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Carla Bley
Bley in 2007
Background information
Birth name Lovella May Borg
Born (1936-05-11)May 11, 1936
Oakland, California, U.S.
Died October 17, 2023(2023-10-17) (aged 87)
Willow, New York, U.S.
Genres Jazz
Occupation(s) Musician, bandleader, composer
Instruments Piano, organ
Years active 1960–2020
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 (born Lovella May Borg; May 11, 1936 – October 17, 2023) was an American jazz composer, pianist, organist, and bandleader. An important figure in the free jazz movement of the 1960s, she was 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 KK
Carla Bley at Keystone Korner, San Francisco 1979

Bley was born in Oakland, California in 1936, to Emil Borg, a piano teacher and church choirmaster, who encouraged her to sing and to learn to play the piano, and Arline Anderson, who died when Bley was eight years old. After giving up the church to immerse herself in roller skating at the age of fourteen, 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 adopting the Bley name. He encouraged her to start composing. The couple divorced in 1967, but she kept his surname professionally.


Carla Bley Pori Jazz 1978
Carla Bley conducts her band at the Pori Jazz Festival in Pori, Finland, 1978.

A number of musicians began to record Bley's compositions: George Russell recorded "Bent Eagle" for his album Stratusphunk in 1960; Jimmy Giuffre recorded "Ictus" on his album Thesis; and Paul Bley's Barrage consisted entirely of her compositions. Throughout her career, Bley thought of herself as a writer first, describing herself as 99 percent composer and one percent pianist.

In 1964, she was involved in organizing the Jazz Composers Guild, which brought together the most innovative musicians in New York at the time. She then had a personal and professional relationship with Michael Mantler, with whom she had a daughter, Karen Mantler, who also became a musician. Bley and Mantler were married from 1965 to 1991. 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 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 arranged and composed music for bassist Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra, and wrote A Genuine Tong Funeral for vibraphonist Gary Burton. Bley collaborated with a number of other artists, including Jack Bruce, Robert Wyatt and Nick Mason, drummer for the rock group Pink Floyd. Mason's solo debut album Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports was entirely written by Bley and features, alongside Mason on drums, many of her regular band musicians, leading Brian Olewnick of AllMusic to consider it a Carla Bley album in all but name.

Later life and death

Bley continued to record frequently with her own big band, which included Blood, Sweat & Tears' notable Lew Soloff, and a number of smaller ensembles, notably the Lost Chords.

After Bley's marriage to Mantler ended, she began a relationship with bassist Steve Swallow.

In 2005, she arranged the music for and performed on Charlie Haden's latest Liberation Music Orchestra tour and recording, Not in Our Name. Her last album, Life Goes On, was released in 2020.

Bley died from brain cancer at her home in Willow, New York, on October 17, 2023, at the age of 87.


Bley was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1972 for music composition.

In 2009, she was awarded the German Jazz Trophy "A Life for Jazz".

Bley received the NEA Jazz Masters Award in 2015.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Carla Bley para niños

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