Carla Bley

Post-bop jazz produced few great composers of larger forms. Carla Bley is one of them. Bley has a unique compositional range. She combines a love and knowledge of jazz with great talent and originality. Her music is hyper-modern jazz, and it’s a very unique type. Bley can write music that is both dramatic and humorous, sometimes within the same piece. She is a great instrumentalist and composer. Although her playing is often very musical, it is clear that her strengths are elsewhere. Bley’s unique compositional arrangements subvert the jazz formula to great effect. Her unpredictable melodies can be as catchy and obscure as her unconventional music. Bley is a jazz improviser and composer, and her style is a unique one. Carla Borg was born to Bley. Her father, a musician in the church, taught her the basics of music when she was a child. She was mostly self-taught thereafter. Around 1955, she moved to New York and worked as a cigarette lady and occasional pianist. Paul Bley was her husband, and she started writing tunes for him. She also wrote songs for George Russell (and Jimmy Giuffre). Bley, her second husband, the trumpeter Michael Mantler, founded the Jazz Composer’s Guild Orchestra in 1964. It was renamed the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra a year later. Bley founded the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra Association two years later. This non-profit organization was created to promote, distribute and produce unorthodox forms of jazz. Gary Burton, a vibist, recorded Bley’s A Genuine Tong Funeral cycle in 1967. This brought Bley to the attention and appreciation of the public. Bley composed and orchestrated music for Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra in 1969. She completed the jazz opera Escalator Over the Hill in 1971, which cemented her reputation. Bley managed the JCOA in the ’70s and ’80s. She also composed and recorded for her Watt label. Although the JCOA dissolved in the late ’80s and Bley continued her creative career unaffected. She’s managed to keep a large, mid-sized band with stable personnel for tours and recording over the past 20 years. In duo or in large ensembles, she’s worked extensively with Steve Swallow, the bassist. Bley composed the music for Mortelle Randone’s 1985 soundtrack. Bley also contributed new music to Liberation Music Orchestra’s 1983 second incarnation. Through the ’80s and ’90s and well into the new millennium Bley continued to release albums through ECM. These included duets with Steve Swallow and the Very Big Carla Bley Band. In 2000, she released Are We There Yet?; Looking for America 2003; The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu 2007; and Appearing Nightly 2008, a third duets album. Bley released Trios in 2013, featuring Swallow and saxophonist Andy Sheppard. This album was her first for ECM, instead of WATT. Allmusic

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