The Magic Of Charlie Haden

Red Hot Chili Peppers co-founder Flea pays tribute to legendary jazz bassist
  • Photo: Catherine McGann/Getty Images
    Charlie Haden
  • Photo: Juan Naharro Gimenez/Getty Images
July 11, 2014 -- 4:34 pm PDT
By Flea /

(GRAMMY-winning jazz bassist Charlie Haden was honored with The Recording Academy's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013. The original version of the following tribute ran in the 55th GRAMMY Awards program book that year. Haden died July 11 at the age of 76.)

Charlie Haden has made it his life's mission to uplift the lives of others. In my case, he has succeeded dramatically. Time after time, I have listened to his recordings, seen him perform, and been touched by the divine truth. When I put on that first Liberation Music Orchestra record, or The Shape Of Jazz To Come, or the recent Come Sunday, I vibrate with a feeling that gives me hope for humanity, makes my suffering and complaints feel petty, lets me forgive anyone who has ever done me wrong, and most importantly, makes me aspire to create a light of my own, to put something beautiful out into the universe. This is a humble aspiration, to get a little footlight going, to merge in the large planet of glowing by a great like Charlie Haden. But that's what his music does, that's who he is — a person who brings us all together, who reminds us that we are all connected by our highest selves.

Despite the sophistication and technical brilliance of his playing, which comes from a soul enthralled with the folk and country music he grew up on as a toddler, the bebop he fell in love with as a teenager, a highly intelligent mind and body, work ethic disciplined enough to learn it, the countless hours of practicing and studying the music he loved … , despite the highly cerebral music he has played, his music is still for everyone. No matter how far out or evolved he has gotten, his music has always been for all humans, not for academics. His sound is one that touches everyone — it will make you weep, dance like a lunatic, and sit back and listen to the story unfold. The most highly spiritual thing that anyone can do is have faith and be completely in the moment. When Charlie Haden makes music, that's exactly where he is, and that is what enlightenment is.

A few years ago, I had the fortune to play with the great Ornette Coleman. I practiced for months to prepare. I was nervous about it and when the big day came, I was up there with these great jazz musicians with all the chops in the world playing maniacally, and I'm just an uneducated punk rocker, but I did my best. I did OK. I was in awe of Ornette, and did my best to support him with all my heart. A lot of different musicians played that night, all of whom were very well-respected, but at one point, all the many musicians left the stage, Charlie walked on it, and it was just Charlie and Ornette. After all the intense virtuosity that had gone on through the night, Charlie began to play a simple, bluesy, twangy, country riff, a little folk melody, and I felt Ornette really come alive, saw the audience fall into a reverent silence, and Charlie just schooled everybody, shredded everything that came before. He had the ability to play anything, but just came from the gutbucket with the humble truth, and he and Ornette began to dance around each other, and it was the greatest thing I ever saw. These two giants, who turned jazz upside down 50 years earlier, just connecting on the highest level, and the sheer beauty and violence of it reduced me to joyous tears.

When one is playing the kind of improvisational music that Charlie Haden does, he is constantly, through the vehicle of technique and knowledge, channeling magic, the cosmos, letting God speak, whatever you want to call it. To do that at the level of a man like Charlie Haden, one has to have the highest character, the biggest heart, the purest intentions, and utter disregard for commerce. Charlie Haden's motivation has always been to reach for the highest light, brave the depths where one is most vulnerable, to reach that state of ecstasy where time does not exist, where all our world is an illusion, and to bring it on home to us, so we can love. He has done it all his life. I love Charlie Haden and I am so grateful for him. What an awesome f***ing dude.

(Six-time GRAMMY winner Flea is a co-founder of Red Hot Chili Peppers. Their most recent album is 2011's I'm With You.)

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