Praised by critic Martin Williams for his “almost lyric directness,” Haden achieved fame in the late ’50s as a member of saxophonist Ornette Coleman’s groundbreaking free jazz quartet. He would later be a key member of another celebrated ensemble, pianist Keith Jarrett’s mid-’70s unit.
In 1969, Haden founded the politically charged Liberation Music Orchestra, a brew of radical politics and free ensemble playing, with pianist-composer Carla Bley. During the ’70s and ’80s, he recorded with Old and New Dreams, a cooperative quartet featuring other members of Coleman’s pathfinding ensembles.
In 1987, Haden formed his long-running group Quartet West, which achieved commercial and critical success with its highly cinematic repertoire.
Born in Shenandoah, Iowa, Haden was reared in a musical family. Making his professional bow at the prodigious age of 22 months, he sang with his parents and older brothers and sister in country unit the Haden Family, which appeared on national radio.
A bout with polio at 15 damaged nerves in Haden’s vocal cords and ended his singing career, but he continued to play the bass. He gravitated to jazz after hearing Charlie Parker on a radio broadcast by Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic. As a sideman on Springfield, Mo.’s network TV show “The Ozark Jubilee,” he jammed with the jazz-oriented country guitarists Hank Garland and Grady Martin.