The most basic details about the lives and careers of double bassist Charlie Haden and pianist Hank Jones don’t prophesy intersection: Jones turns 90 next July. He was born in Mississippi and raised in Michigan, though his piano led him to New York by the end of World War II. While Jones was Ella Fitzgerald’s piano accompanist from 1948 to 1953, a boy in Shenandoah, Iowa, was just outgrowing the moniker “Little Cowboy Charlie.”
Charlie Haden grew up singing traditional and country and western tunes on the radio with his family. A bout with polio, a consequential introduction to bass and an obsession with jazz followed. By the time Haden was 22, he’d moved to Los Angeles, introduced himself to Ornette Coleman and followed the saxophonist to New York to join his quartet. In that free-jazz starship alongside Coleman, Don Cherry and Billy Higgins, Haden became Coleman’s essential foil, or what John Litweiler calls in his The Freedom Principle: Jazz After 1958 “another virtuoso of rhythmic spontaneity.” He was a quarter of the left channel on Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation by the Ornette Coleman Double Quartet, alongside Eric Dolphy’s bass clarinet. A long way from Fitzgerald and Hawkinsand Jones, right?
Remember, though, that session gets Haden and Jones up to 1960: Haden was 23; Jones, 42. The next three and a half decades saw Haden leading the Liberation Music Orchestra and his Quartet West, while Jones worked as a top-tier sideman and collaborator with the likes of Ron Carter and Jimmy Carter. Then, in 1995, with Jones pushing 80 and Haden nearing 60, they gathered in the studio as a duet, recording Steal Away. They combined their roots and explored them anew, their interplay recasting “Danny Boy,” “Wade in the Water” and “We Shall Overcome.” They didn’t meet at the middle as much as they met near the beginning, and the result was pure, plain, eloquent and complex. See this.
Charlie Haden and Hank Jones present Steal Away: Spirituals, Hymns and Folk Songs at Reynolds Industries Theater, Sunday, Sept. 30 at 7 p.m.