Paul Bley Day

November 10, 1932 – January 3, 2016

Introducing the Fear Industry

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Pianist Paul Bley was born Nov. 10, 1932 in Montreal, Canada.

After a brief stint on violin, Bley switched permanently to piano when he was seven; he developed quickly and at 13 was working in a band at resorts during the summer, also touring with American bands.

In 1950 he moved to New York City, attending Juilliard and working on developing his style which was originally bebop-oriented.

Bley worked and recorded with Charlie Parker in 1953, led a trio throughout much of the 1950s, and also performed with Jackie McLean, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Charles Mingus, and Dakota Staton.

He married Carla Bley in 1956 (their marriage lasted just a few years) and the following year led a group at the Hillcrest Club in Los Angeles that eventually included Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins (future members of the Ornette Coleman Quartet); the avant-garde unit was soon fired but Bley was strongly influenced by the new music.

Paul Bley gradually developed his own approach to playing “free jazz” that was gentler than that of Cecil Taylor, using melody, chords and rhythm in a fairly free way while also making use of space and his own lyrical personality.

Bley was part of the Jimmy Giuffre 3 in the early 1960s and had a stint with Sonny Rollins but was mostly a leader from then on.

He was a major force in the formation of the Jazz Composers Guild, was a pioneer in the use of the Moog synthesizer (which he performed live as early as 1969, often with Annette Peacock), and with his second wife Carol Goss founded the Improvising Artists (IAI) label in 1974 which released many important recordings; he used Pat Metheny (the guitarist’s recording debut) and Jaco Pastorius on his Jaco album.

While Paul Bley occasionally played electric piano, he was mostly heard on acoustic piano during his last few decades, recording prolifically for many labels and retaining his adventurous spirit; his autobiography Stopping Time is well worth reading.

The pianist passed away on Jan. 3, 2016 at the age of 83.

Here he is playing a solo piano version of “I Loves You Porgy” in 1994 that contains some surprising twists and turns.

-Scott Yanow


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