Tribute to a Creative Past : In a time of violence and madness, Quartet West pays homage to the mid-'40s with tunes of romance and beauty.
Charlie Haden, the renowned jazz bassist and bandleader, rhapsodizes about the City of the Angels of the mid-'40s.
“That was such a creative period,” says Haden, a Malibu resident. He was sipping cappuccino in a Santa Monica coffeehouse a day after he returned from a European tour by the Liberation Music Orchestra, which he has led since 1969.
“Pop music was so great then, and it sold millions of copies,” he goes on. “And there were great writers, like Raymond Chandler, and film directors. Actors and actresses like Humphrey Bogart and John Garfield and Lauren Bacall and Ann Baxter. And the soundtrack composers: Max Steiner, Victor Young, Hugo Friedhofer, Dimitri Tiomkin.”
Haden, who turns 57 Saturday, says he gets to revisit that period in a personal way through his primary band, Quartet West. “The quartet is my way to fantasize about the time,” he says. “It’s like dreaming, not only when I’m asleep, but when I’m awake.”
Quartet West, which plays the Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday, was formed in 1986. The foursome is composed of Haden, Ernie Watts (tenor sax), Alan Broadbent (piano) and Larance Marable (drums), who replaced original drummer Billy Higgins.
The band’s last two Verve Records albums, “Haunted Heart” and “Always Say Goodbye,” pay particular tribute to the past. On “Haunted Heart,” Haden included snippets of Jo Stafford’s original 1947 version of the title tune, which follows Quartet West’s instrumental interpretation of the Arthur Schwartz-Howard Dietz standard. The band also offers such period pieces as David Raksin’s “The Bad and the Beautiful” and Charlie Parker’s “Segment.”
“Always Say Goodbye,” released earlier this year, takes Haden’s concept a step further, since he opens and closes the album with spoken dialogue from the 1946 classic film “The Big Sleep,” which starred Bogart and Bacall. The album includes more selections from past decades, among them Raksin’s “My Love and I” (from the film, “Apache”) and the standard “Everything Happens to Me,” as well as originals by Haden and Broadbent that evoke the era.
Overall, this music has a lush, appealing quality that mixes vibrant melodies with pulsating swing, and that’s just what Haden intended.
“The idea is to play songs that are about romance and beauty,” he says. “There’s so much violence and madness in the world now that I think people need to be exposed to as much beauty as possible. The point is to touch peoples’ lives with beauty so that it will create inspiration inside them.”
Haden says beauty and meaning are at the core of jazz. “Jazz is a very special art form, and if people are exposed to it, and allow themselves to be touched by it, the music has a very positive effect. It can enhance your life.”
Jazz does not get its due, Haden says. Usually it’s played in clubs--an atmosphere that he disdains. Jazz belongs in the concert halls, he says.
“I haven’t played in a club in quite a while, and that makes me happy,” he says. “There’s too many people smoking, talking. There are things going on that have nothing to do with the music. Jazz should be looked on at an equal level with classical music, and should be presented in beautiful concert halls with wonderful acoustic systems.”
Haden has had a thriving career in jazz for more than 30 years. A native of Shenandoah, Iowa, at 2 years old he was singing country music in his family’s touring band, and at 15 discovered jazz. He reached international status at 22, when he played bass with free-thinking saxophonist Ornette Coleman’s ground-breaking quartet.
Haden has played on more than 400 albums, with everyone from Pat Metheny to Keith Jarrett, and is regarded as one of jazz’s premier practitioners.
“Haden has been one of the most restless, gifted and intrepid players in all of jazz,” wrote Jay Cocks in Time magazine.
Reaching people who are new to jazz and to his music thrills him, Haden says.
“Someone told me that Lauren Bacall heard ‘Always Say Goodbye’ at a wrap party for a film she did with Robert Altman in Paris, and said she wanted to go out and get the album,” he says. “That kind of thing knocks me out.”
WHERE AND WHEN
What: Charlie Haden’s Quartet West, with guest Toots Thielemans, appears on a bill with Rosemary Clooney and the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band.
Location: Hollywood Bowl, 2019 Highland Ave., Hollywood.
Hours: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Price: $7.50-$21 (box seats sold out).
Call: (213) 850-2000.