RIP Carla Bley (1936-2023)

19th October 2023 · 2020, 2020s, 2020s, Jazz, Music

Even in the darkest depths of my lifelong jazzophobia I had a soft spot for Carla Bley. I’m not sure why; maybe because a female jazz musician is such a rarity.

There had been jazz singers, of course – Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Diana Krall – but musicians?

Since the 1960s Carla Bley, as a pianist and composer, had been at the forefront of avant-garde jazz and that most terrifying of its offshoots, free jazz.

A pioneer of artist-owned indie labels, she even composed a jazz opera, Escalator Over The Hill, and worked with rock musicians including Jack Bruce and Robert Wyatt, as well as writing all of Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason’s solo album.

One critic put his finger on her style as: “great as a stimulator, as a muse, catalyst, idea generator, as a sounding board and amplifier, also in refusing – virtuosity, fetishised technique, perfect craft, convention and false pathos.”

I’m not mad on the free jazz stuff but I love the more mellow sounds of her work with the Carla Bley Trio, working with (her partner) bassist Steve Swallow and saxophonist Andy Sheppard.

Including this piece from her final album, recorded after her diagnosis of brain cancer – and defiantly titled Life Goes On.