Charlie Haden 1937-2014
GROSS: Let's get back to our 2008 interview with jazz bassist Charlie Haden, after he released an album called "Rambling Boy," which returned to his country music roots.
Charlie, the last track on your CD is you singing, and people who have followed your career know that although you sang as a boy with your family on their country music radio show, polio affected your voice and your vocal cords and stopped you from singing. But a few years ago, you recorded a track again, "Wayfaring Stranger," and you sing again on the final track on this CD. And the song is "Shenandoah," which is also the name of the place where you were born. This kind of tears me up every time I hear it. Tell me why you chose this song as the one that you would sing on the CD and what this song means to you.
Mr. CHARLIE HADEN: It means a tribute to my parents who were traveling around the United States before I was born, auditioning on all the big radio stations with my brothers and sister. And they were on their way to Des Moines, Iowa, do an audition, and there was a blizzard, and they stopped in Shenandoah at a motel. And while we were there, my dad went over to the radio station in Shenandoah and auditioned and got the job. And they stayed in Shenandoah for four years, and that's where I was born, and that's where I started singing with them.
And the two rare times I've sung since, you know, I've been in contemporary music is the "Wayfaring Stranger," which was with Quartet West and Shirley Horn, and Strings.
And then this time, and they were both a tribute to my parents. I don't sing these songs as a singer. I sing it in tribute and thanking my mom and dad for making this music and creating this music and my being a part of it and it being inside my soul. And I want to thank them, you know, whenever I can thank them. And this is the way that I can thank them because I know they hear this -they hear this. So that's why.
GROSS: You know, I always say that you're the most melodic and emotional bass player I've ever heard. And I think that that must have something to do with the fact that you grew up with this - that you grew up with melody and harmony and songs about life and death and love and loss. I mean, that's just - it's so deep inside of you.
Mr. CHARLIE HADEN: Yes. The music, you know, both of the indigenous art forms in music that come to the United States, you know, hillbilly music and folk music came over from England and Scotland and Ireland into the Appalachian Mountains and the Ozark Mountains where I was raised. And then, my attraction to jazz was, of course, the struggle of the African slave and the Underground Railroad and the music that evolved from that struggle.
And it seems like, you know, beautiful music, if it's from the United States or wherever it is, it can be from Bulgaria, it can be from Spain, it can it comes from a struggle, you know, of people either in poverty or trying to a struggle for freedom. And so this music is very, very melodic. It's filled with wonderful chords and voicings and harmonies, and I grew up with these harmonies. And I'm so lucky because this was my early musical education, and I feel very fortunate.
GROSS: Just one more thing about your singing. I know there was a long period when you physically couldn't sing because of the polio that you got when you were young. When you sing now, what does it feel like physically to sing?
Mr. CHARLIE HADEN: It's very difficult for me because intonation is one of the priorities in my life is to play the music in tune, and I don't use my voice every day the way a lot of singers do, you know, who are professional singers. When I did the "Wayfaring Stranger," I hadn't sung in 40 years or whatever, you know, since I was 15. And so - and I didn't practice, you know. And so I got in the studio and just sang. And it was - I think I did one take or maybe two. And on "Shenandoah," I was kind of nervous because I wanted to be in tune, and then I started thinking, you know, I'm doing this for Mom and Dad. I'm not doing this, you know, to be a great singer. I just want to do this, and so I just relaxed and did it. But whatever.
GROSS: Well, I find it incredibly moving and I'm so glad that you sang it. So, let's hear Charlie Haden singing "Shenandoah" from his new CD, "Charlie Haden: Family and Friends." And Charlie, it's just been great to have you back on the show and to talk with your family. Thank you so very much.
Mr. CHARLIE HADEN: Thank you, Terry, so much for inviting us.
http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript ... =129476067
Charlie Haden, Wayfaring Stranger, 1999, from The Art of Song
I'm a poor wayfaring stranger
While traveling thru this world of woe
Yet there's no sickness, toil, or danger
In that bright world to which I go
I'm going there to see my Father
I'm going there no more to roam
I'm only going over Jordan
I'm only going over home
I know dark clouds will hang 'round me,
I know my way is rough and steep
Yet beauteous fields lie just before me
Where God's redeemed their virgils keep
I'm going there to see my mother
She said she'd meet me when I come
I'm only going over Jordan
I'm only going over home
Regarding how Charlie Haden came to sing "Wayfaring Stranger"
I saved for last what I think may be the most moving example of someone singing a little during a Fresh Air interview. I was talking to the great jazz bass player and composer Charlie Haden in 1997 after the release of his Quartet West album "Now Is the Hour." The title track is the farewell song of the Maori people of New Zealand, but Charlie Haden new it as a pop song on the radio during World War II, when it became about waiting for soldiers who had gone to war. The Quartet West track is an instrumental, but I wanted to hear the lyrics.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
GROSS: Would you sing the song as you remembered it?
CHARLIE HADEN: Well, I'll try. (Singing) Now is the hour when we must say goodbye. Soon you'll be singing far across the sea. While you're away oh then remember me. When you return you'll find me waiting here.
GROSS: That's a really lovely song.
GROSS: Charlie Haden, recorded on FRESH AIR in 1997. I'd never heard him sing before. I later learned it was the first time he sang in public in 45 years. As a child, he sang on his parents' country music radio show, when he stopped singing at the age of 15 after polio temporarily paralyzed the left side of his face and his vocal cords.
According to the liner notes Orrin Keepnews wrote for a Haden album two years after our interview, it was because I persuaded him to sing on FRESH AIR and then urged him to sing on his next album that he actually did. He sang "Wayfaring Stranger" on his 1999 album "The Art of Song." I can't tell you how proud that makes me because I love Charlie Haden's singing.
Charlie Haden sings at about the 28:00 minute mark on the webpage above.
I cannot locate a transcript of the 1999 interview, but in it, Haden talks about the recording sessions and how he had to "convince" his manager to let him sing on the recording.
He still wasn't quite sure of the result. The great pianist and vocalist Shirley Horn, who is also on the record, was listening along with the other musicians to the playback and told him, "Charlie, everyone in the string section is crying..."
Bill Frisell, Embraceable You, 2013?
Jon Cleary, History of New Orleans Piano
Bill Kirchen, Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues
Note the references to Charlie McCoy's guitar playing on "Desolation Row".
Bill Kirchen with Arlen Roth, Lonesome Fugitive (Merle Haggard)
Not an example of humor, but here's another live track which I prefer to Gram Parsons and Emmylou.
Bill Kirchen, Streets of Baltimore
The loud and inattentive audience somehow makes the rendition more moving. It's almost as if they were playing "Lodi" instead