11 maggio 2021


Un ritratto di Carla Bley in occasione del suo ottantacinquesimo compleanno: In Praise and Awe of an Unfettered Genius. Lo compongono Greg Bryant e Nate Chinen in Jazz United, loro appuntamento quindicinale presso la storica emittente newyorkese WBGO.

When Carla Bley hitchhiked from Oakland, Calif. to New York City at age 17, it was one in a series of renegade actions that have defined an irrefutably original career. She found her way to Birdland, landing a job as a cigarette girl — and a perfect perch to absorb musical lessons from the likes of Count Basie, Miles Davis and Horace Silver. Largely self-taught as a pianist (having learned the basics from her father), Carla was first and foremost a composer. She began to earn a reputation when her pieces turned up on albums by equally free-thinking artists like George Russell, Gary Burton and Jimmy Giuffre, along with her first husband, pianist Paul Bley. She then helped organize an avant-garde collective called the Jazz Composers Guild with another partner, Michael Mantler. Bley’s compositions were equally at home within an emerging avant-garde and in the tradition. Record companies spurned this both-sidedness for years, but her outsider stature proved a creative boon. With her own label, Watt, she built a body of work that defies easy categorization and welcomes myriad interpretations. 

In this episode of Jazz United, as we bear down on Carla Bley’s 85th birthday, we’re celebrating her genius. We’ll talk about what makes her such a standout composer, and touch on a few of her triumphs — like Escalator Over the Hill, the unclassifiable jazz opera she released in 1971, with contributions from librettist Paul Haines and vocalists Jack Bruce and Linda Ronstadt, among others. And we’ll hear a few choice quotes from Bley herself, including a line about the jazz pianist she wishes she could be. (The name she drops might surprise you.)