Website: Carla Bley
Carla Bley (By Christine Jensen)
May 18, 2019
I grew up learning piano, and I first got introduced to Carla’s music through the Real Book. My older sister brought one from College and I started leafing through it, and I found [Carla’s composition] “Ida Lupino.” I just got into it because it was all written out, [and] I didn’t know what chord changes were; it was simple to play and just great music!
Carla was born in Oakland, CA, in 1936. She dropped out of high school in grade 10 and soon moved to New York. She has been in the jazz scene for 60 years and is still prolific in her output and in all of her musical activities. First and foremost a composer, Carla divides her time as an improviser, pianist, arranger, organist, bandleader, collaborator, organizer, and businesswoman. She contains full control over her music. She continues to produce her own recordings with diverse ensembles and continues to carry on the legacy of the Liberation Orchestra. She has produced a large body of work of both small and large ensembles throughout the decades, including a massive opera called Escalator of the Hill, and her output in composition, I think, could easily rival that of Mingus and Ellington; in fact, she embodies both of these spirits in her music, along with Thelonious Monk, assembling, to me, the most American of sounds. Upon listening to her work, I have always been impressed by how she has utilized a vast array of styles, exploring a huge spectrum of genres, from the avant garde to gospel, the blues, and pop.
I encourage everyone to share her work with our next generation of musicians, as it will, hopefully, help to encourage new voices to emerge. I am thankful that her reputation will continue, as she is continuing to share great experiences with us, as a composer.
Christine Jensen is an award-winning jazz composer, saxophonist, and educator based in Montreal.