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 83)
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Genres Free jazz, avant-garde jazz, post bop
Occupation(s) 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.

Early life[edit]

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]

Later life and career[edit]

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

In 1958, he hired young avant garde musicians Don Cherry, alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Billy Higgins to play at the Hillcrest Club in California.

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

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

In 1964 Bley was instrumental in the formation of the Jazz Composers Guild, a co-operative organization which brought together many free jazz musicians in New York: Roswell Rudd, Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp, 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 an audience for the first time at Philharmonic Hall in New York City on December 26, 1969.[4] This "Bley-Peacock Synthesizer Show" performance, a group with Annette Peacock, who had written much of Bley's personal repertoire since 1964, was followed by her playing on the recordings Dual Unity (released under the name "Annette & Paul Bley") and Improvisie, a French release of two extended improvisiational tracks with the trio of 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, and percussion by Dutch free jazz drummer Han Bennink, who had also appeared on part of Dual Unity.

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 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/co-leader[edit]

Year recorded Title Label Personnel/Notes
1953 Introducing Paul Bley Debut Charles Mingus, Art Blakey
1954 Paul Bley EmArcy Percy Heath/Peter Ind, Al Levitt
1958 Solemn Meditation GNP Dave Pike, Charlie Haden, Lennie McBrowne
released 1976
Live at the Hilcrest Club 1958 Inner City Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, Billy Higgins
released 1977
Coleman Classics Volume 1 Improvising Artists Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, Billy Higgins
1962–63 Footloose! Savoy Steve Swallow, Pete LaRoca
Re-released with additional tracks as Floater and Syndrome
1964 Barrage ESP-Disk Dewey Johnson, Marshall Allen, Eddie Gómez, Milford Graves
1965 Touching Fontana Kent Carter, Barry Altschul
1965 Closer ESP-Disk Steve Swallow, Barry Altschul
1966 Ramblin' BYG Actuel Mark Levinson, Barry Altschul
1966 Blood Fontana Mark Levinson, Barry Altschul
1966 In Haarlem - Blood Polydor Mark Levinson, Barry Altschul
released 1971
Ballads ECM Mark Levinson/Gary Peacock, Barry Altschul
released 1976
Virtuosi Improvising Artists Gary Peacock, Barry Altschul
released 1970
Paul Bley with Gary Peacock ECM Gary Peacock, Paul Motian/Billy Elgart
released 1975
Turning Point Improvising Artists John Gilmore, Gary Peacock, Paul Motian/Billy Elgart
1968 Mr. Joy Limelight Records Gary Peacock, Billy Elgart
1969 Revenge: The Bigger the Love the Greater the Hate Polydor Annette Peacock and various others
1970 The Paul Bley Synthesizer Show Milestone Dick Youngstein/Glen Moore/Frank Tusa, Steve Hass/Bobby Moses
1971 Improvisie America Annette Peacock, Han Bennink
1971 Dual Unity Freedom Annette Peacock, Mario Pavone, Lawrence Cook/Han Bennink
1972 Open, to Love ECM Solo piano
1972 Paul Bley & Scorpio Milestone Dave Holland, Barry Altschul
1973 Paul Bley/NHØP SteepleChase Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen
1974 Jaco Improvising Artists Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorius, Bruce Ditmas
1974 Alone, Again Improvising Artists Solo piano
1974 Quiet Song Improvising Artists Jimmy Giuffre, Bill Connors
1976 Japan Suite Improvising Artists Gary Peacock, Barry Altschul
1977 Pyramid Improvising Artists Lee Konitz, Bill Connors
1977 Axis Improvising Artists Solo piano
1983 Tears Owl Solo piano
1983 Tango Palace Soul Note Solo piano
1983 Sonor Soul Note George Cross McDonald
1985 Questions SteepleChase Jesper Lundgaard, Aage Tanggaard
1985 Hot Soul Note John Scofield, Steve Swallow, Barry Altschul
1985 My Standard SteepleChase Jesper Lundgaard, Aage Tanggaard
1986 Fragments ECM John Surman, Bill Frisell, Paul Motian
1986 Paul Bley & Jesper Lundgaard Live SteepleChase Jesper Lundgaard
1986 Paul Bley & Jesper Lundgaard Live Again SteepleChase Jesper Lundgaard
1987 Indian Summer SteepleChase Ron McClure, Barry Altschul
1987 Notes Soul Note Paul Motian
1987 The Paul Bley Quartet ECM John Surman, Bill Frisell, Paul Motian
1987 Solo Justin Time Solo piano
1988 Live at Sweet Basil Soul Note John Abercrombie, Red Mitchell, Barry Altschul
1988 Solo Piano SteepleChase Solo piano
1988 The Nearness of You SteepleChase Ron McClure, Billy Hart
1989 Blues for Red Red Solo piano
1989 Rejoicing SteepleChase Michal Urbaniak, Ron McClure, Barry Altschul
1989 The Life of a Trio: Saturday Owl Jimmy Guiffre, Steve Swallow
1989 The Life of a Trio: Sunday Owl Jimmy Guiffre, Steve Swallow
1989 Partners Owl Gary Peacock
1989 BeBopBeBopBeBopBeBop SteepleChase Bob Cranshaw, Keith Copeland
1990 Memoirs Soul Note Charlie Haden, Paul Motian
released 1995
12 (+6) In a Row Hat Hut Hans Koch, Franz Koglmann
1991 Changing Hands Justin Time Solo piano
1991 Lyrics Splasc(H) Tiziana Ghiglioni
1991 In the Evenings Out There ECM John Surman, Gary Peacock, Tony Oxley
1991 Paul Plays Carla SteepleChase Marc Johnson, Jeff Williams
1992 Mindset Soul Note Gary Peacock
1992 Annette Hat Hut Franz Koglmann, Gary Peacock
1992 Caravan Suite SteepleChase Solo piano
1992 Homage to Carla Owl Solo piano
1992 Paul Bley at Copenhagen Jazz House SteepleChase Solo piano
1993 Zen Palace Transheart Steve Swallow, Paul Motian
1993 Hands On Transheart Solo piano
1993 If We May SteepleChase Jay Anderson, Adam Nussbaum
1993 Sweet Time Justin Time Solo piano
1993 Double Time Justin Time Jane Bunnett
1993 Know Time Justin Time Herbie Spanier, Geordie McDonald
1993 Synth Thesis Postcards Solo piano and synthesizer
1994 Time Will Tell ECM Evan Parker, Barre Phillips
released 1998
Chaos Soul Note Furio Di Castri, Tony Oxley
1994 Modern Chant Venus David Eyges, Bruce Ditmas
1994 Outside In Justin Time Sonny Greenwich
1994 Emerald Blue Venus David Eyges, Bruce Ditmas
1994 Speachless SteepleChase Rich Perry, Jay Anderson, Victor Lewis
1994 Reality Check SteepleChase Rich Perry, Jay Anderson, Victor Lewis
released 2000
Sankt Gerold ECM Evan Parker, Barre Phillips
1997 Notes on Ornette SteepleChase Jay Anderson, Jeff Hirshfield
1998 Not Two, Not One ECM Gary Peacock, Paul Motian
2000 Basics Justin Time Solo piano
released 2007
Solo in Mondsee ECM Solo piano
2003 Nothing to Declare Justin Time Solo piano
2007 About Time Justin Time Solo piano
released 2014
Play Blue: Oslo Concert ECM Solo piano

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 re-release 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

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". 

External links[edit]