So…Charlie….what can I say? The bass became the bass again in your hands, after all the players who thought they were making it hipper, while they were also making it more synthetic and metallic and harsh and cold (leading to the eventual winner of the contest…the so-called electric bass). You wrapped yourself around the bass while you played; inhabited it, made love to it; and those of us who heard you and played with you heard that. All around you were players who were more “detached” from the instrument. What must you have thought of that detachment? Actually, I know the answer, because in all the time we played together in my trio, the American Quartet, and with a string section, etc. (even when you were strung out on heavy drugs), you didn’t think about anything but the music. You said it was hard for you to listen to me play with my band because you knew what notes you would have played. Other bass players didn’t impress you much; what was technique if there was no heart there?
I had a tour assistant who heard “Jasmine” in a limo on the way to a gig. She was young and not familiar with jazz, but she said “You guys are so together!” and so I asked her: “What do you mean, Amy?” She said, “Well, if you played bass and Charlie played piano, you would play the same way.” This was a compliment.
Once I was backstage at a jazz festival and Ornette Coleman was also there. We had never met, and by that time I had a quartet with Dewey Redman (who was a serious alcoholic) and Charlie (who was a serious drug addict) and Paul Motian, but Dewey and Charlie had both been with Ornette and then joined my group. Ornette asked me how I knew this “church music”; I had to be black. “No,” I said, but church is everywhere. Then he asked me how I could keep a group together this long (ten years, at least) with Charlie and Dewey in the band; how was it possible? And I answered, “because they’re the best.”
In the very beginning, when I had the chance to make my first record with anybody I wanted to use, I rehearsed with another bass player, who was too busy with a different group at the time; so Charlie was my second choice (!?). I hadn’t heard him very much at the time, but after the first rehearsal it never occurred to me to look for anybody else. We had an indelible connection that lasted over 40 years. After the quartet broke up, Charlie cleaned himself up and we recorded again after 30+ years.
People will always love his playing but no one will ever imitate him. He was a rare, true original. Perfect intonation, the biggest ears, the warmest, most captivating tone in the history of the jazz bass; and ALWAYS musical. And I never had a better partner on a project for his honest input and deep understanding of our intentions in choosing the tracks for “Jasmine” and “Last Dance.”
Love You, Man.