the band Spain, and Rachel played bass with Todd
Rundgren and sang with Beck. Petra, who's played violin with the Foo
Fighters, has recorded several wonderfully idiosyncratic vocal albums,
including a version of the Who's "The Who Sell Out" in which she sings every
sound. Her latest is "Hearts & Daggers" (FU:M) by Miss Murgatroid & Petra
Haden, her two-person project with accordionist and singer Alicia Rose.
Though he kept busy -- fruitfully so -- with his jazz career, Mr. Haden
seemed, after that party at his mother's cabin, to be creeping toward a
return to the music of his youth. He sang a traditional country tune in
public for the first time since childhood on "The Art of the Song," which he
cut with his band Quartet West in 1999. Three years earlier, he and Mr.
Metheny added a bit of country to "Beyond the Missouri Sky" with "The
Precious Jewel," written by Roy Acuff; the traditional tune "He's Gone
Away," which Mr. Haden's mother sang on the old radio program; and Josh
Haden's composition "Spiritual."
³My dad knew so many people: Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers. I was privileged
in my family. It was a normal thing for me to be with famous people.²
On the new album, Josh sings "Spiritual," and in what may be its most
affecting track, Tanya delivers a fragile, heart-wrenching "He's Gone Away."
Fans of "Beyond the Missouri Sky" will love the version of "The Fields of
Athenry" on "Rambling Boy," in which Petra's voice gives way to a skittish,
dazzling solo by Mr. Metheny.
Mr. Haden said he had to cajole at least one member of his family into
participating. "I had to really talk Tanya into it," he told me. "She's
really, really shy. She's not into the music scene like Rachel and Petra.
She's a mother and a painter. But she doesn't picture herself a singer. I
told them, 'I want each of you to do a song of your own.'" Tanya's married
to actor Jack Black, who delivers a rousing reading of the traditional tune
"Old Joe Clark" on the album. Ruth Cameron sings the Irish folk tune "Down
by the Salley Gardens" with delicate grace.
The triplets' sweet harmonies are featured on "Voice From on High," "Single
Girl, Married Girl" and "Seven Year Blues." "I hadn't sung with my sisters
in so long," Petra said. "When we sang together, we were really locked in.
It was really relaxed. Rather than having really strict rehearsals, we just
watched my dad directing everybody. He had the vision. He said, 'I'm getting
the best players' -- and here comes Bruce Hornsby and Pat Metheny, who's my
Petra remembers her father's stories about the country legends he met as a
boy. "He would always refer to Mother Maybelle. She really meant something
to him. He really has a deep connection to this music." As a tribute,
guitarist Bryan Sutton plays Carter's introduction almost note for note on
"The Wildwood Flower."
Mr. Haden said, "My dad knew so many people: Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers.
I was privileged in my family. It was a normal thing for me to be with
famous people." Which made it easier for him to infiltrate the highest level
of modern jazz as a young bassist: "When I decided to play jazz, I made it a
priority to meet the people I wanted to meet." He said he could see through
the veneer of fame and celebrity to appreciate their true gifts.
"Rambling Boy" concludes with a tender reading of "Oh Shenandoah" sung by
Mr. Haden, who was born in Shenandoah, Iowa. "It brought back all the time
with my dad and mom and brothers and sisters, first in Shenandoah and then
in Springfield. I talked to my sister Mary, and she said, 'Charlie, if only
mom could've heard this.'
"And what a treat it was for me to be playing music behind my children," he
added. "It was nice to be with both families again."
Mr. Fusilli is the Journal's rock and pop music critic. Email him at
jfusilli at wsj.com.
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