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Fresh Air's summer music interviews: Jazz great Charlie Haden

Haden grew up singing in his family's country music radio shows but turned to the bass when polio damaged his vocal cords. He died in 2014. Originally broadcast between 1983 and 2008.

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Other segments from the episode on August 30, 2022

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 30, 2022: Interview with Charlie Haden; Review of TV show 'The Patient.'

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. This week, we're featuring some of our favorite music interviews from our archive. Today, we'll hear several interviews with Charlie Haden, the preeminent bass player of his generation and one of the greatest bass players in the history of jazz. We'll hear interviews spanning from 1983 to 2008. He died in 2014. Haden played a remarkable range of music. He was born in Shenandoah, Iowa, and grew up in Missouri. From the age of 2 until he was 15, he sang on his family's country music radio show. He had to stop singing when polio affected his vocal chords. That's when he got serious about playing bass. Although he was brought up on traditional music, he made his reputation in jazz, helping lead a musical revolution in the late 1950s and early '60s as a member of the Ornette Coleman Quartet.

In 1969, he launched his own group, the Liberation Music Orchestra, which performed music inspired by liberation movements around the world. In the '80s, he founded the group Quartet West, drawing inspiration from film noir and jazz and pop singers of the '40s and '50s. In 2008, he made an album with his three daughters, his wife and son, performing the kind of country music he sang as a child. Here's Haden in 1959, featured on the groundbreaking Ornette Coleman Quartet album "The Shape Of Jazz To Come." This is Ornette Coleman's composition, "Lonely Woman," with Charlie Haden on bass.

(SOUNDBITE OF ORNETTE COLEMAN'S "LONELY WOMAN")

GROSS: The first time I spoke with Charlie Haden, in 1983, I asked him what kind of jazz he was playing before he met Ornette Coleman.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

CHARLIE HADEN: Bebop and blues and standards and bird tunes, loving every minute of it, learning the language. It was very exciting. And at one point, when I was first beginning to do that in Los Angeles, I started to hear other things to play when it would come time for me solo. And I wanted sometimes to play on the inspiration that a tune that I received from a certain composition instead of on the chord structure. But when I tried to do this, a lot of musicians wouldn't know where I was, and they would become very upset with me. So I had to be careful when I did this because I didn't want to have any hard feelings, but I was definitely hearing other ways of improvising. I wasn't satisfied so much with playing just on chord structures.

Then I met someone who was doing this as a way of life. It was Ornette, and it was like a revelation to me because here was someone who was playing this way as a way of life. He was playing this way years before I had met him. And he invited me to his apartment, his little room in LA. And this was in 1957. I was 19 years old, and we played all day long. And he had a room full of music strewn all over the floor, the walls, the ceiling. He was constantly writing music, and he told me before we started to play, he said, Charlie, I've written these pieces now, and here's the chord changes. Now, these are the chord changes that I heard inside myself when I was writing the melody. But these are just a guide for you. I want you to be inspired from them and create your own chord structure from the inspiration or from the feeling of what I've written. And that way, constantly a new chord structure will be evolving, and we will be constantly modulating. And we'll be listening to each other, and we will make some exciting music. And that's exactly what happened.

GROSS: Were you surprised at how controversial the music was when you started playing it? You know, a lot of people couldn't handle it all, musicians, listeners.

CHARLIE HADEN: I was very involved in learning about the playing. We were all involved because it was a brand-new language. We didn't even think of it as being a brand-new language. We only thought of it as we're hearing something, and we got to play it. There was a lot of controversy around us when we opened up at the Five Spot in New York. Fights used to break out right in the club. People would be putting us down. People would be praising us. The club was packed every night with everybody from different parts of the art world - painters, famous writers, filmmakers, dancers, musicians. I would look out and standing at the bar would be Paul Chambers, Percy Heath, Charlie Mingus, and they would be looking dead in my eye, you know, and saying, oh, OK, what are you going to do?

I would be playing and have my eyes closed. And one night, I opened my eyes, and there was Leonard Bernstein with his ear glued to the front of my instrument. And I looked over at Orenette. I said, what is this? He says, I'll tell you later. And then we were invited to Leonard Bernstein's table. He invited us to the Philharmonic rehearsals, and he couldn't believe that I was self-taught, and he wanted to try and get me to study music. And he was very helpful in me getting a Guggenheim fellowship 10 years later in composition. It was like that every night. It was very exciting. The violence wasn't exciting. I mean, people - one guy set somebody's car on fire one night. I remember somebody came back in the kitchen - we were standing, talking with Ornette, and - I won't say who it was and hit Ornette in the face, you know. I mean, it was really - new things were happening not only in music but in people's minds every night from that music.

GROSS: We'll hear more of my 1983 interview with Charlie Haden later in the show. Let's hear him on the Ornette Coleman album "Change Of The Century," which was released in 1960. This track, "Ramblin'", features one of Haden's most famous solos, on which, in a nod to his country music roots, he quotes the song "Old Joe Clark."

(SOUNDBITE OF ORNETTE COLEMAN'S "RAMBIN'")

GROSS: After Charlie Haden became famous for playing revolutionary jazz with Ornette Coleman, he started a group in 1969 playing music inspired by political revolutionary movements. He called it the Liberation Music Orchestra. The group's first album included a Haden original called "Song For Che." He was arrested for playing it when he performed it with Ornette Coleman in Portugal in 1971. At the time, the country was led by the authoritarian Prime Minister Marcelo Caetano. Haden told me the story when we spoke in 1983.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

CHARLIE HADEN: We were playing with the Newport Jazz Festival Tour of Europe, which included Duke Ellington's band and Miles Davis and a lot of people, Giants of Jazz, which included Art Blakey and Monk and Sonny Stitt and Al McKibbon and Kai Winding and Dizzy Gillespie. And it was really a very exciting tour, but the last place that we were playing out of 14 countries was in Portugal. And I went to Ornette as soon as I saw it on the itinerary, and I said, I'm not playing. And he said, well, we've signed the contract. We you should play. You know, you'll get me in trouble if we don't play.

So I decided to play, but what I did was we played one of my - we played a song for Che on the concert. And before we played it, I dedicated it to the Black liberation movements in Mozambique and Angola and Guinea-Bissau. It was in a hockey stadium in Cascais outside of Lisbon. And there were 20,000 people there, most of whom were young students and were ready to hear something like that. And they started chanting. And all hell broke loose as soon as I made the dedication. And police were running around with machine guns and trying to get order. And there was cheering. You couldn't even hear the song, there was so much cheering.

We were playing for an audience also that were in sympathy with Caetano. There were people there in $10 seats who were in sympathy with what was happening with the fascist regime. And those are the people I didn't want to play for. And I wanted them to know why. I wouldn't have been able to live with myself if I played and not done anything. So the thing that happened was what I had feared would happen, was that I was arrested afterwards and - at the airport. They took me into custody and took me to the political headquarters of the PIDE and interrogated me through the night. And I was very frightened and very scared. And I guess that's the most frightened I've ever been.

GROSS: What did they interrogate you about? What did they want to know?

CHARLIE HADEN: Well, I mean, what they really want to do is to beat me up, to make me see that I can't do that. You know, I'm a foreigner in their land invading their privacy and their political ideology. And I have no right to do that. They were very upset. You know, they knew that I was an American jazz musician. And I had an American passport. It's one of the first things I said, you know, when they arrested me. I said, listen, I have an American passport. Call my embassy. And the guy looked at me, one of the plainclothes men, and he said, this is a Sunday, and the American Embassy is closed - smiling, you know, knowing that I couldn't reach anyone. Ornette, as it turned out, after they took me away, remained at the airport and tried to reach the American ambassador who wouldn't do anything. He said that the American government had very many economic and political dealings with Portugal, that the main naval base was there. And it was very embarrassing to the government what I had said and that I was on my own.

Later, he persuaded them to send the cultural attache to the prison to retrieve me. And I was very happy. My wife had just given birth to triplets back in New York. And it was a very traumatic birth. And I was going to cancel the European tour before I even left New York, and she persuaded me to go. And then after I was arrested, I thought maybe I'd never see my kids. You know, I was really actually crying, you know. And I didn't know whether I would even live or not. But now, looking back on it, even though it was very scary and very frightening, I know I would do it again. And I'm glad that I did it. And especially after they invited me back when they elected a new government there, and they invited me to come and play at the festival of the Communist, Avanti. I went and played with some French musicians that I had never played with before in front of 40,000 people. When I started to play, when I came out on the stage, people started chanting my name, 40,000 people, Charlie, Charlie. And it was really unbelievable feeling to hear that, you know.

GROSS: Charlie Haden recorded in 1983. Here's a track from Haden's first Liberation Music Orchestra album. This is "Song For The United Front," written by Hanns Eisler and Bertolt Brecht.

(SOUNDBITE OF LIBERATION MUSIC ORCHESTRA'S "SONG FOR THE UNITED FRONT")

GROSS: Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra, recorded in 1969. Remember how Haden explained that his triplet daughters were born shortly before he was arrested in Portugal? After a break, we'll hear how the triplets sounded singing beautiful harmonies together on a Charlie Haden album from 2008. And we'll hear an excerpt of the interview Haden recorded that year about singing on his parents' country music radio show. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. The next interview we're going to hear with the great jazz player and composer Charlie Haden was recorded in 2008. From the ages of 2 to 15, Haden sang on his family's country music radio show. In 2008, he returned to that music on his album, "Rambling Boy," which featured vocals by his triplet daughters his son, his son-in-law Jack Black, and his wife, Ruth Cameron. Here's a track with Haden and the triplets.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A VOICE FROM ON HIGH")

THE HADEN TRIPLETS: (Singing) I hear a voice calling. It must be our Lord. It's coming from heaven on high. I hear a voice calling. I've gained a reward in the land where we never shall die.

GROSS: That's Charlie Haden and his triplet daughters - Tanya, Petra and Rachel - from Haden's album, "Rambling Boy." When I spoke with him after the album was released in 2008, I asked him about the biggest surprise on the album - this recording of him at the age of 2, singing on his family's country music radio show, where he was nicknamed Cowboy Charlie. He's introduced by his father.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OLD HADEN FAMILY SHOW")

CARL HADEN: Honey, say good morning to all the little boy and girls. Say, hello, all you little boys and girls.

CHARLIE HADEN: Hi, little boys and girls.

CARL HADEN: Say, I'm just fine.

CHARLIE HADEN: I'm fine.

CARL HADEN: Just fine. And say, I've got a brand-new song to sing for you this morning.

CHARLIE HADEN: I got a new song to sing.

CARL HADEN: This morning.

CHARLIE HADEN: This morning.

(LAUGHTER)

CARL HADEN: There you are. All right, Little Charlie has had so many, many requests to sing that dandy little song, "Row Us Over The Tide." And then Mama's going to take him out and get his big bottle of soda pop. So you sing real loud and nice - you hear? - and a nice yodel. All right.

CHARLIE HADEN: (Singing) Row us over the tide, row us over the tide. Papa and Mama - (vocalizing). Row us over the tide.

CARL HADEN: Yodel loud.

CHARLIE HADEN: (Yodeling).

CARL HADEN: All right. Thank you, honey friend. That was little 2-year-old Cowboy Charles Edward singing "Row Us Over The Tide."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: That is just about the most adorable thing I've ever heard, (laughter) especially the yodel. What goes through your mind when you hear it?

CHARLIE HADEN: I remember being there, and I remember my mother holding me, my dad telling me, you know, he's going to go get me a big bottle of soda pop if I sing. You know, it brings back really wonderful memories to me. And of course, that's a radio show from 1939, which was really edited to get it on the record. We didn't have that much space, so you don't hear the commercials my father was giving, you know, for Wait's Green Mountain Cough Syrup and Sparklight Cereal (ph) and Allstate Insurance and all the songs that my brothers and sisters sang. And the song that you hear me singing and yodeling is really cut very short. You don't hear the verse. You just hear the chorus right before I yodel.

GROSS: How old do you think you were before you could sing on pitch? (Laughter).

CHARLIE HADEN: Well, my mom told me this story. She was rocking me to sleep. I'm 22 months old. And she's humming all these hillbilly songs. And all of a sudden, I start humming the harmony, and she said, wow, you're ready for the show.

GROSS: God, that's so amazing (laughter). So, Charlie, would you share one of your favorite memories of your family's country radio show from when you were, you know, a child?

CHARLIE HADEN: Every day was like a great experience for me. I just loved it. I - you know, when we were in Shenandoah, we were there until I was 4, and then we moved to Springfield, Mo. My dad got a farm near my grandmother's, near his mother's place. And we did our radio show from the farmhouse. And my brothers and sisters would go out and do the chores, milk the cows and come in, have breakfast, and my dad would crank the phone on the wall to let the engineer in Springfield know that we were ready to go on the air. And we'd do the show. And every day was like a wonder to me. You know, I just loved it.

And then we moved to Springfield, and we did all the shows from KWTO Studios, which was - I loved that so much. I couldn't wait to get there. The double-glass windows and the acoustic tile and the air conditioning and all the entertainers and - you know, that I met. I can't really pinpoint one day; I can just pinpoint the whole thing.

GROSS: What made you think of doing a family album of your own?

CHARLIE HADEN: Of course, this music's been inside me since I stopped country music and started in jazz when I was 15. And I have this music in me, inside me. And I have always thought about playing and singing again. I had to stop singing when I was 15 'cause I had bulbar polio that paralyzed my vocal cords, and that's when I started playing. And when I play jazz, the folk and hillbilly music comes out of me in one way or another in different improvisational ways. And of course, I hadn't done any country music since I was 15. And I was, you know, a little bit apprehensive and a little bit nervous about whether I could really pull this off. You know, I'm a jazz musician for 50 years.

So the first rehearsal we had over at the house with Ruth and the kids, and I was, you know, blown over about how great they were. I mean, they all sang with such great intonation. I played all these Stanley Brothers songs for them and the Carter Family songs and Jimmy Martin, and they just took to it as if they'd been doing it every day, you know, the girls and Josh.

GROSS: Charlie Haden, recorded in 2008. We'll continue our interviews with him in the second half of the show. It's part of our weeklong retrospective of some of our favorite music interviews from our archive. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEVEN YEAR BLUES")

CHARLIE HADEN FAMILY AND FRIENDS: (Singing) Just seven years ago today was when you said goodbye. It broke my heart to see you go, and yet I could not cry. You kissed me sweet and said goodbye, but I could not believe that you would ever make me cry, unwanted and to grieve. The sun is slowly sinking down to...

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. We're continuing our weeklong series of some of our favorite interviews with musicians from our archive. Today, we're listening back to my conversations with the great jazz bass player Charlie Haden. He got off to a musical start at the age of 2, singing on his family's country music radio show. In the late '50s, he kicked off a jazz revolution, playing with the original Ornette Coleman Quartet. He also played beautiful, melodious music. He was incredibly versatile, but one constant was he played from the heart.

This is an excerpt of our 1992 interview when he released his album "Haunted Heart" with his band Quartet West. The album featured standards and original compositions, evoking the atmosphere of classic film noir and the Los Angeles of the 1940s, as described by Raymond Chandler. Haden moved to LA from Missouri in 1956. Our interview started with this track "Lady In The Lake" written by Alan Broadbent, who's featured on piano.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: Hmm.

CHARLIE HADEN: I've always felt that I was born in the wrong era, really. I wanted to be friends with John Garfield, for instance. He was one of the only actors that refused to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee back in the - when the Hollywood Ten was happening, McCarthy period. And I wish I could have been friends with Charlie Parker and played with him. You know, that's my period. I feel real close to the '40s. And actually, I was born in '37, so I was a kid singing on the radio in the '40s. But I always dreamed of going to big cities. You know, I'm from the Midwest, and I used to stand in front of the mirror with my brother's raincoat on and my dad's hat and dream that I was in New York on Broadway, you know, walking down the street at night.

GROSS: That's great. In the liner notes for the new Quartet West album, you quote a passage from the Raymond Chandler 1949 novel, "The Little Sister." This is a passage about how Los Angeles was changed by Hollywood. Reading that passage about how Los Angeles was changing made me wonder what Los Angeles was like for you when you left the Midwest as a young man to go to Los Angeles.

CHARLIE HADEN: I had been raised, you know, in the Midwest and in a small-town, rural kind of thing. And getting into LA was kind of an overwhelming experience for me. It was very, very exciting and very wonderful. And I started playing right away with very, very good musicians, which was lucky for me because I found out as I went along that the way you really learn the art form of jazz is to learn it from musicians who are really great and are dedicated to the art form. And I merged into the nightlife very quickly and started playing so much that I had to drop out of school because I was cutting classes in the mornings. I was getting home very late and sleeping late. And my career just took off from there as far as, you know, playing with people like Hampton Hawes and Sonny Clark and Dexter Gordon and Art Pepper and then Paul Bley and then Ornette.

GROSS: Did you leave home? Or did your family come with you to Los Angeles?

CHARLIE HADEN: Oh, no. I left home. I loved, you know, Missouri and - but it was a very racist part of the country, and I couldn't leave fast enough, to tell you the truth. I knew that there was nothing I could do to make it better while I was there. If I wanted to make it better and improve the country, I had to do it through the music. And in order to do that, I had to go somewhere where the music was happening. And I left.

GROSS: You know what I find really interesting? Your first records with Ornette Coleman were regarded as very far-out, very avant-garde, like nothing that had come before, very controversial - not only in jazz, but even people who didn't listen to much jazz found it controversial. And listening to this record and hearing you talk about it, you know, I get a sense of someone who's, really, very much steeped in the past as well. And, you know, you said that you sometimes wish that you had, you know, been part of the '40s, you know, that you thought you were in the wrong era. And I find it kind of paradoxical that on the one hand, you know, your music has been so forward-looking. And on the other hand, you feel so rooted and even nostalgic for the past.

CHARLIE HADEN: Mmm-hmm. Well, I think it's very important to live in the present. One of the great things that improvising teaches you is the magic of the moment that you're in and the importance of living in the moment. The artist is very lucky because in an art form that's spontaneous like that, that's when you really see your true self, you know? And that's why, you know, when I put down my instrument, the challenge - that's when the challenge starts. Because to live - to learn how to be that kind of human being at that level that you are when you're playing or when you're approaching playing, that's the key. You know, that's the hard part. And when I put my instrument down, I am in trouble. You know, I try to live up to that level of being a musician and being close to music. But as far as being nostalgic, I think it's important to remember beautiful things in the past.

GROSS: Bass player and composer Charlie Haden recorded in 1992. We'll hear a 1996 interview with him after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLIE HADEN'S "THE INTERLUDE (DRINKING MUSIC)")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Today, as part of our weeklong series of interviews with musicians from our archive, we're featuring several interviews with the late bass player, composer and bandleader Charlie Haden. This next interview is from 1996, after the release of another album by Haden's band, "Quartet West." Haden loved songs and singers. As a child, he sang on his family's country music radio show. But at the age of 15, he got polio and had to stop singing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

CHARLIE HADEN: I had bulbar polio, which - there was an epidemic going on in '52. We were in Omaha, Neb. We had a television show there. This was right before my dad retired from music. And I got this virus. And it paralyzed - I was really lucky, actually, because most of the hospitals were filled with polio patients. And it was all - paralyzed lung function and legs. And mine hit my vocal cords for some reason, my - the left side of my throat and my face. I eventually - the doctor said I was a very lucky guy. And I eventually got over it. And - but the thing that I couldn't do anymore - the range of my voice kind of left me. I couldn't sing. I loved singing. But I wasn't able to sing anymore.

GROSS: Charlie Haden recorded in 1996. I don't know what I was thinking when, after hearing about how polio forced him to stop singing, I asked him to sing. Here's what led me to ask.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: You end the album with something called "Now Is The Hour." It's the title track of the record. And you say it's a Maori farewell song. How did you learn this song? And tell us something about it.

CHARLIE HADEN: It was a very well-known song during World War II because it was - it depicted, you know, the guy going off to war and his wife saying, you know, when you come back, I'll be waiting for you. And - but we must say goodbye now. And, I just love this song. And then I was speaking to Alan Broadbent, who's from New Zealand, about the song. And he said, you know, that's a Maori folk farewell song. And I said, well, I guess that's where it came from, you know? So I knew then we had to do it because Alan also was close to the song, and so we did.

GROSS: Would you sing the song as you remember it?

CHARLIE HADEN: Well, I'll try. (Singing) Now is the hour when we must say goodbye. Soon, you'll be sailing far across the. While you're away, oh, then remember me. When you return, you'll find me waiting here.

GROSS: That's a really lovely song.

CHARLIE HADEN: Yeah. I think it's beautiful.

GROSS: Well, let's hear your version of it on your new CD, "Now Is The Hour." And, Charlie Haden, thank you so much for talking with us.

CHARLIE HADEN: My pleasure, Terry. Thanks for playing the music.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLIE HADEN'S "NOW IS THE HOUR")

GROSS: After we recorded that interview, I found out this was the first time Haden had sung in public since polio had forced him to stop singing at the age of 15. According to the liner notes that Orrin Keepnews wrote for a Haden album a couple of years after our interview, it was because I persuaded Haden to sing on FRESH AIR and then called him and urged him to sing on his next album that he actually did. That album was his 1999 album "The Art Of The Song," which featured singers Shirley Horn and Bill Henderson. But the final track featured Haden singing in a small voice, but with deep emotion. It means the world to me that our interview played a part in getting him to sing again. He explained the story from his perspective when we spoke in 1999.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: Well, I want to get to your vocal on your new CD. Your new CD is called "The Art Of The Song." And you chose two of your favorite singers to do most of the performances, Shirley Horn and Bill Henderson. But the last track is you singing. And you, as a rule, don't sing on your CDs. I think this is your first recorded performance outside of the years when you sang with your family. When you were a child, your family had a country group and used to sing on the radio. So tell us the story about how you decided to sing on your own CD.

CHARLIE HADEN: I stopped singing on our show when I was 15. I developed bulbar polio. And it paralyzed my vocal cords. Eventually, you know, I got my vocal cords back, but I lost the range in my voice. And I used to sing every day on our radio show from the time I was 2 until I was 15. And after that occurrence, I kind of focused all my musical melody energy into my playing. I never really thought about singing again after that. I didn't even sing in the shower, you know? It wasn't that I was afraid to. It's just like, it was over, you know, for me. So recently, some people have been talking about, you know, you used to sing. How come you don't sing anymore? Or sing - you know, Ruth, my wife, who's a singer, has said, you know, why don't you sing?

And actually, one day, I was on your show a while ago. And we were talking about "Now Is The Hour." And you asked me to sing it. And I was very reluctant. And I couldn't believe that you asked me. And I finally gave in and sang. And you called back later and said that you thought it was great and that I should sing sometime on one of my records. And I said, well, thanks for the compliment, Terry. But - and, you know, I just got - it was kind of humorous to me. And I never really took it seriously until we started planning this record. And I was going through music, and I ran across some of our music from our radio show with my family back in the '40s. And I saw this song called "The Wayfaring Stranger" that my mom used to sing on our show. And I remembered how beautiful it was. And I thought about doing it on the record instrumentally.

And then I thought, you know, this isn't a song for Shirley or Bill to sing, but it should really be sung because the words are so beautiful 'cause I remember when my mom sang it. And so I said, well, the only way it could be sung is if I sing it. And I thought, you know, oh, my goodness, that's not going to work. And Alan was over and I played it for him. I said, what do you think of this? And he said, wow, that is really beautiful. I said, what would you think if I tried to sing it? And he said, wow. He said, that'd be different. And I said...

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: What do you mean by that?

CHARLIE HADEN: Yeah. I said, well, you know, and I even - I called John Philippe Alard (ph), my executive producer in Paris. And I said, you know, I might sing on this record. And there was a big silence. And he said, pardon? I said, I might sing. And then another long silence. Pardon? I said - anyway, I told Alan, I said, write the arrangement as if somebody is going to sing it. And if I don't make it, I'll play it on the bass, you know.

And so we got into the studio. And I just got up to the microphone. And they started to play it, and I sang. And Shirley Horn came in to me, and she said, you got to put this on the record. And I said, are you really serious? She said, yes. And she said, some of those string players out there are in tears. I said, that's probably because it's so bad, you know. So I put it on the record. And I hope people like it. It's not doing it as a singer. It's doing it to tell a story of, you know, where I come from and...

GROSS: Well, I really love this. And I'm so glad that you went through with singing it. And listening to it. I was wondering, you know, knowing that you knew the song as a kid and that your mother sang it, when you were a child, what did the words mean to you? The song is just filled with metaphors about death, you know, crossing over the river Jordan. I'm going home to see my mother. I'm going home to see my father. What did you get about that? And what did - was it a frightening song to you, thinking about death, or what?

CHARLIE HADEN: No, it actually is a very soothing song. It's just the opposite in me. It's a song about life. I remember a very funny thing that my mom told me once when I was 4 years old. She was working around our - we lived on a farm outside Springfield, Mo. And she was working around the house. And all of a sudden. She heard me screaming in the living room? And she thought, you know, I'd done - something horrible had happened to me. She ran in the living room. She said, Charlie, what's wrong? And I looked up at her, and I said, I'm going to die. And she said, what in the world are you talking about? She said, you're thinking about - she said - she was like cracking up, you know.

So I always have this deep need for the beauty of life, the reason for life and the preciousness of life, you know, and how precious every moment is that we're alive. And we should really do everything that we can to enhance this life that we have and this planet that we live on. And this song just evokes that to me.

GROSS: Well, I do hope you sing more. And I want to thank you for talking with us. And why don't we end with the recording of "The Wayfaring Stranger" from your new CD, "The Art Of Song" (ph)? And my guest has been Charlie Haden. Thank you, Charlie.

CHARLIE HADEN: Thanks, Terry.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE WAYFARING STRANGER")

CHARLIE HADEN: (Singing) I am a poor wayfaring stranger, wondering through this world of woe. And there's no sickness, toil or danger in that bright world to which I go. I'm going home to see my father. I'm going there, no more to roam. I'm only going over Jordan. I'm only going over home.

GROSS: Charlie Haden from his album "The Art Of The Song." It was released in 1999, the year we recorded the interview you just heard. Charlie Haden died in 2014 at the age of 76. Our series of some of our favorite music interviews from our archive will continue tomorrow with Jay-Z and Lizzo. After we take a short break, our TV critic David Bianculli will review the new FX series "The Patient," starring Steve Carell. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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