Born Carla Borg in Oakland, California in 1938; her father was a church musician but she is mostly self-taught; Bley moved to NYC in 1955 and began writing for George Russell, Jimmy Giuffre, and Paul Bley. She formed the Jazz Composers Guild with Michael Mantler in 1964 which became the Jazz Composers Orchestra; Bley also started the New Music Distribution Service which supplied stores with hard-to-get cutting edge albums. She toured Europe in 1965-66.
Carla Bley came to public notice with her A Genuine Tong Funeral (1967) written for Gary Burton, and her own jazz opera (she called it a chronotransduction) Escalator over the Hill (1971) which featured a cast including both jazz (Don Cherry, Gato Barbieri, John McLaughlin) and non-jazz (Jack Bruce, Linda Ronstadt) musicians. She also wrote the arrangements for Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra (1969 to present). Bley has since 1976 led bands from combos to 18-piece big bands. Her compositions and arrangements have won awards and commissions from Down Beat and other institutions. She has also recorded duets albums with bassist Steve Swallow.
Her writing features off-balance melodies, sudden stops and starts, parody and humor; her style spans from the swing era to free jazz and fusion. Her influences range from church music and Erik Satie to jazz and the Beatles. Among her many compositions are "Sing Me Softly of the Blues," "Ida Lupino," and "Wrong Key Donkey."
Escalator over the hill. JCOA/Watt, 1971, c1998.
Carla Bley. [Rarum, 15]. ECM, 2004.
European tour 1977. Watt/ECM, 1988.
Social studies. Watt/ECM, 1980.
Appearing nightly. Watt/ECM, 2008.
Jimmy Giuffre 3: 1961. Verve/ECM, 1961, c1992.
Charlie Haden/Liberation Music Orchestra. Not in our name. Verve, 2004, c2005.
Bley, Paul. Stopping time: Paul Bley and the transformation of jazz. Vehicule, 1999. [ML417.B64 A3 1999]
Dahl, Linda. Stormy weather: the music and lives of a century of jazzwomen. Pantheon, 1984. [ML82 .D3 1984]
Kernfeld, Barry. The new Grove dictionary of jazz. 2nd ed. Grove, 2002. [Ref ML102.J3 N48 2001]
Sidran, Ben. Talking jazz: an oral history. Da Capo, 1995. [ML394 .S53 1995]