Haig was born in Newark, New Jersey. He started playing with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker in 1945, and performed and recorded under Gillespie from 1945 to 1946, as a member of Eddie Davis and His Beboppers in 1946 (also featuring Fats Navarro), and the Eddie Davis Quintet in 1947, under Parker from 1948 to 1950, and under Stan Getz from 1949 to 1951. The Gillespie quintet, which included Haig, recorded four 78 r.p.m. sides for Guild Records in May 1945 which are regarded as the first recordings to demonstrate all elements of the mature bebop style. He was part of the celebrated nonet on the first session of Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool. Although Haig became known for his distinctive and pioneering bebop style, he in fact spent much of his career playing in non-jazz contexts. His work was the subject of a revival in the 1970s.
In 1969 Haig was acquitted of a murder charge. He had been accused of strangling his third wife, Bonnie, at their home in Clifton, New Jersey on 9 October 1968. He had said in evidence that his wife had been drunk, and had died in a fall down a flight of stairs. Grange Rutan, Haig's second wife, challenged Haig's account in her 2007 book, Death of a Bebop Wife. Rutan's book is partly autobiographical, partly based on interviews with friends and family members. She describes Bonnie's story in detail, describing an underside to Haig that included a history of serial domestic abuse. Rutan notes that several family members sounded alarm bells regarding Haig's violent personality that went unheeded. Importantly, she quotes bassist Hal Gaylor, who was talking with Haig before a performance at the Edison Hotel lounge in the early seventies, when Haig admitted to him he had caused Bonnie's death.
In 1974, Haig was invited to tour Europe by Tony Williams, owner of Spotlite Records in the United Kingdom. At the end of a very successful tour he recorded the Invitation album for Spotlite with Bibi Rovère on bass and Kenny Clarke on drums. This kick-started his re-emergence and, over the next eight years, he built a strong following in Europe and toured several times, recording in the UK and France, and appearing elsewhere. He also recorded for several Japanese labels.
- 1949: Highlights in Modern Jazz: Al Haig
- 1952: Live in Hollywood (Xanadu)
- 1954: Al Haig Trio (Esoteric Records)
- 1954: Al Haig Trio (Counterpoint)
- 1954: Al Haig Quartet (Period)
- 1965: Al Haig Today! (Mint)
- 1974: Invitation (Spotlite)
- 1974: Special Brew (with Jimmy Raney) (Spotlite)
- 1975: Chelsea Bridge (East Wind Records)
- 1976: Duke 'n' Bird (East Wind)
- 1976: Milestones (Interplay)
- 1977: Ornithology (Progressive)
- 1977: A Portrait of Bud Powell (Interplay)
- 1977: Parisian Thoroughfare (Musica Records)
- 1977: Al In Paris (Musica)
- 1978: Plays the Music of Jerome Kern (with Helen Merrill) (Gitanes)
- 1978: Expressly Ellington (with Jamil Nasser) (Spotlite)
- 1978: Un Poco Loco (Spotlite)
- 1982: Bebop Live - 2 CD Releases (Spotlite)
|This section requires expansion. (September 2012)|
With Chet Baker
- Chet Baker in New York (Riverside, 1958)
- Conception (Prestige, 1956)
With Phil Woods
- Max Harrison, The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, 2nd ed., Barry Kernfield, ed., Vol II, p. 128
- Scott DeVeaux, The Birth of Bebop, p. 428
- Downbeat August 7, 1969.
- Death of a Bebop Wife. Redwood, NY:Cadence Jazz Books, 2007
- Moment's notice: jazz in poetry & prose