Petra Haden: ‘I feel my dad’s energy when I sing’

You’d be forgiven to pigeonhole Petra Haden as ‘Charlie Haden’s daughter’ – but you’d be wrong. You’d be missing out on all the nuances of her performance, all the qualities of her artistic persona, her unique voice, her violin skills, her own trajectory in music, her endeavours in so many different genres, her ease to jump from folk to indie rock to Bill Frisell’s universe. But yes, you’d be forgiven. Particularly since she is embracing her family legacy wholeheartedly – and she’s coming back to Australia to present her brilliant father’s songbook, along with a dream team of Australian jazz musicians, led by Nick Haywood and featuring Eugene Ball, Stephen Magnusson, Colin Hopkins and James McLean. Here’s what she has to say about it.

Petra Haden | Photo: Steven-Perilloux

What are you going to present at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival?

I’ll perform some music written by my father, and play some other music I’ve recorded or performed over the years. The project started in May of 2018 when Brian Ritchie asked me to participate in the festival he was curating, Mona Foma in 2018; it was a tribute to my dad, featured in a program called A Weekend of Protest Music. I met the wonderfully talented, amazing bass player and person, Nick Haywood, who put together this incredible band. I am so honored to be working with all of them.

This is the second time you are collaborating with Nick Haywood on this; how would you describe your rapport?

He is one of the nicest and sweetest people I’ve ever worked with. I know my Dad would’ve loved him, not only because of how talented he is, but because of his sense of humor, his passion for making the world a better place, and his love for great food and great restaurants!

What does it mean to you, to present your father’s songbook – both on a personal/ emotional level and as an artist?

Having the opportunity to play his music means everything to me. He’s an inspiration to me and to so many people. I feel his energy when I sing and that helps me so much.

How has your father influenced you?

He taught me how to believe in myself. And that making mistakes in music and in life is okay. Just pick yourself back up and start again. I sing and play from my heart and I learned that from him.

I understand that you are adding lyrics to certain compositions; how is this process?

We’ll be playing one of my Dad’s songs called ‘There In a Dream’. My friend Steve Cardenas who plays in the Liberation Music Orchestra, suggested I write lyrics to it. Since writing lyrics isn’t my forte, I called Jesse Harris and asked him to write words. To me, they convey the beauty of the song and what it means.

In terms of the current social context, what kind of statement are you making with this project?

I’m trying to sing and put something good out into the world. I feel lucky to have met Nick Haywood and all of these amazing people and musicians. I believe that when people do good,it becomes contagious like ripples in an ocean, and those ripples turn into waves. We just can’t get distracted to all the ugliness going on.

What is next in line for you?

I’m very much looking forward to what’s ahead for The Haden Triplets. I’m working with my sisters Rachel and Tanya – and producer Woody Jackson- on a new album which will be released in January 2020. Some of the songs we recorded were written by our grandfather, Carl Haden. We also do a song written by our brother Josh. There are so many musical surprises!

Petra Haden will perform Songs from my Father at the Jazz Lab on Friday 7 June, as part of the Melbourne Jazz International Festival