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Carla Bley

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Birth name
Carla Borg

Carla Bley

Karen Mantler

Piano, organ

WATT, ECM, Universal

Jazz Pianist

Carla Bley Carla Bley Wikipedia the free encyclopedia
May 11, 1936 Oakland, California, U.S. (

Post bop, jazz fusion, free jazz

Musician, bandleader, composer

Steve Swallow (m. 1991), Michael Mantler (m. 1967–1991), Paul Bley (m. 1957–1964)

Escalator over the Hill, Dinner Music, Trios, The Lost Chords find Paolo Fre, Duets

October 17, 2023 (aged 87) Willow, New York, U.S.

Years active


Carla Bley Trio 'Lawns' | Jarasum Jazz Festival 2018

Carla Bley and Steve Swallow - Lawns

Carla Bley (born Lovella May Borg; May 11, 1936 – October 17, 2023) was an American jazz composer, pianist, organist, and bandleader. An important figure in the free jazz movement of the 1960s, she was 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 BurtonJimmy GiuffreGeorge RussellArt FarmerRobert WyattJohn Scofield, and her ex-husband Paul Bley. She was a pioneer in the development of independent artist-owned record labels, and recorded over two dozen albums between 1966 and 2019.


Carla Bley Carla Bley Quotes QuotesGram

Early life

Carla Borg 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, 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. He encouraged her to start composing. The couple later divorced but she kept his surname professionally.

Later life and career

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A number of musicians began to record Bley's 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 1967-92. 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".

Carla Bley Carla Bley Wikipedia the free encyclopedia

Bley 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 contributed to other 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 Carla Bley hears Sgt Pepper Music The Guardian

She 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 partner, the bassist Steve Swallow, was her closest and most consistent musical associate. 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. She lives in Woodstock, New York.


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

As leader

  • 1974: Tropic Appetites (WATT)
  • 1977: Dinner Music (WATT)
  • 1978: European Tour 1977 (WATT)
  • 1979: Musique Mecanique (WATT)
  • 1981: Social Studies (WATT)
  • 1982: Live! (WATT)
  • 1983: Mortelle Randonnee (Mercury)
  • 1984: I Hate to Sing (WATT)
  • 1984: Heavy Heart (WATT)
  • 1987: Sextet (WATT)
  • 1989: Fleur Carnivore (WATT)
  • 1991: The Very Big Carla Bley Band (WATT)
  • 1993: Big Band Theory (WATT)
  • 1996: The Carla Bley Big Band Goes to Church (WATT)
  • 1998: Fancy Chamber Music (WATT)
  • 2000: 4 x 4 (WATT)
  • 2003: Looking for America (WATT)
  • 2004: The Lost Chords (WATT)
  • 2007: The Lost Chords find Paolo Fresu (WATT)
  • 2008: Appearing Nightly (WATT)
  • 2009: Carla's Christmas Carols (WATT)
  • 2013: Trios (ECM)
  • Collaborations

    With Gary Burton

  • A Genuine Tong Funeral (RCA, 1967)
  • With the Jazz Composer's Orchestra

  • 1968: The Jazz Composer's Orchestra (led by Michael Mantler - also known as Communications)
  • 1968-71: Escalator Over the Hill (a chronotransduction by Carla Bley & Paul Haines)
  • 1973: Relativity Suite (led by Don Cherry)
  • 1975: The Gardens of Harlem (led by Clifford Thornton)
  • 1975: Echoes of Prayer (led by Grachan Moncur III)
  • With Michael Mantler

  • 1966: Jazz Realities (with Steve Lacy)
  • 1973: No Answer (with Jack Bruce & Don Cherry - text by Samuel Beckett)
  • 1975: 13 & ¾
  • 1976: The Hapless Child
  • 1976: Silence
  • 1977: Movies
  • 1980: More Movies
  • 1982: Something There
  • With Charlie Haden and the Liberation Music Orchestra

  • 1969: Liberation Music Orchestra (Impulse!)
  • 1983: Ballad of the Fallen (ECM)
  • 1990: Dream Keeper (Blue Note)
  • 2005: Not in Our Name (Verve)
  • With Nick Mason

  • 1979: Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports (released in 1981)
  • With Steve Swallow

  • 1985: Night-Glo
  • 1986-7: Carla
  • 1988: Duets
  • 1992: Go Together
  • 1992: Swallow
  • 1994: Songs with Legs (with Andy Sheppard)
  • 1999: Are We There Yet?
  • 2013: Into the Woodwork
  • As sidewoman

  • 1975: Jack Bruce - The Jack Bruce Band Live '75 (released 2003)
  • 1975: Jack Bruce - Live on the Old Grey Whistle Test (released 1998)
  • 1977: John Greaves - Kew. Rhone.
  • 1981: Amarcord Nino Rota (Hannibal) — various artists tribute to Nino Rota (performs "8½")
  • 1984: That's the Way I Feel Now (A&M) — various artists tribute to Thelonious Monk (performs "Misterioso")
  • 1985: Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill — various artists tribute to Kurt Weill (performs "Lost in the Stars")
  • 1971-85: Gary Windo - His Master's Bones
  • 1985: The Golden Palominos - Visions of Excess
  • 1991: The Golden Palominos - Drunk with Passion
  • 1995: Jazz to the World — various artists (performs "Let It Snow")
  • Videography

  • 1983/2003: Live in Montreal (DVD)
  • Songs

    Musique Mecanique I
    Sing Me Softly of the Blues
    The Piano Lesson
    The Lord Is Listenin' to Ya - Hallelujah!
    Funnybird Song
    Song Sung Long
    Ida Lupino
    The Girl Who Cried Champagne
    Ladies in Mercedes
    Forever and Sunsmell
    Caucasian Bird Riffles
    Ad Infinitum
    Rawalpindi Blues
    The Hapless Child
    Reactionary Tango
    The Ballad of the Fallen
    More Brahms
    I Hate to Sing
    Musique Mecanique
    End of Vienna
    Hotel Overture
    Baby Baby
    Escalator Over The Hill
    King Korn
    Very Very Simple
    Who Will Rescue You?
    Fleur Carnivore
    Oni Puladi


    In 2018, Bley was diagnosed with brain cancer, from which she died at home in Willow, New York, on October 17, 2023, at age 87.


    Carla Bley Wikipedia

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