Thursday, 21 January 2016


1932 – 2016

PAUL BLEY (solo piano)
from the 1972 ECM LP Open, To Love

CHET BAKER [trumpet, vocal]; PAUL BLEY [piano]
from the 1985 Steeplechase LP Diane 

Canadian born jazz pianist and composer Paul Bley died at his home in Florida on 3 January 2016.  He was eighty-three years old.

Bley began playing professionally as a high school senior, taking over from Oscar Peterson at the Alberta Lounge in his hometown of Montréal.  This marked the beginning of a seven decade career which saw the adventurous pianist perform and record with many a jazz legend including Lester Young, Ben Webster, Charlie 'Bird' Parker, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Lee Konitz, Jaco Pastorius, Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny among many, many others. 

Bley was best known, however, for his idiosyncratic and sometimes meditative solo and trio work which frequently featured the compositions of his first wife Carla Bley (who wrote Ida Lupino) and saw him successfully collaborate with his second wife, the singer/composer Annette Peacock, on several albums released throughout the first half of the 1970s.  The latter phase of his career often saw Bley perform and record as a solo artist –– a period which produced many outstanding albums including The Sankt-Gerold Variations (1996), the hypnotic Solo in Mondsee (2009) and Play Blue: Oslo Concert (2014).

The following is an excerpt from his memoir Stopping Time: Paul Bley and the Transformation of Jazz, co-authored with musician and critic David Lee and published by the Véhicule Press in 1999.  (Sadly, the book is now out of print.)


I was working with Pete Brown in Brooklyn on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, until midnight. Dick Garcia asked me if I'd come Saturday night and play with Bird in an armory up in Harlem beginning at one a.m. So I worked until 11:30 and then went up to play with Bird

Bird was nowhere to be found at two a.m. We played the second set. At three a.m., exactly, Bird walked into the Armory, unpacked as if it was midnight, and of course no one said a thing, because sixteen bars into his first chart, it was midnight. Nobody remembered that he was late.

That was the kind of self-test that the great musicians gave themselves in that period. They always came very late to gigs. Other than the fact that they might have had trouble getting to the job on time, that was a test of their abilities: to play so well when they began that the audience forgot that they were two hours late. Just as several decades later, you could be allowed a hostile attitude about yourself and your work and everyone around you, provided that your great playing justified your attitude. But if your playing did not justify the attitude then you were dismissed as being a fake. In short, you have to be able to afford your attitude.

With Bird's concept, he would be playing a thirty-two bar tune and in the second eight, he would already be starting something that was going to get him into the bridge. Meanwhile, I was busy on bar three-and-a-half of the second eight, and in my conception of it, the bridge was a long way off.

That was a very important lesson to learn. You never play where you are. You play where you're going. Thinking ahead. Some could think ahead 16 bars, some could think ahead four choruses. Now I've gotten to the point where I can hear a whole solo in advance not note for note, but structurally. I get an idea, facing a rhythm section or a particular instrument in a particular environment, of what can be done in what length of time.

In hearing Bird's ability to anticipate what was coming and always thinking ahead, I've tried to extend the idea to listening to three things before I start playing a phrase:

One: What was the last phrase that was played, and what was the last note of the last phrase that was played, and what should follow that?

Two: What music has been played throughout the history of jazz that has to be avoided, leaving me only what's left as material for the next phrase?

Three: Where would I like to get to by the time my playing is finished?

All that in a split second during a pause in my phrasing.

Paul Bley is survived by his third wife Carol Goss, his three daughters and his two grandchildren.  Thankfully, much of his fine and challenging music remains widely available on CD, Spotify and iTunes. 

Click HERE to visit the website of PAUL BLEY and HERE to read his obituary published in The New York Times on 5 January 2016.  You can listen to more great music by PAUL BLEY on YouTube by clicking HERE.

Special thanks to everyone who takes the time to upload music to YouTube.  Your efforts are appreciated by music lovers everywhere.

c 2014

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