Petra Haden’s Movie Magic

Petra Haden is much more than Charlie Haden‘s daughter. An accomplished artist, violinist and singer, with an acute sense of humor, she has been performing with a long list of adventurous acts, covering all range from alternative rock, to folk to jazz and improvised music, not to mention her records in which she layers her own a capella vocals, creating her signature sound. One ofher most fruitful collaborations is that with Bill Frisell. When the innovative guitarist wanted to do a project on the classic cinema soundtracks, ‘When you wish upon a star’, Petra was his choice of singer. Now that this project is about to tour Australia, Garth Cartwright spoke with Petra and asked her all about it.

Garth Cartwright:Hi Petra. Australia is excited about your forthcoming concerts with Bill Frisell. Might you give us a hint of what we might be in for?

Petra Haden: Hi! I’m excited to perform there! The hint is: Movie magic!

GC: I’m well aware of Bill and your late father Charlie making beautiful music together – I’m guessing you came to know Bill via him hanging out with your dad?

PH: I first met Bill in the late ’90s when he came to one of my shows in Seattle. I was performing with my friend Alicia J. Rose, playing songs from our album, ‘Bella Neurox’. We talked for a little bit after the show and I remember being so excited to meet him. I told my Dad about it and he was so happy to hear that we would be working together. I said something like, “Hey Dad, I’m a jazz cat!”

GC: You and Bill recorded an album together in 2005 – what was that experience like?

PH: It was so much fun. We made a list of our favorite music (which was a lot) and narrowed it down to the songs on the album. I was looking forward to hearing what Bill would do with the songs. He brought the music to a whole new level with his beautiful arrangements. His guitars sounded like a symphony to me. I felt like I was in a dream during that time.

GC: You’re best known in Austratia for your singing with That Dog and the Foo Fighters, celebrated alternative rock bands. How challenging is it for you to move from rock to the lush, almost ambient jazz Bill specialises in?

PH: I’ve listened to a variety of music my whole life. Especially ambient music. Since I was a kid, I listened to a lot of movie soundtracks, jazz and classical music. In high school, I didn’t really listen to a lot of rock music. Right after high school, I got a 4-track and I used to experiment with different sounds and harmonies using my voice. I especially loved listening to Steve Reich. He was a big influence on my singing. I think it’s actually more challenging for me when I record with rock bands.

GC: You never seem to stop working – both on fascinating solo projects and collaborating with all kinds of great musicians (including your kin). I’m thinking this must be heaven as an artist?

PH: Thank you! Yes, it is like heaven for me! I was just on a short tour around the east coast with Megan Mullally‘s band, Nancy & Beth. Their music is a mix of blues, country and rap, mixed with old-time entertainment and choreography. I was singing back up harmonies and playing violin. Megan and Stephanie Hunt do all the lead singing and dancing. It was a lot of fun. Right after that short tour, I played two shows here in NYC with Jesse Harris. We played the music of John Zorn one night, and a couple nights later we played music from our album we recorded together called, “Seemed Like A Good Idea“.

I feel so lucky I get to play with so many great musicians, who are also so much fun to hang out with. Before this tour I was recording with my sisters and working on a new Haden Triplets album. I can’t wait to go home and get back to working with them.

GC: Will you bring your violin to Australia? Please do!

PH: Oh man, I’ll see! I don’t play violin with this group, but you never know. I don’t read charts that well.

There is also some improvising, but I feel like I haven’t mastered that with this group. I gotta practice!

Bill Frisell’s ‘When you wish upon a star’ project, featuring Petra Haden, will be touring Australia:

More Movie Magic from Petra Haden: