Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Paul Bley: 1932-2016

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“You're telling human beings that they can trust their intuitions to create forms, rather than need forms in which to create intuitions….”

We're talking about a lot of personal work, rather than taught, or learned, work. We strike out for unknown territory. That's what improvising is all about. If the territory is known, it's not that interesting. That's my bias.
- Paul Bley, Jazz pianist

VOICE: “Why do they call you ‘Mr. Joy?’
MR. JOY: “Because I’m unhappy about a lot of things.”
VOICE: “What are you unhappy about?”
MR. JOY: “I’m unhappy about trying to get music to sound the way I want it to sound, about trying to get life to go the way I want it to go, and generally unhappy about the whole thing.”
- Insert notes to Play Bley’s Mr. Joy [Limelight LS 86060]

At one point in my “life in music,” I gave a lot of thought to the above-quotations from the liner notes to Paul Bley’s LP Mr. Joy [Limelight LS 86060].

Even after I left music to pursue other interests, I held onto and tried to model aspects of my professional life around Paul’s notion of “... telling human beings that they can trust their intuitions to create forms, rather than need forms in which to create intuitions….”

I finally did reach a point in my career when I trusted my intuitions to create forms and it was the most rewarding time for me in the World-of-Work in particular and in my life in general.

Paul Bley died on 3 January 2016 and the editorial staff at JazzProfiles wanted to remember him on these pages with the following obituary from The Telegraph, a British daily morning English-language broadsheet newspaper, published in London.

“Paul Bley, the pianist and composer, who has died aged 83, was a moving spirit in the “free jazz” revolution of the 1960s and an animating force in the jazz avant-garde.

In the course of his 60-year career he worked with, and influenced, many of the most prominent and innovative jazz artists of the time, and recorded more than 100 albums of his own.

Hyman Paul Bley was born in Montreal on November 10 1932. He took up the piano at the age of eight and was playing semi-professionally as a teenager. At 17 he followed the local piano hero, Oscar Peterson, into a regular weekend gig. From 1950, he studied at the Juilliard School in New York, but returned regularly to Montreal to accompany visiting jazz stars including Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins.

While in New York, Bley took part in jazz workshop sessions, at one of which he so impressed the bassist Charles Mingus that, in 1953, he set up Bley’s first recording date, with himself on bass and Art Blakey on drums. The record was titled Introducing Paul Bley.

Bley was still playing in the modern jazz style of the day when he moved to Los Angeles in 1957, to play with Chet Baker. It was here that he first heard Ornette Coleman, then completely unknown. Coleman’s alto, saxophone playing broke all the conventions of rhythm, harmony and form which were then deemed essential but it made sense to Bley. He assembled a band of like-minded players around Coleman and presented it at a small club, the Hillcrest. Their subsequent album, The Shape of Jazz to Come, marked the beginning of a whole new phase in the history of jazz.

In the same year, Bley married an aspiring jazz pianist and composer, Carla Borg, then working as a waitress. In 1959 they moved back to New York, where Bley made a point of featuring his wife’s compositions. Although they later divorced, Carla Bley went on to become one of the most original and admired jazz composers of the late 20th century.

Bley formed his first permanent trio in 1963. Once again, convention was overturned. Instead of sticking to their traditional roles of providing rhythmic and harmonic groundwork, the bass (Steve Swallow) and drums (Pete LaRocca) were free to move independently. Some of this freedom has gradually found its way into the playing of otherwise quite straightforward piano trios nowadays. The trio’s album Footloose is still regarded as a classic.

In 1964, now an acknowledged innovator, Bley was a founder-member of the Jazz Composers’ Guild, a kind of revolutionary cell, which helped launch the careers of young players such as Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp, Michael Mantler and Sun Ra.
Electronic instruments, notably synthesisers, made their appearance towards the end of the 1960s and Bley was among the first to explore their possibilities. He gave one of the first live electronic concerts, using a portable Moog , at New York’s Symphony Hall in 1968.

His solo piano album Open To Love, recorded for the German ECM label in 1972, with its free-flowing improvisation, had much in common with Keith Jarrett’s hugely popular solo concert recordings for the same company. Although different in approach, the mutual influence is unmistakeable. In later years Bley returned to ECM, one of the most impressive albums being Play Blue, from a solo concert recorded in Oslo in 2008 and released in 2014.

In an interview around that time, Bley described sustained improvisation of this kind as a process of discovery, “to know something at the end of it that you didn’t know at the beginning”.

Paul Bley was appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 2008.

He was twice married. He leaves two daughters by his second marriage and one daughter by a partnership with the pianist and composer Annette Peacock.
Paul Bley, born November 10 1932, died January 3 2016.”

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