Wordless Protest Songs: Charlie Haden's Liberation Orchestra


| 9/30/2008 4:59:33 PM


Tags: Arts, Music, Charlie Haden, Liberation Music Orchestra, protest music, jazz, Walker Art Center, Jeff Severns Guntzel,

Charlie Haden Liberation Music OrchestraCharlie Haden, a legend of American jazz music, has been detained in Portugal, followed by the FBI in Manhattan, and embraced as a hero by a South African parliamentarian who had been jailed during apartheid. All of this for his legacy of protest songs without words.

The bassist will bring his decades-old and ever-changing Liberation Music Orchestra to New York City's Blue Note jazz club in early November, the same week Americans vote for George W. Bush’s successor. At a show in Minneapolis last week, the longtime radical told audience members he’s sure the results will warrant celebration.

“He feels strongly that we're at a critical moment here,” says Philip Bither, performing arts curator at the Walker Art Center and the person responsible for bringing Haden to Minneapolis. “He's completely convinced that the McCain camp represents a continuation of the Bush policies that have been an utter catastrophe for the United States and the world at large.”

Haden, whose contribution to jazz can be traced back to his bass playing on three seminal records by saxophonist Ornette Coleman, convenes his Liberation Music Orchestra only during Republican administrations as a soundtrack of resistance. The group's self-titled 1969 debut was a reaction to Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War his administration inherited. Ballad of the Fallen, released in 1982, was a statement against Reagan's policies in Latin America. George H.W. Bush was president when Dream Catchers was pressed in 1990; a comment on the tragedies and struggles of Latin America (again) and South Africa.

The militarism of George W. Bush inspired the Liberation Orchestra's 2005 release, Not in Our Name. Haden chose the title while touring through Europe in the early stages of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. “We were walking down streets in different cities, and we would see unfurled from balconies of the apartment houses: 'Not In Our Name' … the people in Europe really cared … that stuck with me,” he recalled in a 2006 interview.

“Touring jazz musicians,” Bither says, “have a unique vantage point on how America is viewed in the world.”