Carla Bley

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Carla Bley
Carla-Bley-supercrop.png
Background information
Birth name Carla Borg
Born (1936-05-11) May 11, 1936 (age 78)
Oakland, California, U.S.
Genres Post bop, jazz fusion, free jazz
Occupations Pianist, organist, bandleader, composer
Instruments Piano, organ
Years active 1960-present
Labels WATT, ECM, Universal
Associated acts Michael Mantler, Steve Swallow, Paul Bley, Nick Mason, Johnny Griffin, Gary Burton, Jimmy Giuffre, George Russell, Art Farmer, Liberation Music Orchestra, Jack Bruce, Charlie Haden, Jazz Composer's Orchestra, Paul Haines
Website www.wattxtrawatt.com

Carla Bley (née Borg; born May 11, 1936) is an American jazz composer, pianist, organist and bandleader. An important figure in the free jazz movement of the 1960s, she is perhaps best known for her jazz opera Escalator Over The Hill (released as a triple LP set), as well as a book of compositions that have been performed by many other artists, including Gary Burton, Jimmy Giuffre, George Russell, Art Farmer, John Scofield and her ex-husband Paul Bley.

Biography[edit]

Carla Bley at Keystone Korner, San Francisco 1979 (photo: Brian McMillen)

Bley was born in Oakland, California. Her father, a piano teacher and church choirmaster, encouraged her to sing and to learn to play the piano. After giving up the church to immerse herself in roller skating at the age of fourteen,[1] she moved to New York at seventeen and became a cigarette girl at Birdland, where she met jazz pianist Paul Bley, whom she married in 1957.[2] He encouraged her to start composing. The couple later divorced but she kept his surname professionally.[citation needed]

A number of musicians began to record her compositions: George Russell recorded "Bent Eagle" on his 1960 release Stratusphunk in 1960; Jimmy Giuffre recorded "Ictus" on his album Thesis; and Paul Bley's Barrage consisted entirely of her compositions.

In 1964 she was involved in organising the Jazz Composers Guild which brought together the most innovative musicians in New York at the time. She then had a personal and professional relationship with Michael Mantler, with whom she had a daughter, Karen, now also a musician in her own right. Bley and Mantler were married from 1967 until 1992.

With Mantler, she co-led the Jazz Composers' Orchestra and started the JCOA record label which issued a number of historic recordings by Clifford Thornton, Don Cherry and Roswell Rudd, as well as her own magnum opus Escalator Over The Hill and Mantler's The Jazz Composer's Orchestra LPs. Bley and Mantler followed with WATT Records, which has issued their recordings exclusively since the early 1970s. Bley and Mantler were pioneers in the development of independent artist-owned record labels and also started the now defunct New Music Distribution Service which specialized in small, independent labels that issued recordings of creative improvised music.

Bley has collaborated with a number of other artists, including Jack Bruce, Robert Wyatt and Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, whose 1981 solo album Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports was a Carla Bley album in all but name. She arranged and composed music for Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra, and wrote A Genuine Tong Funeral for Gary Burton. Her arrangement of the score for Federico Fellini's appeared on Hal Willner's Nino Rota tribute record, Amarcord Nino Rota. She has also contributed to other Hal Willner projects, including the song "Misterioso" for the tribute to Thelonious Monk entitled "That's the Way I Feel Now", which included Johnny Griffin as guest musician on tenor saxophone, and the Willner-directed tribute to Kurt Weill, entitled "Lost in the Stars", where she and her band contributed an arrangement of the title track, with Phil Woods as guest musician on alto saxophone. In the late 1980s, she also performed with Anton Fier's Golden Palominos and played on their 1985 album, Visions of Excess.

Carla Bley has continued to record frequently with her own big band, which has included Blood, Sweat and Tears notable Lew Soloff, and a number of smaller ensembles, notably the Lost Chords. Her current partner, the bassist Steve Swallow,[3] has been her closest and most consistent musical associate in recent years and the two have recorded several duet albums. In 1997, a live version of Escalator over the Hill (re-orchestrated by Jeff Friedman) was performed for the first time in Cologne, Germany; in 1998 "Escalator" toured Europe, and another live performance took place in May 2006 in Essen, Germany.

In 2005 she arranged the music for and performed on Charlie Haden's latest Liberation Music Orchestra tour and recording, Not in Our Name.

Awards[edit]

Bley was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1972 for music composition. In 2009, she was awarded the German Jazz Trophy "A Life for Jazz".[4][5] On June 25th, 2014 it was annuonced that Bley will receive the NEA Jazz Masters Award 2015.[6]

Discography[edit]

As leader[edit]

The Lost Chords find Paolo Fresu in Monaco. From left to right : Carla Bley, Paolo Fresu and Andy Sheppard
Carla Bley, Moers Festival 2012

Collaborations[edit]

With Gary Burton

With the Jazz Composer's Orchestra

With Michael Mantler

With Charlie Haden and the Liberation Music Orchestra

With Nick Mason

With Steve Swallow

As sidewoman[edit]

Videography[edit]

  • 1983/2003: Live in Montreal (DVD)

Compositions appeared on[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ben Sidran, Talking Jazz: An Illustrated Oral History, Pomegranate Artbooks, 1992
  2. ^ Philippe Carles, André Clergeat, and Jean-Louis Comolli, Dictionnaire du jazz, Paris, 1994
  3. ^ "Bley's MySpace page cites Swallow as her partner". Myspace.com. Retrieved 2012-06-25. 
  4. ^ "German Jazz Trophy for Carla Bley". Ecmrecords.com. Retrieved 2012-06-25. 
  5. ^ "German Jazz Trophy 2012 - Monty Alexander". German-jazz-trophy.de. Retrieved 2012-06-25. 
  6. ^ NEA Jazz Masters Award 2015

External links[edit]