Charlie Haden’s Piano Duos at the Blue Note, August 7-12
Contributed by Andrea Canter, Contributing EditorLiving Legend of jazz bass Charlie Haden hosts an “Invitational Series” of piano duos over the coming week at the Blue Note in Manhattan (August 7-12). His partners will include a cross generational mix of outstanding keyboardists, including Kenny Barron (August 7), Ethan Iverson (August 8), Paul Bley (August 9) and Brad Mehldau (August 10-12).
Considered one of the greatest-ever jazz bassists, Charlie Haden’scareer spans five decades. As a mere toddler in his native Shenondoah, Iowa, Charlie sang on his parents’ country & western radio show, and started playing bass in his early teens. Since arriving in Los Angeles in the late 50s where he first performed with Art Pepper, Hampton Hawes, Dexter Gordon, and Paul Bley, Haden has proven himself to be one of the most creative jazz musicians. His work with Ornette Coleman was visionary, as was his work with Keith Jarrett and Carla Bley, with whom he founded the seminal project, the Liberation Music Orchestra, in the late 60s. He later was a founding member of Old and New Dreams. Haden has since explored world music, film noire, performed in acclaimed duo with Pat Metheny, and has maintained Quartet West over two decades.
For his stint at the Blue Note, Haden has invited a series of pianists who have made diverse contributions to modern jazz:
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Haden was invited to establish the jazz studies program at California Institute of the Arts in 1982. Among his many honors are the Los Angeles Jazz Society prize for “Jazz Educator of the Year,” two Grammy Awards (and many nominations), winning myriad Down Beat readers and critics polls, a Guggenheim fellowship, four NEA grants for composition, France’s Grand Prix Du Disque (Charles Cros) Award, Japan’s SWING Journal Gold, Silver and Bronze awards, and the Montreal Jazz Festival’s Miles Davis Award.
Philadelphia has spawned many jazz legends, and Barron is no exception. First discovering the family’s old upright piano as a young child, he began playing by ear, turning professional as a teen in Mel Melvin’s band, alongside his late brother, tenor saxophonist Bill Barron. He then joined forces with Philly Jo Jones before moving to New York at 19 to work with Roy Haynes, Lee Morgan and James Moody. Hired by Dizzy Gillespie, Barron developed his affinity for Latin and Caribbean rhythms during his five years with the bop trumpet master. Working with Yusef Lateef in the 70s, Barron developed his improvisational skills and was encouraged to complete his education, earning a BA in music from Empire State College and taking a position on the faculty of Rutgers University, which he held until 2000. His prolific recording career took off in the mid 70s, and he has now appeared as a leader on over 40 recordings. Collaborations in the late 70s with Ron Carter and Buster Willliams, and in the 1980s with Charlie Rouse (“Sphere”) and Stan Getz, culminated in the Grammy nominated People Time in 1992, which was followed by eight more nominations over the next decade. Barron has consistently been named Best Pianist of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association and was a finalist for the Danish Jazzpar International Jazz Prize in 2001. Possessing what the Boston Herald describes as “one of the most fertile imaginations and pleasing sounds in jazz,” Barron cites Tommy Flanagan and Hank Jones—their “light touch, very lyrical”—as primary influences, as well as horn players such as Wayne Shorter.
Paul Bley (August 9). A Montreal native long-associated with the avant-guard and celebrated for his pioneering work with synthesizers in jazz, Bley started out on violin, moving on the piano and graduating from the McGill Conservatory at age 11. Before moving to New York to study composition and conducting at Julliard, he had replaced Oscar Peterson as the pianist at the Alberta Lounge and had founded the Montreal Jazz Workshop. By 20 he had recorded with Oscar Pettiford, played with Charlie Parker, and formed a trio with Charles Mingus and At Blakey. In the late 50s he formed a quintet with Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Billy Higgins, and Charlie Haden, and also played with Sonny Rollins, Lester Young, Chet Baker and Jimmy Giuffre. Bley became a member of the latter’s famed trio in the early 60s as well as Rollins’ quartet, and went on to participate in the Jazz Composers Guild with first wife, Carol Bley. During the 60s he also played and recorded with his own acclaimed trio with Gary Peacock and Paul Motian. In the 70s he became a proponent of synthesizers and electronic keyboards, playing often in duo with vocalist (second wife) Annette Peacock. His Scorpio electronic project fostered the recording debuts of Pat Metheny and Jaco Pastorius. Later in his career, Bley formed a video recording company to promote live jazz performance (Improvising Artists, Inc.), joined the faculty of the New England Conservatory of Music, and has continued to record and perform. In Downbeat (1985), Jon Balleras noted, "A charter member of the jazz avant garde, pianist Paul Bley has stood steadfast, even during his experiments with electronic keyboards, in the service of his own demanding music.”
Brad Mehldau (August 10-12). One of the most formidable pianists of his generation, Brad Mehldau studied with Fred Hersch, Kenny Werner and Junior Mance at the New School in New York. Strongly influenced by Coltrane and Jarrett, he held the piano chair for Joshua Redman in the mid 90s before forming his acclaimed trio with Larry Grenadier and Jorge Rossey (replaced later with Jeff Ballard). Both an improviser and formalist, Melhdau has recorded and toured with Charlie Haden and Lee Konitz; and played sideman to Wayne Shorter, John Scofield, and Charles Lloyd. His key collaborators in recent years have included guitarists Peter Bernstein and Kurt Rosenwinkel and tenor saxophonist Mark Turner. Beyond jazz, Mehldau has appeared on Willie Nelson’s Teatro and singer-songwriter Joe Henry’s Scar, provided music for films including Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and Wim Wender’s Million Dollar Hotel, and composed an original soundtrack for the French film Ma femme est une actrice. Recent projects have included a commission from Carnegie Hall to compose and perform songs for voice and piano, featuring the classical soprano, Renée Flemming (Love Sublime), and duo and quartet recordings with Pat Metheny. He also appears on the late Michael Brecker’s posthumous release, Pilgrimage.
This special week at the Blue Note warrants repeated visits—at least four to enjoy Charlie Haden’s collaborations with each of these titans of the keyboard.
The Blue Note is located in Greenwich Village at 131 W Third St. (between 6th & MacDougal); 212-475-8592; www.bluenotejazz.com.