One of three daughters of jazz bassist Charlie Haden, Petra Haden was born in 1971 in Manhattan. Haden's early life was steeped in music, and not only due to her father's influence. She and her two sisters routinely sang together, and at a very early age she demonstrated not only an extraordinary ear for music, but also the ability to re-create the sounds of musical instruments with her own voice -- in pop, classical, jazz, blues, or any other idiom or genre one cared to name. She began studying the violin when she was eight years old, and by her teens she was on her way to becoming a virtuoso, although she also displayed proficiency on the trumpet, mandolin, and various keyboard instruments, making her a true multi-instrumentalist.
It was Haden's voice, however, with its extraordinary range, that most caught people's ears. She and her sister Rachel, along with Anna Waronker (the daughter of renowned producer Lenny Waronker) and drummer Tony Maxwell, formed the group that dog. in 1992. The Los Angeles-based indie pop/rock group released three albums over the course of five years. A year before their split in 1997, Haden recorded her first solo album, Imaginaryland, consisting of a cappella versions of cover songs. She also joined former Weezer bassist Matt Sharp in the Rentals, remaining with the group for several albums. In the ensuing decade, she worked with such additional artists as Sean Lennon, Victoria Williams, and guitarist Bill Frisell, the latter of whom joined Petra on a self-titled duet album that crossed classical, country, pop, jazz, and world music. She also worked with her siblings as part of the Haden Triplets trio.
In early 2005, Bar/None Records released Haden's The Who Sell Out, a recording that she worked on intermittently for three years. The album reinterpreted the classic Who album in its entirety, using Haden's a cappella voice as the sole instrument, and the result was a 39-minute recording that sounded like the Roches crossed with the Swingle Singers. Ten Years followed in 2008, pairing Petra with guitarist Woody Jackson. Around this time, she formed a group If by Yes with ex-Cibo Matto member Yuka Honda, made commercials for the Honda Prius, and worked as a vocal coach on the NBC show The Sing Off. In 2013, she released her third solo album, Petra Goes to the Movies, for the Anti- label. It found her doing all-vocal versions of some of her favorite songs from the movies, and mixing in a few with backing from jazz heavyweights Brad Mehldau, her old collaborator Bill Frisell, and her dad Charlie.
Haden continued to work on film and television projects -- one of the highlights involved contributing vocals for the Blue Jean Committee Story, the first season finale of Fred Armisen and Bill Hader's IFC series Documentary Now! -- and she also entered a partnership with Jim Bianco called Hooray Matinee. Her next album was 2016's Seemed Like a Good Idea, where she sang the songs of Jesse Harris aided by the songwriter himself. ~ Bruce Eder