Carla Bley

Carla Bley
Background information
Birth name Lovella May Borg
Born (1936-05-11) May 11, 1936
Oakland, California, U.S.
Genres Post bop, jazz fusion, free jazz
Occupation(s) Musician, bandleader, composer
Instruments Piano, organ
Years active 1960–present
Labels WATT, ECM, Universal
Associated acts Michael Mantler, Steve Swallow, Paul Bley, Nick Mason, Johnny Griffin, Gary Burton, Jimmy Giuffre, George Russell, Art Farmer, Liberation Music Orchestra, Jack Bruce, Charlie Haden, Jazz Composer's Orchestra, Paul Haines

Carla Bley (née Lovella May Borg; born May 11, 1936) is an American jazz composer, pianist, organist and bandleader. An important figure in the free jazz movement of the 1960s, she is perhaps best known for her jazz opera Escalator Over The Hill (released as a triple LP set), as well as a book of compositions that have been performed by many other artists, including Gary Burton, Jimmy Giuffre, George Russell, Art Farmer, John Scofield and her ex-husband Paul Bley.

Early life

Carla Bley at Keystone Korner, San Francisco 1979

Bley was born in Oakland, California to Emil Borg (1899-1990), a piano teacher and church choirmaster, who encouraged her to sing and to learn to play the piano, and Arline Anderson (1907-1944), who died when Bley was 8 years old. After giving up the church to immerse herself in roller skating at the age of fourteen,[1] she moved to New York at seventeen and became a cigarette girl at Birdland, where she met jazz pianist Paul Bley. She toured with him under the name Karen Borg, before she changed her name in 1957 to Carla Borg and married Paul Bley the same year adapting the Bley name.[2] He encouraged her to start composing.[3] The couple later divorced but she kept his surname professionally.[4]

Later life and career

A number of musicians began to record Bley's compositions: George Russell recorded "Bent Eagle" on his 1960 release Stratusphunk in 1960; Jimmy Giuffre recorded "Ictus" on his album Thesis; and Paul Bley's Barrage consisted entirely of her compositions. In 1964 she was involved in organising the Jazz Composers Guild which brought together the most innovative musicians in New York at the time.[3] 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 and Mantler were married from 1967-92. With Mantler, she co-led the Jazz Composers' Orchestra and started the JCOA record label which issued a number of historic recordings by Clifford Thornton, Don Cherry and Roswell Rudd, as well as her own magnum opus Escalator Over The Hill and Mantler's The Jazz Composer's Orchestra LPs. Bley and Mantler followed with WATT Records, which has issued their recordings exclusively since the early 1970s. Bley and Mantler were pioneers in the development of independent artist-owned record labels and also started the now defunct New Music Distribution Service which specialized in small, independent labels that issued recordings of "creative improvised music".

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 for Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra, and wrote A Genuine Tong Funeral for Gary Burton. Her arrangement of the score for Federico Fellini's appeared on Hal Willner's Nino Rota tribute record, Amarcord Nino Rota. She contributed to other Willner projects, including the song "Misterioso" for the tribute to Thelonious Monk entitled That's the Way I Feel Now, which included Johnny Griffin on tenor saxophone, and the Willner-directed tribute to Kurt Weill, entitled Lost in the Stars, where she and her band contributed an arrangement of the title track, with Phil Woods on alto saxophone. In the late 1980s, she also performed with Anton Fier's Golden Palominos and played on their 1985 album, Visions of Excess.

She has continued to record frequently with her own big band, which has included Blood, Sweat and Tears' notable Lew Soloff, and a number of smaller ensembles, notably the Lost Chords. Her current partner, the bassist Steve Swallow,[5] has been her closest and most consistent musical associate in recent years and the two have recorded several duet albums. In 1997, a live version of Escalator over the Hill (re-orchestrated by Jeff Friedman) was performed for the first time in Cologne, Germany; in 1998 Escalator toured Europe, and another live performance took place in May 2006 in Essen, Germany.

In 2005 she arranged the music for and performed on Charlie Haden's latest Liberation Music Orchestra tour and recording, Not in Our Name. She lives in Woodstock, New York.[6]


Bley was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1972 for music composition. In 2009, she was awarded the German Jazz Trophy "A Life for Jazz".[7][8] On June 25, 2014 it was announced that Bley will receive the NEA Jazz Masters Award 2015.[9]


As leader

The Lost Chords find Paolo Fresu in Monaco. From left to right : Carla Bley, Paolo Fresu and Andy Sheppard
Carla Bley, Moers Festival 2012


With Gary Burton

With the Jazz Composer's Orchestra

With Michael Mantler

With Charlie Haden and the Liberation Music Orchestra

With Nick Mason

With Steve Swallow

As sidewoman


Compositions recorded by other artists

Year Artist Album Composition(s)
1958 Paul Bley Solemn Meditation "O Plus One"
1960 George Russell George Russell Sextet at the Five Spot "Dance Class" and "Beast Blues"
1960 George Russell Stratusphunk "Bent Eagle"
1961 George Russell George Russell Sextet in K.C. "Rhymes"
1961 Jimmy Giuffre Fusion "Jesus Maria" and "In the Morning Out There"
1961 Jimmy Guiffre Thesis "Ictus"
1961 Jimmy Guiffre Emphasis & Flight 1961 live recordings of "Jesus Maria" and "Postures"
1962 Don Ellis Essence "Donkey" aka "Wrong Key Donkey"
1962 George Russell The Outer View "Zig Zag"
1963 Paul Bley Footloose! "Floater", "Around Again", "Syndrome", "King Korn" and "Vashkar"
1964 Paul Bley Turning Point "Calls", "King Korn", "Ictus", and "Ida Lupino"
1964 Paul Bley Barrage "Batterie", "Ictus", "And Now the Queen", "Around Again", "Walking Woman", "Barrage"
1965 Jazz Composer's Orchestra Communication "Roast"
1965 Paul Bley Touching "Start"
1965 Attila Zoller The Horizon Beyond "Inctus"
1965 Art Farmer Sing Me Softly of the Blues "Sing Me Softly of the Blues" and "Ad Inifintum"
1965 Paul Bley Closer "Ida Lupino", "Start", "Closer", "Sideways in Mexico", "Batterie", "And Now the Queen" and "Violin"
1965 Steve Lacy Disposability "Generous 1"
1966 Steve Kuhn Trio Three Waves "Ida Lupino"
1967 Gary Burton Duster "Sing Me Softly of the Blues"
1967 Gary Burton Lofty Fake Anagram "Mother of the Dead Man"
1968 Steve Kuhn Watch What Happens! "Ad Infinitum"
1969 NRBQ NRBQ "Ida"
1969 Phil Woods At the Montreux Jazz Festival "Ad Infinitum"
1969 Tony Williams Emergency! "Vashkar"
1972 Paul Bley Open, to Love "Closer", "Ida Lupino" and "Seven"
1972 Steve Kuhn Steve Kuhn Live in New York "Ida Lupino"
1972 Enrico Rava Il Giro Del Giorno in 80 Mondi "Olhos de Gato"
1973 Paul Bley Paul Bley/NHØP "Olhos de Gato"
1974 Gary Burton Ring "Silent Spring"
1974 Jan Garbarek Witchi-Tai-To "A.I.R."
1974 Jaco Pastorius Jaco "Vashkar", "Donkey", "Overtoned", "Batterie" and "King Korn"
1974 Gary Burton Hotel Hello "Vashkar"
1975 Paul Bley Alone, Again "Olhos de Gato" and "And Now the Queen"
1975 Gary Burton Dreams So Real "Dreams So Real", "Ictus/Syndrome", "Jesus Maria", "Vox Humana", "Doctor", "Intermission Music"
1977 Volker Kriegel Elastic Menu "Sing Me Softly of the Blues"
1979 Morrissey–Mullen Cape Wrath "Dreams So Real"
1980 Gary Burton Easy as Pie "Reactionary Tango"
1980 Gary Burton Picture This "Dreams So Real"
1984 Gary Burton Quartet Real Life Hits "Syndrome" and "Real Life Hits"
1985 Paul Bley Hot "Syndrome" and "Around Again"
1986 Paul Bley Fragments "Seven" and "Closer"
1987 George Russell So What "Rhymes"
1987 Paul Bley and Paul Motian Notes "Batterie"
1989 Jimmy Guiffre The Life of a Trio: Sunday "Where Were We?"
1989 Orchestra Jazz Siciliana Plays the Music of Carla Bley "440", "The Lone Arranger", "Dreams So Real", "Baby Baby", "Joyful Noise", "Egyptian", and "Blunt Object"
1989 Charlie Haden The Montreal Tapes: with Paul Bley and Paul Motian "Ida Lupino"
1990 Leo Kottke That's What "Jesus Maria"
1991 Paul Bley Paul Plays Carla "Vashkar", "Floater", "Seven", "Around Again", "Ida Lupino", "Turns", "And Now the Queen", "Ictus", "Olhos de Gato" and "Donkey"
1991 John Surman Adventure Playground "Seven"
1992 Paul Bley Homage to Carla "Seven", "Closer", "Olhos de Gato", "And Now the Queen", "Vashkar", "Around Again", "Donkey", "King Korn", "Ictus", "Turns" and "Overtoned"
1994 John McLaughlin After the Rain "Sing Me Softly of the Blues"
2000 Michel Portal Dockings "Ida Lupino"
2000 Mark Turner Ballad Session "Jesus Maria"
2001 Don Preston Transformation "Walking Batteriewoman" and "The Donkey"
2001 Ken Vandermark Free Jazz Classics Vols. 1 & 2 "King Korn" and "Calls" in segue
2002 Bobby Naughton Zoar "Vashkar"
2003 Roberto Ottaviano Live in Israel "Ida Lupino"
2004 Gary Burton Generations "Syndrome"
2004 Leo Kottke Try and Stop Me "Jesus Maria"
2004 Whit Dickey In a Heartbeat "Calls"
2005 Arturo O'Farrill Live in Brooklyn "Utviklinsang" and "Walking Battery Woman"
2005 Håkon Kornstad and Håvard Wiik Eight Tunes We Like "Calls"
2006 Howard Tate Portrait of Howard "The Lord Is Listenin' to Ya, Hallelujah"
2006 Håkon Kornstad and Håvard Wiik The Bad and the Beautiful "King Korn"
2006 Dave Palmer Romance "Ida Lupino"
2007 Eberhard Weber Stages of a Long Journey "Syndrome"
2007 Jonas Kullhammar Andratx "Ida Lupino"
2008 Guillaume de Chassy Faraway So Close "Ida Lupino"
2008 Marcin Wasilewski January "King Korn"
2009 Gary Burton Quartet Live "Syndrome"
2009 Emanuele Arciuli Gates to Everywhere "Romantic Notions 1-8"
2010 Cindy Blackman Another Lifetime "Vashkar", "Vashkar Reprise" and "Vashkar – The Alternate Dimension Theory"
2010 The Nels Cline Singers Initiate "And Now the Queen"
2011 John Scofield A Moment's Peace "Lawns"
2012 Steve Kuhn Wisteria "Permanent Wave"
2013 Jeff Berlin Low Standards "Vashkar"
2013 Barry Altschul The 3Dom Factor "Ictus"
2013 George Schuller Listen Both Ways "Jesus Maria"
2015 Mary Halvorson Meltframe "Id Lupino"
2016 Giovanni Guidi Ida Lupino "Ida Lupino"


  1. Ben Sidran, Talking Jazz: An Illustrated Oral History, Pomegranate Artbooks, 1992
  2. Philippe Carles, André Clergeat, and Jean-Louis Comolli, Dictionnaire du jazz, Paris, 1994
  3. 1 2 Chinen, Nate (May 11, 2016). "At 80, Still Slyly Subverting Jazz". New York Times. Retrieved 11 May 2016.
  4. Turner, Charles. "Bley, Carla (Lovella May Borg)". Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians. Archived from the original on 2015-03-02. Retrieved 2016-06-28.
  5. "Bley's MySpace page cites Swallow as her partner". Retrieved 2012-06-25.
  6. Michel, Karen. "A Traditional Jazz Christmas, An Unlikely Source". NPR. Retrieved April 15, 2011.
  7. "German Jazz Trophy for Carla Bley". Retrieved 2012-06-25.
  8. "German Jazz Trophy 2012 - Monty Alexander". Retrieved 2012-06-25.
  9. NEA Jazz Masters Award 2015

External links

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