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Charlie Haden: From 'Ramblin" To 'Ramblin' Boy'

Charlie Haden has many passions in his life — film noir, politics, literature — that inform the various kinds of music he performs.
Rafa Rivas
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Getty Images
Charlie Haden has many passions in his life — film noir, politics, literature — that inform the various kinds of music he performs.

In this installment of Take Five, we wish a happy birthday to one of the greatest bassists in jazz: Charlie Haden, born Aug. 6, 1937, in Shenandoah, Iowa.

Haden began performing as a singer in his family's country band when he was 22 months old. In his teens, he developed an interest in the acoustic bass — which would become his musical voice from then on — but his interests quickly took him far beyond his country/western roots. In 1957, Haden moved to Los Angeles and soon found himself present for the birth of free jazz when he joined the Ornette Coleman Quartet, which also featured trumpeter Don Cherry and drummer Billy Higgins.

Since that time, Haden has played in many musical contexts, and has seemingly never tired of exploring and expressing himself through the world's tapestry of musical forms. As with so many great artists, his work reflects his other passions in life: the literature, films and people that have influenced him, as well as world events and politics.

Some people are said to "follow a path" in their creative lives, but a path is not enough for Charlie Haden. For more than 50 years, he's been building his own musical freeway. To follow him down that freeway is one of the richest experiences in American music. In this list, we visit just a few of the stops along the way so far; with Haden at the wheel, there's no telling what's around the corner. After all, he's a Grammy Award-winning bassist who's spent a half-century on the cutting edge of jazz, and whose latest Grammy nomination was for Best Country Instrumental (for his 2008 Americana record, Ramblin' Boy). There's no second-guessing a guy like that.

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Nick Morrison