Paul Bley

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Paul Bley
Paul Bley.jpg
Paul Bley recording solo piano in 2006
Background information
Birth name Hyman Paul Bley
Born (1932-11-10) November 10, 1932 (age 81)
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Genres Free jazz, avant-garde jazz, post bop
Occupations Musician, composer
Instruments Piano
Associated acts Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, Jimmy Giuffre, Steve Swallow, Chet Baker, Gary Peacock, Paul Motian, Annette Peacock, Charlie Haden, John Scofield, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Bill Frisell, John Abercrombie, Michael Urbaniak, Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorius, Charlie Haden, Don Cherry
Notable instruments
Moog synthesizer, ARP synthesizer, Fender Rhodes

Paul Bley, CM (born November 10, 1932), is a pianist known for his contributions to the free jazz movement of the 1960s as well as his innovations and influence on trio playing. Bley has been a long-time resident of the United States. His music characteristically features strong senses both of melodic voicing and space.


Paul Bley was born in Montreal, Canada; his adoptive parents were Betty Marcovitch, an immigrant from Romania, and Joe Bley, owner of an embroidery factory.[1][2]

In the 1950s he founded the Jazz Workshop in Montreal, performing and recording there with Charlie Parker. He also performed with Lester Young and Ben Webster at that time. In 1953 he conducted for Charles Mingus on the Charles Mingus and His Orchestra album and the same year Mingus produced the Introducing Paul Bley album with Mingus and Art Blakey. In 1960 Bley recorded on piano with the Charles Mingus Group.

In 1958, he hired Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins to play at the Hillcrest Club in California.

In the early 1960s he was part of the Jimmy Giuffre 3, a clarinet, piano and bass trio with bassist Steve Swallow. The quiet understatement of this music makes it possible to overlook its degree of innovation. As well as a repertoire introducing compositions by his ex-wife Carla Bley, the group's music moved towards free improvisation based on close empathy.

During the same period Bley was touring and recording with Sonny Rollins, which culminated with the RCA Victor album Sonny Meets Hawk! with Coleman Hawkins.

In 1964 Bley was instrumental in the formation of the Jazz Composers Guild, a co-operative organisation which brought together many free jazz musicians in New York: Roswell Rudd, Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp, his ex-wife Carla Bley, Michael Mantler, Sun Ra, and others. The guild organized weekly concerts and created a forum for the "jazz revolution" of 1964.[3]

Bley had long been interested in expanding the palette of his music using unconventional sounds (such as playing directly on the piano-strings). It was therefore consistent that he took an interest in new electronic possibilities appearing in the late 1960s. He pioneered the use of Moog synthesizers, performing with them before a live audience for the first time at Philharmonic Hall in New York City on December 26, 1969.[4]

This led into a period of the "Bley-Peacock Synthesizer Show", a group where he worked with songwriter Annette Peacock, including Improvisie, a French release of two extended improvisiational tracks with Paul on melodic electric piano and modulated synthesizer supporting Annette Peacock's remarkable tonal experiments singing through what sounds to be a Maestro (Tom Oberheim designed) Ring Modulator, with percussion by Dutch free jazz drummer Han Bennink.

Subsequently Bley returned to a predominant focus on the piano itself.

During the 1970s, Bley, in partnership with videographer Carol Goss, was responsible for an important multi-media initiative, Improvising Artists, which issued LPs and videos documenting the solo piano recordings by Sun Ra and other works of free jazz with Jimmy Giuffre, Lee Konitz, Gary Peacock, Lester Bowie, John Gilmore, Jaco Pastorius, Pat Metheny, Steve Lacy and others. Bley and Goss are credited in a Billboard Magazine cover story with the first "music video" as a result of the recorded and live performance collaborations they produced with jazz musicians and video artists.

Bley was featured in the 1981 documentary film Imagine the Sound, in which he performs and discusses the history of his music.

In the 1990s, Bley joined the faculty of the New England Music Conservatory,[5] however he no longer teaches there.[6] Musicians of note Satoko Fujii and Yitzhak Yedid have studied with Bley at NEC.

Bley has continued to tour internationally and record prodigiously, with well over a hundred CDs released. In 1999 his autobiography, Stopping Time: Paul Bley and the Transformation of Jazz, was published. In 2003 Time Will Tell: Conversations with Paul Bley was published. In 2004 Paul Bley: la logica del caso (Paul Bley: The Logic of Chance) was published in Italian. In 2008, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada.[7]


As leader[edit]

America Records
  • 1971: The Fabulous Paul Bley Quintet (Live recording from Hillcrest Club, Los Angeles, 1958)
  • 1972: Improvisie
ECM Records
Improvising Artists (Bley's own label)
  • 1974: Jaco
  • 1975: Quiet Song (with Jimmy Giuffre and Bill Connors)
  • 1975: Alone, Again
  • 1975: Turning Point (with John Gilmore, Gary Peacock, Paul Motian), orig. Savoy mono recordings, March 9, 1964
  • 1976: Virtuosi
  • 1977: Japan Suite
  • 1977: Coleman Classics Vol. 1 (Four more tracks of the Hillcrest Club recording from 1958)
  • 1977: Axis
  • 1978: IAI Festival (with Giuffre / Konitz / Conners / Bley)
Justin Time Records
  • 1987: Solo
  • 1991: A Musing (with Jon Ballantyne)
  • 1993: Sweet Time
  • 1993: Double Time
  • 1993: Know Time
  • 1994: Outside In (with Sonny Greenwich)
  • 1996: Touche (with Kenny Wheeler)
  • 2001: Basics
  • 2004: Nothing to Declare
  • 2008: About Time
Postcards Records
Soul Note
SteepleChase Records
Other labels

As sideman[edit]

With Don Ellis

With Jimmy Giuffre and Steve Swallow

  • 1961: The Jimmy Giuffre 3 - Fusion, Verve
  • 1961: The Jimmy Giuffre 3 - Thesis, Verve (Remixed rerelease by ECM together with Fusion, 1992)
  • 1961: Jimmy Giuffre Trio Live in Europe 1961, Raretone, 1984
  • 1961: Emphasis, Stuttgart 1961, hatART, 1993
  • 1961: Flight, Bremen 1961, hatART, 1993
  • 1962: Free Fall, Columbia
  • 1989: The Life of a Trio (2 volumes), Owl
  • 1992: Fly Away Little Bird, Owl
  • 1993: Conversations with a Goose, Soul Note, 1996

With Sonny Rollins

With Marion Brown

With Charlie Haden

With Lee Konitz

  • 1997: Out Of Nowhere, SteepleChase

With John Surman

With Andreas Willers

  • 2001: In the North, Between the Lines


  1. ^ Paul Bley with David Lee (January 1999). Stopping Time: Paul Bley and the Transformation of Jazz. Véhicule Press. p. 10. ISBN 1-55065-111-0. 
  2. ^ Bley Paul biography
  3. ^ Paul Bley with David Lee: Stopping Time. Paul Bley and the Transformation of Jazz, Vehicule Press, 1999.
  4. ^ Stopping Time
  6. ^ "List of faculty at New England Conservatory of Music". 
  7. ^ "Governor General Announces New Appointments to the Order of Canada". 
  8. ^ Allmusic review

External links[edit]