Home > jazz, music > Interview Carla Bley

Interview Carla Bley

I am proud to publish the interview I had with Carla Bley.

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, 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.

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 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 forCharlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, and wrote A Genuine Tong Funeral for Gary Burton. Her arrangement of the score forFederico Fellini’s 8½ appeared on Hal Willner’s Nino Rota tribute record, Amarcord Nino Rota.

Her current partner, the bassist Steve Swallow, has been her closest and most consistent musical associate in recent years and the two have recorded several duet albums.

In 2005 she arranged the music for and performed on Charlie Haden’s latest Liberation Music Orchestra tour and recording, Not in Our Name. (sorce: Wikipedia.org)

carla 2Mrs. Bley, you’re active in music for more than  5 decades. How has jazz music evolved since you started performing? Is Jazz the right label for your music?

I’m satisfied to call my music (or at least most of it)  jazz, but others might disagree.  My feeling is that jazz is a very big, inclusive world.  It is clear to me that jazz has greatly expanded its vocabulary over the century of its life, but sometimes when I listen to the past masters I question this assumption.

According to the Penguin Guide to Jazz, “Escalator Over The Hill”, “Tropic Appetites”, “Live”, “Fleur Carnivore”, “The Carla Bley Big Band Goes To Church,” “Looking For America” and “4 x 4”  are your best albums.  It seems that the critics cannot choose wich one is your best. Are these records your favorites too?

Albums are like children.  It’s unwise to favor one over any of the others.

Which composition do you like best? Why?  Is this composition your most appreciated?

As is the case with albums, I generally like the song I’m presently working on best.  I’m currently in the final stages of a long piece for “classical” musicians and steve swallow and me.  It’s in my mind almost all day, and often a good part of the night as well.  It’s difficult for me to think for even a moment about any of my earlier pieces.

In 1965 you and Michael Mantler founded the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra. The group’s last performance was in 1975. You composed Escalator Over The Hill, which Joachim Ernst Berendt called the “the largest complete work that has so far emerged from within jazz.”, as well you arranged and composed (parts of) Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music.  From this point on, you was more of a composer than an instrumentalist. How you look back to that time?
From my earliest days I’ve seen myself as a composer who also plays.  But over the years I’ve faced up to the necessity of presenting my music to its audience, which has caused me to focus on playing as well as composing.  I practice almost every day, even when I feel I’m stealing time from composing.  Days aren’t long enough; they should contain at least 25 hours.
Satie and the Beatles. They have been your inspiration, as well as Charlie Parker.
This year it’s fifty-eight years ago he has died (as many great musicians you played with passed last decades). What does this mean to you?

For the last two nights, after dinner, we’ve listened to Charlie Parker.  And the night before those we listened to Satie.  Each of them sounded fresh and contemporary, continually inspiring.  It’s good to know that music can outlive its own time.

Do you still learn from your youthful colleagues and what should they learn form you? Are you inspired by them as you were by the colleagues you played with in the sixties?

I think most young players are unaware of their effect on their elders, but it is considerable.  I love being surprised by a phrase or a gesture in music, and this most often happens when I listen to young players.  I’m not sure what young players might find useful in what I do; that’s for them to figure out.Carla 1

As you said to John Fordman in ‘72: “I think rock and roll is jazz. And jazz is classical music. And classical music has become rock and roll. They’ve all gone round one turn on the clock” Has the clock turned again since then?

I’d say the clock is always turning.  That’s what clocks do.

Later on in 1991 you said to Fordham “Since I’ve been teaching more, I’ve realised again that the music I loved back in Birdland in the Fifties is the music I love now. I know now that this music has stood the test of time, and it will turn out to be the great music of the age.”

I still listen to recordings of the Basie Band of that time, a band I heard night after night when I worked as a cigarette girl in Birdland.  tTat band, and the writers who supplied it with music, continue to amaze and delight me.  I hope to become Ernie Wilkins some day.

You went to Holland january 1966 to record “Jazz Realities” and do radio and TV work. Why Holland?

Holland asked.  I went, as is still the case, wherever I was called.  That’s the way life is, in the world of music.

Is there jazz in the future? Jazz is the most recorded musicstyle by now, but do you think jazz will reach our youth? According to saxophonist and flautist Dave Liebman the future of jazz lies with how it will be absorbed and transformed by parts of the world where it is new to the people. Do you agree with him?

There appears to be some truth to what dave says, as an increasing percentage of my work seems to happen in places I haven’t been before.  I’m happy about this; these places are as new to me as I am to them.  I’m always looking for food I’ve never tasted, buildings I’ve never seen, languages I haven’t heard before.

Sheila Jordan, I interviewed yesterday, had one question for you: “if you compose a new opera, can you put me on the list?”

ABSOLUTELY!

Next week I will interview pianist Ran Blake. Do you have a question for him?

How do you manage to continue to expand, when so many of your contemporaries are contracting?

Your musical activities span a wide range of styles and combinations. Which projects do you have in store for us?

I mentioned my current piece, involving “classical” musicians.  I’ve also recently finished a long set of pieces for big band and boys choir, which i’m hoping to record soon.  And there will also be an album out soon of trio music wit Andy Sheppard and Steve Swallow; we’ll be touring in Europe in the fall.

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: