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Jazz bassist Charlie Haden, part of groundbreaking Ornette Coleman Quartet, dies at 76

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NEW YORK — Bassist Charlie Haden, who helped change the shape of jazz more than a half-century ago as a member of Ornette Coleman's groundbreaking quartet and liberated the bass from its traditional rhythm section role, died Friday in Los Angeles. He was 76.

Haden's wife of 30 years, singer Ruth Cameron, and his four children were by his side when he died after a prolonged illness, said publicist Tina Pelikan of ECM Records.

Haden's career was marked by the triumph of beauty over suffering. He turned to the bass after losing his singing voice to polio as a teenager when he was performing with the Haden Family country band.

The onset of post-polio syndrome in late 2010 forced him to stop performing publicly, although he played at home to his favorite recordings as well as with visiting musician friends such as guitarist Pat Metheny and pianist Alan Broadbent.

During his career, Haden's lyrical bass playing could be heard in a broad range of musical genres, ranging from jazz to country to world music.

“I want to take people away from the ugliness and sadness around us every day and bring beautiful, deep music to as many people as I can," Haden said in a 2013 interview The Associated Press shortly before receiving a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award.

At the time, the Recording Academy cited Haden as “an all-American jazz musician best known for his signature lyrical bass lines and his ability to liberate the bassist from an accompanying role."

The Grammy recognition — as well as being named a Jazz Master in 2012 by the National Endowment for the Arts — was a far cry from the reception Haden received in the late 1950s as a member of Coleman's revolutionary quartet.

The quartet's 1959-60 engagement at New York's Five Spot club was one of the seminal moments in jazz history as musicians heatedly debated this new music dubbed “free jazz" that challenged the bop establishment by liberating musicians to freely improvise off of the melody rather than the underlying chord changes.

“Some people didn't understand what we were doing and they were afraid because they'd never heard anything like that before — so we dealt with it the best we could," Haden said in the 2013 interview.

Haden found a kindred spirit in Coleman, whom he met after relocating to Los Angeles in 1957. The quartet — with trumpeter Don Cherry and drummer Billy Higgins — released the aptly named album “The Shape of Jazz to Come" in 1959.

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