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Partial Elegy for Charlie Haden

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The great Charlie Haden passed away Friday, July 11, and tributes of all kinds have been appearing over the past two days. I hadn’t really realized how many records in my collection Charlie Haden had appeared on; his bass playing, his sound, has been a pivotal and essential part of much of my listening. I saw him a few times in concert. Once, with his Quartet West on a double bill with John Scofield’s quartet at the Orpheum in Vancouver; and once, very memorably, with Geri Allen and Paul Motian in Montreal, as part of the 1989 invitational series. I wanted to write something in his memory; for some reason, I found myself thinking of the Kurt Weill/Ogden Nash standard “Speak Low,” an evocative version of which Charlie Haden performed with Sharon Freeman for Lost in the Stars, a Hal Willner tribute to Kurt Weill. The song leads back to Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, but I have also recently been pretty heavily under the sway of Nathaniel Mackey’s word music, so some echoes of that must have found their way into this piece. It was composed very quickly, so I’m sure there are a few rough edges and infelicities, but I’ll leave them in to honour the improvisational drift of Charlie Haden’s music.
Partial Elegy for Charlie Haden
Already gone too soon, other than him
who in this fraught hereafter could have named
the ruminant lumber his instrument
had been assembled from? Dark-toned boxwood,
hickory, lacquered spruce. Coaxing a deep
murmur from heavy-gauge strings, propounding
their full-bodied, hefty resonances,
he re-curved chthonic rumble into line
and cadence, his trademark over-fingered
pizz and tectonic double-stops marking
the thick eddies where sound and purled silence
abutted, then let go: a politics
of left-leaning, strung-out torch-songs that tell
you, “Speak low if you mean to speak at all.”


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