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Interview Carla Bley

April 26, 2013 Leave a comment

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.

Interview with Sheila Jordan

April 17, 2013 Leave a comment

23Sheila Jordan, born Sheila Jeanette Dawson, Nov. 18 1928, Detroit, Michigan, USA raised in poverty in Pennsylvania’s coal-mining country. She began singing as a child and by the time she was in her early teens she was working semi-professionally in Detroit clubs. Her first great influence was Charlie Parker and, indeed, most of her influences have been instrumentalists rather than singers. Working chiefly with black musicians, she met with disapproval from the white community but persisted with her career. She was a member of a vocal trio, Skeeter, Mitch And Jean (she was Jean), who sang versions of Parker’s solos in a manner akin to that of the later Lambert, Hendricks And Ross.
After moving to New York in the early 50s, she married Parker’s pianist, Duke Jordan, and studied with Lennie Tristano, but it was not until the early 60s that she made her first recordings. One of these (Portrait of Sheila, Bluenote) was under her own name, the other was “The Outer View” with George Russell, which featured a famous 10-minute version of “You Are My Sunshine”.
In the mid-60s her work encompassed jazz liturgies sung in churches and extensive club work, but her appeal was narrow even within the confines of jazz. By the late 70s jazz audiences had begun to understand her uncompromising style a little more and her popularity increased – as did her appearances on record, which included albums with pianist Steve Kuhn, whose quartet she joined, and an album, Home, comprising a selection of Robert Creeley’s poems set to music and arranged by Steve Swallow.
A 1983 duo set with bassist Harvie Swartz, “Old Time Feeling”, comprises several of the standards Jordan regularly features in her live repertoire, while 1990’s “Lost And Found” pays tribute to her bebop roots. Both sets display her unique musical trademarks, such as the frequent and unexpected sweeping changes of pitch, which still tend to confound an uninitiated audience. Her preference to the bass and voice set led to another remarkable collaboration with bassist Cameron Brown, whom she has been performing with all over the world for more than ten years so far and they have released the live albums “I’ve Grown Accustomed to the Bass” and “Celebration”. Entirely non-derivative, Jordan is one of only a tiny handful of jazz singers who fully deserve the appellation and for whom no other term will do (Copyright 1989-2000 Muze UK Ltd).

Mrs. Jordan, you started singing when you were just three years old.

Yes, I appeared at the Michigan Theatre in Detroit, Mich. My mother and her sister took me down there. It was amateur nite. I was about 3 years old.

You’re active in music for over six decades. You had a close relationship with Charlie Parker.

Bird was like a big brother to me. I met him when I was a teenager in Detroit. Our friendship continued after I moved to NYC in the early 50’s. I’m trying as best I can to keep Bird’s music alive. There are a few of us around who will never forget Charlie Parker or his impact on Jazz. Great musicians like Sonny Rollins, Jimmy Heath, Jimmy Cobb just to name a few of the older musicians. We all know the importance of Bird’s music.

You even married Parker-pianist Duke Jordan. You’ve seen it all! In which way jazzmusic evolved since you started?

Yes, I was married to Duke Jordan and have a beautiful daughter from that marriage. Jazz music has evolved and hopefully will continue to evolve in years to come. There are a lot of jazz schools cropping up all over the world. I think this is wonderful. I started one of the first vocal workshops at City College in NYC back in 1978. I taught there one day a week until a couple of years ago. I also do several summer workshops for a one or two week period. I find these workshops very successful and it’s a joy to hear the young singers dedicate themselves to this incredible music.

How can we label your beautiful music?

I have no label for the music I do except to call it Jazz. I have always been an innovative singer. I come from the school of the great Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald. Don’t get me wrong … I don’t try to sing like them. Who could? More importantly who would want to try to imitate these great singers. I would feel like a thief if I tried to copy them. I have my own sound and a lot of it has to do with listeneing to Bird and Bebop music when I was growing up.sheila jordan

According to the Penguin Guide to Jazz, “Portrait of Sheila” is your best album. Is this your favorite too? Since then you have produced so many terrific abums, like “Last Year’s Waltz” (1981). Which album you produced do you like best? Why? Is this album your best appreciated album?

Firstly, I don’t have a favorite record of myself. I have yet to make one. Secondly, I never listen to my records once there completed. I will never be a jazz diva. I am only a messenger of the music. That’s my purpose in life, keeping this music alive.

The late Jazzcritic Joachim Ernst Berendt called your early version of “You Are My Sunshine” with George Russell “eine Persiflage voll beissendem Zynismus auf die amerikanischen Mittelstandsbürger.”, “a parody full of biting cynicism on the American middle class citizens.” He said the time was not ripe for your music, do you agree with him?

Joachim Ernst Berendt was entitled to his opinion of the arrangement. George Russell made a recording of me singing You Are My Sunshine and dedicated it to the out of work coal miners of South Fork, Pennsylvania. I lived in this area with my grandparents until I was about 14. I moved to Detroit, Michigan at this age to live with my mother.
I interviewed Norma Winstone last week, I offered her the occasion to ask you a question. Her question to you was: “How did you remain so dedicated and determined to carry on through the bleak times?”
Norma is a wonderful singer/musician. She writes incredible lyrics. So to answer her question about my dedication: I have loved music since I can remember. Growing up with no water or heat or bathroom can be very hard on a kid. I got thru all of these disadvantages by singing. It made me feel better when I sang. My life was not easy growing up. There was a lot of alcoholism in my family so times were really tough. I kept this dedication and still do to this day doing whatever I have to do to support the music. I worked in an office most of my adult life until I was 58 years old. I had a daughter to raise so I needed a steady income. That doesn’t mean I stopped singing tho. I always found places to sing. I was determined not to lose the one thing that kept me going all those years. Thank God I haven’t lost it.images

You have worked with Carla Bley and Steve Swallow, who played at your debut-album. Tomorrow I will interview them (also by email). Do you have a question for (one of) them?

Ask Carla to please write another beautiful Jazz Opera. I would like a part in it no matter how small.

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?

As long as older musicians, like myself keep teaching and encouraging the young musicians (instrumentalists/singers) coming up to stick with this wonderful music, the music will continue to stay alive. They need to be dedicated and support it until it supports them. Believe me if they don’t get discouraged and give up they will be given one of the most beautiful gifts in life. After all, Jazz is the only music America can call it’s own. Unfortunately, it seems to be the stepchild of American music.

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


At some point, I would like to re-record my String Quartet project. I also have a bio coming out next year. So we will see where that takes me.

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