ARTicle Magazine

Bill & Petra's excellent adventure

Garth Cartwright · 16 May 2017

Vocalist and violinist Petra Haden's work with Bill Frisell is but one of many top drawer musical collaborations, including with her double bassist father Charlie and fellow triplets Tanya and Rachel.

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Petra Haden with Bill Frisell, Thomas Morgan (left) and Rudy Royston (second right). Image: Monica Frisell


Bill Frisell, featuring Petra Haden, Thomas Morgan and Rudy Royston, 8pm, Wednesday 7 June, Opera House, as part of the 2017 Wellington Jazz Festival.

Bill Frisell: A Portrait, exclusive film preview and live artist Q&A, 5.30pm—8.30pm, Tuesday 6 June, Light House Cinema Cuba, as part of the 2017 Wellington Jazz Festival. For Culture Club supporters only, strictly limited capacity, first come, first served, two tickets per supporter. Not a supporter yet? Learn more.

Vocalist and violinist Petra Haden is appearing at this year’s Wellington Jazz Festival, 7–11 June, as part of guitarist Bill Frisell's quartet. Both will be giving their debut New Zealand performances.

The two Americans share a long musical heritage that stretches over several decades—Haden’s late father, Charlie Haden (1937–2014), was a major figure in jazz and an inspiration to Frisell. As a double bassist, he worked closely with Ornette Coleman then co-founded the politically outspoken Liberation Music Orchestra with Carla Bley. Among his most enduring collaborations was that with guitarist Pat Metheny—the picker whose ambient tone influenced Frisell. Petra Haden has continued in her father’s footsteps, making beautiful music across a wide spectrum of styles and working with everyone from punk rockers to jazz and country musicians.

“I’ve listened to a variety of music my whole life,” says Haden to explain how she manages to be so diverse. “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 four-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.”

Haden was born alongside her sisters Tanya and Rachel in New York City in October 1971. The Haden triplets not only grew up together in a household where making music and art was encouraged but would form bands together—Petra and Rachel were members of That Dog, a grunge band that released several albums and enjoyed a modicum of mainstream American success in the 1990s.

In 2008, Petra and her sisters joined their father on his Rambling Boy album, where they performed the old-time country songs that first inspired him to make music as a child. More recently, she, Rachel and Tanya united to record as The Haden Triplets — their self-titled 2014 album was produced by Ry Cooder and released on Jack White’s Third Man Records.

In between these familial activities, Petra Haden has sung and played violin with a great number of artists, including The Foo Fighters, The Decemberists, Beck, Green Day, Weezer, Victoria Williams and Sunn O))). She is very much a working musician and loves the diversity her talents allow.

“Yes, it is like heaven for me! I’m just back from a short tour around the east coast with Megan Mullally’s band, Nancy & Beth. And right after that short tour I played two shows here in New York City 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. 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 with my sisters working on a new Haden Triplets album.”

Among all this multifarious music-making, Haden also manages to find time to team up with Frisell.

“I first met Bill in the late 90s when he came to one of my shows in Seattle,” she recalls. “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 we would be working together. I said something like, ‘Hey, Dad, I’m a jazz cat!’”

With a musical friendship firmly established, Haden and Frisell decided to go into the studio as equals in 2002. This resulted in the album Petra Haden and Bill Frisell. Across 12 tracks, the duo performed original songs alongside standards and songs by artists as varied as Tom Waits and Coldplay. It’s a lush listen, with Frisell’s guitar creating an ambient wave of atmospheric melody over which Haden imaginatively interprets the lyric. Since then, the duo have regularly reunited to make music on stage and Haden looks back fondly on their studio adventure.

“It was so much fun. We made a list of our favourite 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.”

As for what their Wellington performance might involve, Haden only says, “the hint is: movie magic”.

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Garth Cartwright is a New Zealand-born, London-based music writer who contributes to The Guardian and Sunday Times among other publications. His books include Princes Amongst Men: Journeys with Gypsy Musicians and More Miles Than Money: Journeys Through American Music. Discover more at garthcartwright.com.

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