Petra Haden: “My dad would have made 10 Liberation Music Orchestra albums by now”

Petra Haden is your friend. And she’s not just any friend. She’s your friend from high school, the one who got your back when you faced teenage angst together; the one with the quirky sense of humour; the one who was a bit awkward in social functions, but every now and then got the chance to shine and show what she was made of; your friend who made collages, only it’s not collages, it’s layers upon layers of a capella singing, creating little gems with that wonderful voice of hers, like a cover of “The Who Sell Out”. She’s your friend who turned out brilliant. And who still has your back. She’s also the daughter of a great man, one of the most remarkable artists the jazz community has known. Charlie Haden is the subject of a very special tribute concert at this year’s MONA FOMA. Bass master Nick Haywood is revisiting the legacy that Charlie Haden created with the Liberation Music Orchestra – and Petra Haden is the featured vocalist, putting lyrics to instrumental songs and lending her voice to Australian protest songs by the likes of Archie Roach and Midnight Oil. Here’s what she has to say about it.

Petra Haden | Photo: Steven Perilloux

How did you get involved with the Hobart Liberation Orchestra?

Brian Ritchie, who I’ve known a long time, told me about his festival MOFO 2018, how they are paying tribute to my dad and his Liberation Music Orchestra. The theme of this year’s festival is ‘Freedom and Protest’. When he asked if I’d like to be a part of it, I immediately said yes, because my dad would be so happy knowing I was doing this. Especially because of what’s happening in the world and in America today.

I mean, he would’ve made ten new Liberation Music Orchestra albums by now. He would be performing all over the world, fighting against injustice and against the destruction of our democracy.

If he was alive today, I know he’d want to go with me to make sure he played with us.

What are you going to present at the concerts?

We’re going to play some songs from my dad’s Liberation Music Orchestra records and some music by other great artists in spirit of the concept. I imagine the audience will love it.

If you could pick any of the musicians in the large Liberation Music Orchestra roster (or any of your father’s ventures, for that matter) to come and join you in Hobart, who would that be?

When I told Bill Frisell about this festival, he was really excited. I think he’d sound great with everyone. Michael Rodriguez, Rodney Green, Matt Wilson and Steve Cardenas are not only super talented, but they also have great senses of humor which was really important to my dad. And of course, Carla Bley.

What kind of political message would you like to send with your foray into your father’s music?

My Dad’s music was a statement against dictatorship, injustice, intolerance, and against the destruction of democracy. The music remains relevant to our time and current administration. That’s why it continues to be important.

I love what he says here, in an interview he did years ago:

“I think a lot about getting the music to as many people as possible to communicate to them true human values. It’s so we can turn the value system around from the values you are taught as a child and conditioned to as an adult – profit oriented, racist, sexist values which are the opposite of human creative values. It’s important that people who have dedicated themselves to an art form communicate these values as much as they can whether they’re painters, dancers, filmmakers, whatever.”

What does your father’s music mean to you?

His music takes people away from the ugliness and sadness that surrounds us everyday. His music to me is like medicine for the soul. For me, sometimes it’s hard to express my self with words, so I like to do it through music.

When did you become aware of his work and his significance as an artist?

I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I first started going his concerts, but I was really young. One concert I remember becoming aware of his significance as an artist was when I saw him play with The Minutemen at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Los Angeles, 1984.

Do you feel ever feel burdened by this legacy?

I never feel burdened by his legacy. He’s an inspiration.

What is your favourite Charlie Haden composition?

All of them are my favorite. I really like ‘Child’s Play’ from his Quartet West album, ‘In Angel City‘.

‘Silence’, from his album, ‘The Ballad of the Fallen’. It starts out with a trumpet playing a simple, slow and sad melody, then builds and builds into a beautiful orchestra of harmony with different instruments.


I also really love the album he did with Jan Garbarek and Egberto Gismonti called ‘Folk Songs‘.

How did you find your own voice as an artist?

Actually, I’m still trying to find my voice. I’m still petrified sometimes (no pun intended) to perform in front of audiences. I know I’ve been singing, playing with different bands and groups for over 20 years, but that’s still difficult sometimes.

You seem to be doing more jazz-flavoured work lately; how deliberate is this?

Ive been working with Bill Frisell for about 20 years now. We put out a duo record in 2005. It’s not really a jazz record though. It’s funny because I don’t think of him as a jazz guitarist. I just think of him as an amazing musician. That goes with all musicians I play with. I don’t really like using categories.

What is jazz to you?

It’s hard to explain what jazz is to me because I’ve always felt that all music is here to make everyone feel good. Using words or names to try and describe it takes away from what it does. People ask me sometimes what category musician and singer I am, and I never know how to answer because I’m no category. I just like music.

Which tune best describes your current state of mind?

A tune that describes my current state of mind would be a song from the Robert Fripp String Quintet called, ‘Hope’, written by Antonio Onesti.

Hope is a good thing and when I listen to that song, I definitely feel it.

MOFO at MONA presents:A tribute to Charlie Haden, by the Hobart Liberation Orchestra feat. Petra Haden, on Friday 19 and Sunday 21 January. Get your ticketshere.

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