DATE August 2, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Charlie Haden discusses his career as a jazz bassist
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Charlie Haden is among the most important bass players in jazz history. He
turns 65 next Tuesday and will celebrate with two weeks of duet performances
at the Blue Note in New York. We're going to listen back to highlights of
several interviews Haden recorded on FRESH AIR. First, let's hear something
from his latest CD, "Nocturne," featuring Cuban-born pianist Gonzalo
(Soundbite from "Nocturne")
GROSS: Charlie Haden from his latest CD "Nocturne." Haden helped change the
shape of jazz in the late '50s and early '60s as a member of the original
Ornette Coleman Quartet. In 1969, he launched his own group, the Liberation
Music Orchestra, whose music was inspired by democracy movements around the
world. In 1986, he founded his group Quartet West, whose sound evokes film
noir, detective novels and Los Angeles of the '40s and '50s, and pays tribute
to jazz singers of the '40s and '50s.
Haden grew up in a family of singers that performed on their own country music
radio show. We'll talk about that a little later. First, let's hear Haden
with the Ornette Coleman Quartet, playing "Lonely Woman," recorded in 1959.
(Soundbite of "Lonely Woman")
GROSS: The Ornette Coleman Quartet featuring Charlie Haden on bass. In 1985,
Haden told me about his first encounter with Coleman.
(Soundbite of 1985 interview)
Mr. CHARLIE HADEN (Jazz Bassist): I was 19 years old, and we played all day
long. And he had a roomful 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 at all--musicians,
Mr. 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, and we were constantly learning about what it was we
were doing. Things were being born every day out of what we were doing. And
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, `OK, what are you going to do?'
And 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 Ornette, `What is this?' He says, `I'll
tell you later.' And then we were invited to Leonard Bernstein's table. He
invited us to 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.
But it was like that every night; it was very exciting. The violence wasn't
exciting. I mean, 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--hit Ornette in the face, you know. I mean, it
was really a very strong excitation time. New things were happening, not only
in music but in people's minds every night from that music, you know. And
people were always asking me why I was the only white musician, and I never
thought about that until people asked me about it, you know. But that's the
way life is. That's the way human beings are.
GROSS: Charlie Haden recorded in 1985. We talked more about Ornette Coleman
in our 1996 interview.
(Soundbite of 1996 interview)
GROSS: Now when you were young, in your early 20s, I guess, you started
playing with Ornette Coleman's group. When you first met Ornette Coleman,
which was before he was known to anyone, what was he doing that coincided with
what you wanted to do?
Mr. HADEN: I had been going to a lot of jam sessions and playing in LA with a
lot of different people, and sometimes I would hear--I mean, I love playing on
chord changes; that's the reason that I love this music and love improvising
on beautiful changes that inspire you. But sometimes I wanted to stay on a
certain part of the song and keep playing and sometimes I wanted to play on
the inspiration of a piece rather than on the chord structure. But, I mean, I
couldn't put it into words back then, but whenever I tried to do what I was
hearing, people would get upset. And when I heard Ornette play, that's what
he was doing; I mean, that's the way he played all the time.
GROSS: How do you think your playing was permanently changed by playing with
Mr. HADEN: Well, it wasn't changed; it was really deeply affected. I mean,
it was a way that I learned about listening to the musicians that you were
playing with. At the moment you're playing with them it's so important to
listen to everyone. And that's the way it was really affected, by playing
with Ornette; plus the fact that I developed this really strong desire, you
know, to play with my whole life on the line, to be willing to give my life
for every note I play, that every note is really, really important, each note
for people to hear, you know. The reason that we're playing this music is to
bring more people to this art form so that they can see that it's a beautiful
art form and it can touch their life in a really great way and enhance their
life, and that there's an alternative; you know, this music is an alternative
for people to know about and to experience. So I think that's why we were all
playing. That's why I play now, is to bring people near this art form.
GROSS: Charlie Haden recorded in 1996. We'll hear more from Haden after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Bass player and composer Charlie Haden is celebrating his 65th
birthday on Tuesday. We're listening back to his FRESH AIR interviews and his
music. Before we get back to our 1996 interview, let's listen to Haden's
composition, "Here's Looking At You" recorded with his group Quartet West in
(Soundbite of "Here's Looking At You")
(Soundbite of 1996 interview)
GROSS: I really think that you're the most melodic bass player that I can
think of, and...
Mr. HADEN: Well, thanks.
GROSS: Yeah, especially when you're improvising. There's a sense of melodic
sweep to the lines that you play. I think a lot of bass players just think
more harmonically and they think about rhythm, but not so much about melody.
Mr. HADEN: Well, I was brought up with melodies all my life, from the time I
was--well, even before I was two when I started singing on my parents' radio
show every day. My mom told me once--she said, `You know, when I used to rock
you to sleep, I used to hum all these songs.' She knew all these great folks
songs, like "Barbara Allen" and "Mansion on the Hill" and "Silver Threads
Among the Gold" and "Wildwood Flower." And she used to hum all these songs
while she was rocking me to sleep when I was a baby. And, you know, one of my
brothers and sisters would be walking through the living room while she would
be humming in the rocking chair, and they would start humming the harmony with
her, because everybody sang all the harmony parts on our show; they all knew
how to do that by ear. And then my mom would sometimes switch to the harmony
and they would switch to the melody, and I was hearing all this stuff. And
she said one day she was humming to me, and I started humming the harmony with
her, you know. And she said, `Well, I guess that's a signal for you to go on
the show,' you know. So I started on the radio show when I was 22 months old.
It's real important, melodies and harmonies. You know, I tell my students at
CalArts that they should be able to harmonize every melody that they know by
ear--every harmony part. And it's so important. I was really lucky to be
brought up around melodies of The Carter Family and The Delmore Brothers and
Hank Williams and all those people that my parents knew, and I guess that was
my--it was a very strong musical training in my young life. I acquired a
melodic sense very early on. I'm very, very fortunate that I was raised
around that great music.
GROSS: Charlie, how do you see the role of the bass in a band? You know, I
think a lot of people think that since the bass isn't usually the lead
instrument that it's kind of in the background someplace. As the leader of a
group who's a bass player and composer, how do you see your bass fitting in?
Mr. HADEN: I think the role of a bass player, as far as in the rhythm
section, is to really lift everything up and make it deeper and make it more
full sounding. You know, when I was a kid listening to classical music on the
radio or whatever, even in country music, when the bass player stopped
playing, it's kind of like the depths kind of left the music for me. That's
why I always wanted to play bass, and it's really important if bass players
enhance everything behind the soloists so that you can inspire the other
musicians to play better than they've ever played before. That's what I
always try to do.
GROSS: What part did you sing with your family when you were a boy?
Mr. HADEN: I sang all the...
GROSS: And your family had a country music radio show and...
Mr. HADEN: Yeah.
GROSS: ...performed country music all around.
Mr. HADEN: I sang all the harmony parts. You know, I couldn't wait to get to
the studio every day. I loved it. Every day my parents would choose the
songs that we were going to play out of their vast library of songs from The
Carter Family and The Delmore Brothers and all the hymns that we had. And we
would go over them, and then we would go on the air. Sometimes we had radio
studios in our homes wherever we were living. We moved around a lot. But
mostly, we would go to the studio at the radio station and do our show every
day. I loved going to the studio and I liked the air conditioning and the
acoustical tile--you know, the acoustical tile and the big windows, you know,
that had triple-quadruple glass. And this was back in 1945, '46, '47, '48,
'49. It was a great experience.
GROSS: I can't believe you had radio studios in your home. Would you do
remotes from your own home?
Mr. HADEN: Yeah. You know, where I was born in Shenandoah, Iowa, we were on
a radio station there called KMA--it's still there. And my dad moved our
family to Springfield, Missouri, in the Ozark Mountains, and my
grandparents--my father's mother and father--had a farm outside Springfield,
and my dad always wanted to do farming. So he got this farm down the
road--you know, gravel road. I went to a one-room schoolhouse there, Bellevue
School(ph). And in our farmhouse my dad had the radio station come out and
hook up a remote thing where--you know, the things that you ring where you
turn the crank?
Mr. HADEN: You know. Well, he used to turn this crank, and the ring would
go into the studio in Springfield, and that was the signal for us to go on the
air and we'd start the theme song. And we did our show from our farmhouse for
several years before we moved into the city and went over to the station every
GROSS: So did you play in churches and at revival meetings and stuff, in
addition to singing on the radio?
Mr. HADEN: We played in churches. We played personal appearances all over.
My parents were on the Grand Ole Opry quite a few times.
GROSS: You know what I'm wondering: if singing at churches and other--you
know, other like religious events, revivals, whatever, did that give you a
sense that music had this spiritual potential in it?
Mr. HADEN: Well, the hymns, especially, that we sing, you know. And then my
mom used to take me when I--I don't know why she chose me to take, but I was
the one child--she had six kids; you know, I had three brothers and two
sisters. And several Sunday mornings--quite a few Sunday mornings,
actually--when I was around nine years old, she would take me to the
African-American church in Springfield--there was just one of them--and we
would go in after everyone was there. We would kind of like quietly go in the
entrance and would sit in the back row, and we would just listen to the choir.
It was like one of the most beautiful things that I've ever experienced in my
life, to hear that music, the spirituals in the gospel music; and I'll never
forget that. Yes, I had a really early contact with spirituals and hymns, and
I had a feeling right away that there was a spirituality in music.
I mean, you know, when you talk about jazz, I believe 85, 90 percent of
improvisation in jazz is spiritual. You know, it's a spirituality that--you
can go to school and learn the academics of music and the fundamentals and
scales and chords and composition and all that, but when you start to play and
you tell a story to people and you take people on a journey that you want to
take them on, it's all about spirituality
GROSS: Charlie, a recent album of yours is an album of spiritual hymns and
folk songs, and it features you with the pianist Hank Jones; it's an album of
duets. Are any of these songs songs that you used to do as a child?
Mr. HADEN: Yeah. We used to do "Abide With Me" and some of the other hymns
that we do--"Amazing Grace"--on the album. And actually, every hymn that's on
"Steal Away" we used to sing. And Hank and I chose which hymns and which
spirituals--he had a lot of spirituals. Hank was from the spiritual part of
it, and he knew all these great songs. And, you know, my favorite one that
I've ever heard him play was, "It's Me, O Lord (Standing in the Need of
Prayer)"; and that's the one that I heard on his "Smithsonian Collection of
Jazz Piano" that inspired me to do the record with him. And I called him as
soon as I heard it, and I said, `Man, that's one of the most beautiful things
I've ever heard. Could we play spirituals together sometime?' And he said,
`Charlie, I'd really love to do it. Let's do it.'
GROSS: Charlie Haden recorded in 1996. We'll hear more of his interviews and
music in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
Here's one of the spirituals we were just talking about performed with Hank
(Soundbite of "It's Me, O Lord (Standing in the Need of Prayer)")
GROSS: Coming up, bass player Charlie Haden tells us why he stopped singing,
and how he started again. And film critic Henry Sheehan reviews "Full
Frontal" directed by Steven Soderbergh.
(Soundbite of music)
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Charlie Haden, one of the most important bass players in jazz history, turns
65 on Tuesday. He's celebrating with a series of duet performances at the
Blue Note in New York. We're celebrating by listening back to highlights of
his FRESH AIR interviews. When we left off, we were talking about his
childhood when he sang with his family on their country music radio show.
(Soundbite of 1996 interview)
GROSS: You stopped singing as a child for a while because--I guess you
stopped singing altogether because of polio?
Mr. HADEN: Yeah, I had bulbar polio which--there was an epidemic going on in
'52, and we were in Omaha, Nebraska. 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, you know, function
and legs. And mine hit my vocal cords, for some reason, the left side of my
throat and my face. And eventually--the doctors said I was a very lucky guy,
and I eventually got over it. But the thing that I couldn't do anymore--the
range in my voice kind of left me. I couldn't sing. I loved singing, but I
wasn't able to sing anymore.
GROSS: So what's the connection between the polio and not being able to sing
and learning to play bass?
Mr. HADEN: Well, I really don't know if there's a connection. I was playing
bass before I had polio. I mean, I was playing...
GROSS: Oh, I didn't realize that.
Mr. HADEN: ...my brother's bass. He wouldn't let me play his bass, but every
time I could sneak in where he kept the bass, I would go in and play it, you
know. And I loved playing the bass with records that we had. And then when I
was 14 in Omaha, I was in the ninth grade. They had an orchestra at school at
North High and the orchestra director wanted me to play bass. When he found
out I played bass, he said, `We need another bass in the bass section of the
orchestra.' And I said, `I can't read music.' And he said, `Well, I can
So he took me down to the band room. His name was Sam Thomas. I'll never
forget it, man. And he showed me the first page of the Simandl book, the bass
method book, and all the open strings were there. And he said, `Now I want
you to practice playing these with a bow. This is a G, this is a D, this is
an A and an E, and practice this while I'm gone and then we'll start on the
half position and we'll go to the first position to where you press down the
strings, you know?' And he said, `You're playing this anyway by ear, you
know, with a little band you have here at school, but now you're going to know
how to read it.' And I said, `Great.'
So he left the room and I started getting real nervous, you know? I mean, I
got this anxiety attack. I said, `Oh, my'--you know, I looked at these notes
and I was bowing. And, you know, all of a sudden, I thought I was having a
heart attack. And, you know, I was--can you image having a heart attack at
14? And so, man, I grabbed my chest, I put the bass down. I ran out in the
hall to the water fountain and started drinking all this water. And a couple
of students came up to me, my friends, and, `What in the world's wrong?' I
said, `I think I'm having a heart attack.' They said, `Charlie, you're out of
your mind. You're not having a heart attack.' I said, `I think I am.'
And Sam Thomas came back and he was cracking up, man. He said, `You're not
having a heart attack, Charlie. You're just, you know, learning how to read
GROSS: So did you finally overcome your fear about it in that period?
Mr. HADEN: Yeah. Oh, yeah, yeah. No, I played with the school orchestra.
It was really great and...
GROSS: That probably opened up a whole new world of music, too...
Mr. HADEN: Yeah.
GROSS: ...music you'd only have access to if you could read.
Mr. HADEN: That's right.
GROSS: I want to ask you about something that I figure must be affecting your
music in some way. I think you have a ringing in your ears problem which I
know a lot of musicians get from being either too close to loud amplifiers,
you know, to loud speakers or too close to drums. How bad is the problem?
Does it drown out the music? Does it affect what you hear?
Mr. HADEN: Well, it's to a point where while I'm here talking to you, I've
got the volume on these headphones almost off. I have also a condition called
hyperacusis, which is extreme sensitivity to loud sound. In other words, if
someone was to drop a fork on the floor or a plate or there's any kind of
sudden loud sound, it's like hitting me in the head; it really hurts me. And
the doctors tell me that there's a membrane in the inner or middle ear that
protects the ear from loud sound and it's not working in my case. And so it's
like the volume is turned up in my head. I hear stuff triple louder than most
Whenever I take a hearing test, I go over the limit on the hearing test, I
hear so well. And a lot of people with this other condition I have called
tinnitus--most people that have tinnitus, they lose their hearing, but in my
case, my hearing's just becoming more and more acute, and I hear this ringing
in my head that is so loud that if most people heard what I hear, they would
run down the street screaming, but I've adjusted to it over the years. And I
just made it a part of my life, you know, and I kind of put up with it, but
it's--if I stop and think about it, I get real depressed. So let's change the
su--no, I'm just kidding.
GROSS: Well, does it drown out the music that you play?
Mr. HADEN: Oh, no. No, no. No, it doesn't. I wear earplugs when I play.
GROSS: So that the other musician sounds aren't too severe for you?
Mr. HADEN: Yes, so it'll soften the decibels. Right.
GROSS: Well, Charlie, I'd like to go out with something from your new Quartet
West album. And 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?
Mr. HADEN: I used to listen to this song on the radio during World War II.
Bing Crosby recorded it and it sold millions of records, and Vera Lynn, I
believe, in England, recorded it. It was a very well-known song during World
War II because 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, but we must
say goodbye now.' And I just love this song, and, you know, I have a lot of
songs that I have from my childhood that I'm saving up to do with whatever
band that I hear it with. And this was one of them.
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 that we
had to do it because Alan also was close to this song; and so we did.
GROSS: Would you sing the song as you remember it?
Mr. HADEN: I'll try. (Singing) Now is the hour when we must say goodbye.
Soon you'll be sailing far across the sea. While you're away, oh, then
remember me. When you return, you'll find me waiting here.
GROSS: That's a really lovely song.
Mr. HADEN: Yes.
GROSS: Charlie Haden recorded in 1996. Let's hear his version of the Maori
love song as recorded on his 1996 CD, "Now Is The Hour."
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: We'll hear an excerpt of our 1999 interview with Charlie Haden after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: We're celebrating the 65th birthday of jazz bass player and composer
Charlie Haden by listening back to his FRESH AIR interviews. When we left off
with our 1996 interview, it ended with me coaxing him to sing. I was
surprised and delighted three years later to find that he sang on the final
track of his CD, "The Art of the Song."
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.
Mr. HADEN: I stopped singing on our show--when I was 15, I developed bulbar
polio and it paralyzed my vocal cords. And 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 two until I was 15. And after that
occurrence, I kind of focused all my musical melody energy into my playing. I
just started playing the bass and playing along with records around where we
were living in Springfield, Missouri, and then when I moved to LA, you know,
seeking out the great musicians, and I never really thought about singing
again after that. And 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.
And 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 then, 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 some time
on one of my records. And I said, `Well, thanks for the compliment, Terry,
but'--and, you know, 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 then I was going through some LPs and CDs and I found this recording of Jo
Stafford singing folk music, and one of the songs on the album was the
"Wayfaring Stranger." And I listened to it and it reminded me of how
beautiful the song was. And so 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 remembered 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
GROSS: `What do you mean by that?'
Mr. HADEN: Yeah. I said, `Well, you know'--and I even called Jean-Philippe
Allard, our 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 another long silence, `Pardon.' I said--anyway, I told
Alan, I said, `Write the arrangement as if somebody's going to sing it, and if
I don't make it, I'll play it on the bass, you know?' And so he wrote the
arrangement. I didn't practice the song. You know, a couple of times, you
know, I was a little nervous.
Around the house, I kind of sang the melody at home just to go through it,
just to make sure that I could actually sing, you know? And I didn't want to
do it too much because, you know, I didn't want to get my mind-set in,
like, `Oh, I'm a singer and I've got to sing this like a singer and it's got
to be perfect,' because I really believe singers--and that's why I love
Shirley Horn and Bill Henderson so much is that they sing they way they speak.
I mean, when they stop speaking and start to sing, they don't change their
voice or the way they say their words or anything about what they're doing in
any way. It's just natural and honest, and that's why they're such great
singers. You know, a lot of singers now and even in the past, as soon as they
began to sing, everything changes and it's all of a sudden somebody else, you
And so I didn't want to make myself nervous, 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've 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, `All
right. That's probably because it's so bad, you know?' Geez. 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.
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 this song as a kid and that your mother sang it, when you were a child,
what did the words mean to you? This 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
was it a frightening song to you, thinking about death, or what?
Mr. HADEN: No, actually, it's a very soothing song. It's just the opposite;
I mean, it's a song about life. I remember a very funny thing that my mom
told me once when I was four years old. We lived on a farm outside
Springfield, Missouri, 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,
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
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. HADEN: And she said, `What in the world are you talking about?' 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: Right. Well, I do hope you sing more.
Mr. HADEN: Oh, thank you.
GROSS: 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 the
Song" and my guest has been Charlie Haden.
Thank you, Charlie.
Mr. HADEN: Thanks, Terry.
(Singing) I am a poor wayfaring stranger a-wandering 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.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Charlie Haden from his 1999 CD, "The Art of the Song." His latest CD
is called "Nocturne." His next CD, "American Dreams," will be released in
early October. Charlie Haden celebrates his 65th birthday Tuesday. We wish
him a very happy birthday.
Coming up, Henry Sheehan reviews Steven Soderbergh's new film, "Full Frontal."
This is FRESH AIR.
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Review: Steven Soderbergh's new movie, "Full Frontal"
TERRY GROSS, host:
The director of such Hollywood films as "Erin Brockovich," "Traffic" and
"Ocean's 11" has turned the camera on Hollywood itself. Steven Soderbergh's
new film "Full Frontal" features Julia Roberts, David Duchovny, Catherine
Keener and David Hyde Pierce in a loosely connected series of vignettes that
takes place during a single day in Hollywood. Film critic Henry Sheehan has a
HENRY SHEEHAN reporting:
The advertising campaign for Steven Soderbergh's "Full Frontal" contains the
tantalizing phrase that it's the `unauthorized sequel' to "Sex, Lies and
Videotape." "Sex, Lies" was the shot-on-video drama of romantic cruelty and
alienation among four 20-somethings that shot out of Sundance in 1989 and went
on to win the Palme d'Or at Cannes. After that, came box office success and
credit for launching the firestorm of independent American films which shot up
theaters through the mid-1990s.
"Full Frontal's" characters are older, and although it's mostly shot on
videotape, it has significant stretches dedicated to a 35-millimeter film
within the film. But once again, we're in the land of sexual enemy, only
this time, with six main characters instead of four, and a plot that meanders
Altman's style before tying itself together in that most arbitrary of devices,
a birthday party.
The six characters are actually three couples in various states, including
deterioration, courtship and even a minor one of pre-meeting featuring Mary
McDonald and Enrico Colantoni. Yet, the tongue-in-cheek claim about
`unauthorized sequel' is legit. "Full Frontal" is every bit as pretentious
and bad as "Sex, Lies and Videotape," a collection of discrete vignettes with
no cumulative force, Coleman Hough's screenplay rattles between the arch and
sentimental; that is, between the distractedly cruel and the indifferently
If that sounds like the description of a bad Hollywood script, the cast fits
the description of a bad Hollywood bill. It's the sort that Hollywood
marketeers love to plaster across full-page ads because it seems to cover so
many demographic bases: Julia Roberts for the masses, Catherine Keener for
the indie crowd, David Hyde Pierce for the high-class TV watchers and, say
no more, David Duchovny.
A would-be irony among the movie's many is that Roberts is playing a Hollywood
star, Francesca Davis(ph), who's making the movie romance within the movie
along with Blair Underwood, who plays her co-star. Soderbergh has enough
editorial skill to make all of this perfectly clear. He's never more than one
step ahead of the audience, and he always knows just when to rest a moment and
let the rest of us catch up. His sense of humor is impish enough that some of
the silliness is enjoyable just as that, silliness.
Here, for example, is a scene of Soderbergh allowing Roberts to goof around as
Francesca, the movie star, as she bugs her personal assistant.
(Soundbite from "Full Frontal")
Ms. JULIA ROBERTS: (As Francesca) I'm starving to death.
Mr. BLAIR UNDERWOOD: (As Calvin) Well, I've got it right here.
Ms. ROBERTS: I might actually faint.
Mr. UNDERWOOD: OK. Tuna, no celery.
Ms. ROBERTS: No celery and no...
Mr. UNDERWOOD: Onion.
Ms. ROBERTS: Right.
Mr. UNDERWOOD: So listen, you know that thing that we were talking about? I
can't keep--OK. I mean...
Ms. ROBERTS: Come on, come on.
Mr. UNDERWOOD: OK. OK. I'm uncomfortable dealing with this aspect of your
Ms. ROBERTS: I don't want to talk to them.
Mr. UNDERWOOD: Well, I don't want to talk to them, either. I don't even want
to talk to the guys I'm dating. They all seem pretty nice to me.
Ms. ROBERTS: Well, they don't strike you as, like, networky, freaky actors
dating executive types with their water bottles in, like, a mesh tote bag?
This is really--this is disgusting. I can't eat this. That arugula is so
Mr. UNDERWOOD: OK.
Ms. ROBERTS: ...it's, like, my algebra teacher on bread.
Mr. UNDERWOOD: OK.
Ms. ROBERTS: Oh, I'm truly--I think I might actually faint.
Mr. UNDERWOOD: We all know how you get when your blood sugar is low. All
right. I'll be right back.
Ms. ROBERTS: OK. Thank you.
Mr. UNDERWOOD: You're welcome.
Ms. ROBERTS: I need some Wet Naps, too.
Mr. UNDERWOOD: OK.
Ms. ROBERTS: It's for the fingers. Don't want tuna fingers.
Mr. UNDERWOOD: No. No, we don't.
Ms. ROBERTS: You're an angel. Thank you.
Mr. UNDERWOOD: Oh, you're welcome.
(End of soundbite)
SHEEHAN: Roberts delivers nearly all the funny stuff, but she's just playing
counternotes to the movie's main themes. Those chords are heavily thrummed
by Catherine Keener and David Hyde Pierce as Lee and Carl, a married couple on
the verge of separation. Lee's a human resources VP at a large corporation.
Carl's a staff writer at Los Angeles Magazine. And just why they're breaking
up isn't exactly clear, but at least it's more transparent as to why they ever
got together in the first place.
As he did in "Sex, Lies," Soderbergh is playing cinematic psychologist, but
the writer/director has never been comfortable with fluid selves, quite the
opposite. Take George Clooney's thief in "Ocean's 11." As soon as he's
paroled from prison, he starts planning the exact same criminal activity that
landed him there in the first place. Soderbergh is fascinated by characters
who won't bend to the world and can make them come alive on screen brilliantly
to the point of bringing us right inside their guts, but more common souls,
those who have to adjust to implacable realities and learn to live with
disappointment seem beyond it. It's odd, but the same director who can
understand a quasi-honest Mexican drug cop so well has difficulty
comprehending a semi-successful magazine writer.
GROSS: Film critic Henry Sheehan is based in Los Angeles.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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