Carla Bley: I Wanted to be Serious

Although almost overboard laudatory in his judgements, Ethan Iverson’s New Yorker profile of composer Carla Bley is still fair and informative, giving the 82-year-old pianist enough space to explain her influences, triumphs and missteps. Best known for composing classic tunes for icons such as clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre and (her-then-husband) pianist Paul Bley, Bley also arranged much of the mashed-up musical repertoire of the radical Liberation Music Orchestra, led by bassist Charlie Haden, whose tastes dovetailed with her own. Her later larger bands with second husband, trumpeter Mike Mantler, that mixed Jazz, Gospel, Blues, Rock and other sonic strands; and her creation of the seminal rock-jazz opera Escalator Over the Hill, added to her status as a composer/arranger. Bley reveals that her Escalator influences included the Sgt. Pepper LP and the playing of  tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler, who was “maudlin in the most wonderful way”; and that so many Rock and Jazz stars, ranging from vocalists Jack Bruce and Linda Ronstadt to trombonist Roswell Rudd and tenor saxophonist Gato Barbieri, were featured on Escalator because anyone who asked was invited to play. Recently Bley, has also tuned more to playing herself, along with her partner, bassist Steve Swallow and sometimes plays with trumpeter Dave Douglas’ new band that’s inspired by her compositions.