‘I want to play bass again; it’s why I live’: Charlie Haden’s brave fight through a second bout of polio

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Charlie Haden has been stricken a second time by polio symptoms, focusing the legendary jazz bassist off the road. He’ll receive a Lifetime Achievement Award on Sunday before the Grammys, but is unsure if he will be able to speak for long.

Haden was originally diagnosed with bulbar polio as a 15 year old in the early 1950s, during the height of the disease’s epidemic. The bulbar area is located in the back of the neck, meaning that nerves connecting to the face and throat are impacted.

Fast forward some six decades, and Haden finds himself suffering all over again — this time, since the end of 2010, from what doctors are calling post-polio syndrome.

A legendary career, defined by Haden’s ground-breaking stint with Ornette Coleman, hangs in the balance. Over the years, Haden has also recorded with Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny, Dizzy Gillespie, Hank Jones, John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Ginger Baker, Carla Bley and many others. He’s issued more than 20 albums as a leader too, though the last was back in 2008 with Rambling Boy.

But swallowing has become so difficult, according to a report in The Chicago Tribune, that Haden hasn’t eaten solid food for some two years.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4k_InRXP-g&w=385&h=280]

He could not travel in 2012 to accept a Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Haden last performed in public at Hollywood’s Catalina Bar and Grill, in September of 2011, though he still plays daily at home.

Haden tells the Tribune that he remains stunned over the relapse, but determined to carry on. New treatments have given him a sense of hope.

“The doctor told me that the kind (of polio) I had … was around the throat, would eventually go away, and I’d never have it again,” Haden says, adding that he still pines for public performances: “I miss it very much. A lot of people call me to play. … Oh, man — one of the main things I want to do is play my bass again (publicly). It’s why I live.”

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