This article appeared on www.jazzwest.com
Carla Bley at Monterey
Others present may claim their own favorites, with great fervor perhaps: a preference for Tony Bennett, Sonny Rollins, John Scofield (in all his incarnations), the weekend long roving New Orleans Jazz Vipers--but the highlight of the 48th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival for me was Carla Bley, in each and every one of her manifestations. She performed with her group The Lost Chords on Friday night; premiered, with the Carla Bley Big Band, her commissioned piece “The Black Orchid” on Saturday evening; and joined bassist/companion Steve Swallow in a fine, informal “Conversation” (hosted by jazz writer Andy Gilbert) on Sunday afternoon.
Oakland-born, at age seventeen, Carla Bley came to Monterey to play lounge piano at the Black Orchid Club. She had been hired by a man named Walter Tanous, who heard her accompanying a folk singer at the Purple Onion in San Francisco. “Ever since I could remember,” she told me in a pre-festival phone interview, “I’d try to get people to drive me down to Monterey, Carmel, Big Sur. That was to be Paradise. That’s where I wanted to live—forever.” At seventeen, fledgling pianist Bley rented a one-room cabin on a side street off Ocean Avenue in Pacific Grove. “Just two minutes from the tide pools. That was important to me; I always loved the ocean.” She bought a Model A Ford for $50, but it broke down the next day, and either Walter Tanous or his wife would “drive me to the club and take me home, each night.”
When she came to play at the club Tanous and his brother Harry had opened in 1954, Carla Bley had been exposed to some jazz (Lionel Hampton at the Oakland Auditorium; Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker at the Blackhawk in San Francisco), and she heard Cab Calloway’s band at the Black Orchid itself one night. I did some research and discovered that guitarist Tal Farlow once appeared at the short-lived club with Red Norvo, but I also discovered, from a disparate source, that Farlow didn’t show and was replaced by Bill Dillard, a guitarist from Salinas.
The club’s location is equally equivocal. It’s been sighted on both Alvarado and Pacific Streets, and Del Monte as well (“at the foot of the Presidio”), and one Monterey “old-timer” I talked to even placed the Black Orchid across town, close to the Naval Postgraduate School. The mystery was solved by way of Polk’s Monterey/Pacific Grove City Directory: 1954-1955, which claims the club resided at 70 Pacific Street, in the Miramar Hotel. The existence of contradictory accounts led me to believe--as they did Carla--that one of the most interesting things about the place (aside from the fact that she played there) was its "legendary" status, an aura of mystery or ambivalence I was sure Carla Bley would capture in her music—and she did.
In 1954, when she first arrived in Monterey, she was not yet improvising—“a disadvantage for a budding lounge pianist,” she says now, with characteristic humor. The clientele was "single men, mostly soldiers from the nearby military base who would sit at the piano bar" and listen to her exhaust her "very small and carefully arranged repertoire.” “Those few weeks at the Black Orchid Club were the only time I ever played solo piano,” she adds. “I could read music but … how did I do those arrangements? I think I just heard them on the radio, and did them by memory. I don’t think I had lead sheets. I did Richard Rodgers pieces—things like ‘Where or When’ or ‘Hello, Young Lovers.’ One night one of the soldiers at the bar asked me to play ‘Hello, Dolly,’ and I was so grossed out! I could never possibly play ‘Hello, Dolly.’ I just did what I wanted to do, exactly. If someone asked for a request, I would say, ‘No.’”
Pretty cool for a “kid” of seventeen years. “I was much more comfortable then than I am now,” she says, “with everything, with every aspect of life really. Bold, wasn’t afraid of much. God, now I’m terrified!” But the gig lasted only a few weeks. A patron from the Naval Post Graduate School introduced her to a boy who, the son of the concert master of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, was headed “home,” back east, and the two of them drove to New York, surviving on a single loaf of bread that lasted a week. “It was important for a kid from Oakland to get to New York.”
From early work--A Genuine Tong Funeral, with vibraphonist Gary Burton, 1967, and Escalator over the Hill, 1971--through recent pieces such as Looking for America and The Lost Chords, Carla Bley is known for her uncanny ability to combine genuine respect for tradition and traditional materials with humor (parody and even satire), reverence laced with mischief. Comparing her to Fats Waller and Thelonious Monk, “forward looking” artists who “paid a price for their comic bent,” critic Jeffrey Himes wrote, “Levity can unlock the world for us as effectively as gravity … and no one knows this better than Carla Bley.”
She divided the commissioned piece that recounts these experiences into four sections: “40 On/20 Off” (“I’m not sure the actual time was forty minutes on, twenty minutes off, but that gives you the idea of what it’s like to play in a club”); “Second Round”; a ballad section called “What Would You Like to Hear?”; and a final part appropriately titled “Last Call.”
Thinking of what she described as the “carefully arranged repertoire” she played at the Black Orchid, I asked if she had treated the “What Would You Like to Hear?” section of her commissioned piece with humor, or a trace of self-mockery. “No,” she responded. “I changed a melody I had previously to fit that title. There’s just one ballad, in the middle, which is just about half as good as a Richard Rodgers’ piece [laughs], and there are a couple of quotes from ballads in it—but the more I tried to put quotes in, the cornier it sounded, so that section is not literal. But you know it’s really wonderful to have come up with the title of the piece--Steve Swallow suggested ‘Appearing Nightly at The Black Orchid,’ but I thought, ‘I’ll just call it “The Black Orchid”--because it makes it more interesting to play it at the Monterey Jazz Festival, knowing that the piece has to do with having been in Monterey fifty years ago—and this is one festival I’ve wanted to do all my life.”
I was privileged to attend a Friday afternoon rehearsal session of the Carla Bley Big Band, held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in a room of adequate acoustical size stripped down from the warehouse expanse of a “ballroom”—a remnant of which presented itself whenever large doors set in the wall flew open, sometimes in time to the music, more often not, revealing a loading dock that exposed sudden explosive sunlight. Whether in time or not, this accident was somehow in keeping with the playful ambivalence and inclusiveness of Carla Bley’s music itself.
Carla too, in appearance, resembles her music: physically slight and slender but—as Ring magazine once said of “Sugar” Ray Robinson, a welterweight turned middleweight, “pound for pound, the best boxer of all time”—a powerhouse (in her own shy, subtle way) presence. She was dressed in black, aside from spanking white sneakers and a large collar white shirt whose tails hung from beneath her sweater, charts spread before her on the floor, and the total score, thick as the Bible (both testaments!) standing on a podium before her.
Carla Bley does not conduct in the mobile, balletic manner of a Maria Schneider (whose Anna Pavlovaian gestures can become as intriguing as the music they engender), nor, standing in front of her big band, does she “sculpt” her compositions as Toshiko Akiyoshi does. Her method is intense, dedicated, deadly serious, but there is also—like her music—something playful, nearly Harlequinesque about it, as if she were overseeing the strings of puppets—which in a sense she is; albeit fully conscious, talented, imaginative “puppets” who can be, on occasion, as willful as she is.
I am fortunate in knowing some of these puppets: excellent local musicians such as Weber Iago (Hammond B3 organ), Roger Eddy (tenor saxophone), Hart Smith (trombone), assembled by another superb local musician, alto saxophonist George Young, who had worked with Carla back east in the mid-90s (and found her music “fun and challenging”) and was asked to organize this aggregate for the premier of Bley’s commissioned piece, “The Black Orchid.” The band was also fleshed out with other fine musicians from Santa Cruz and the San Francisco Bay area, plus the members of her own group, The Lost Chords: Steve Swallow on bass, Andy Sheppard on tenor saxophone, and Billy Drummond on drums.
Bley had made some changes in the score (“So this one is slightly different: 7th bar, B3”) and once they’d been pointed out, she counted off “1,2 … 1,2,3,4,” and standing back from what she heard from the band in return, asked, quite democratically, “Do you think that sounds good or not? Should the trombones be more crisp? Would they sound better with mutes? I don’t know.” They tried it again—with just two trombones, not the entire section of four, and the rhythm section (Steve Swallow nearly hidden behind a grand piano, leaning forward with the dedication of a monk in a scriptorium, very much there in the music). “ I have to hear the rhythm section!” she said.
Citing “that piano figure that goes into letter ‘A,’” Bley moved to the piano, but did not play. She listened intently to a section of trombone growls and sax drones, a steady accretion, supervising the progression with her left hand cocked in command, her right hand on her hip, nodding her head throughout. She found something that wasn’t working well in the ensemble and said, “Shall we try separate sections?”--to which Steve Swallow replied, “No, we’ll get it,” and they did. Carla then addressed the entire group, saying, “In a big band, we’re all part of the rhythm section, and it’s your responsibility to know where you’re supposed to be.” She pointed out a particular passage to the trombones: “That’s got to come right on top of one [the beat], with no delay”—and when they tried it again, she smiled for the first time in the rehearsal, apparently pleased.
When Bley did sit down at the piano, she played mostly with her right hand alone, her left tapping out intricate rhythms fully in keeping with the music the rest of the band played, as if she were Zakir Hussain providing tabla accompaniment destined not to be heard but fascinating to watch—as is her tendency to rise on her toes when the group is really cooking, her flat outstretched hands (angular as the dance of Shiva) creating levels of meaning and direction as clear as the flight of birds.
Finally, after two hours of steady work (and it is work, work that encompasses more mathematics—“One bar too many?” Carla asks; and Steve Swallow replies, “Yes”—than I can comprehend on the spot), the band takes a break, the proverbial “five.” Roger Eddy, a friend, comes over and fills me in on a previous day’s rehearsal. “She told us,” he says, “’Don’t worry much about right and wrong, and don’t try to be intelligent. I just want personality.” In order to get “something more” out of the trombone section, she asked if they could “put some more mustard on it,” which inspired the sax section to ask about themselves. “No, you’re okay,” Bley responded,” so the sax section, according to Roger, decided they would “stick to mayonnaise.”
The rehearsal, as a whole, contained its wholly serious, perhaps even solemn moments (“We’re not together; why is that?” Bley asked at one point; “It would take a week to get that real smooth”), and it took Carla and Weber Iago a few minutes to resolve a discrepancy between what, throughout what was supposed to be a near “skittery” or “skippy” unison part, she was playing on the piano and he on the Hammond B3 organ; but her advice, in general, was quite solid, sensible (“Make sure that backgrounds sound like backgrounds … more gentle”), and insightful, addressing a trombone solo, and soloist: “Are you playing on 2 and 4, or 1 and 3?” When he confessed he’d “switched,” Carla, out of consideration for the rest of the band, said, “But what are they expecting?”
When she was not playing, just listening to the band, intently, head down, her hair covering not just her forehead but even her eyes, like a windshieldclosing out the world of distraction, she provided new meaning, for me, of poet Gerard Manley Hopkins’ fine word, “inscape” (“illumination,” a sudden perception of the “deeper pattern, order, and unity” which gives meaning to “external forms”)—or Hopkins’ notion that a work of art should be “beautiful to individuation,” by which he meant possessing a beauty that brought out all of the complex individuality of its subject, as well as the individuality of the artist. And that’s just what Carla Bley does in her work.
That night, when I walked into the Night Club for the Lost Chords set, I was greeted by Billy Drummond’s steady march rhythms on the “Star Spangled Banner” section from Carla’s Looking for America suite. Tenor saxophonist Andy Sheppard was well into his solo, interpreting the phrase (unsung) “Oh say can you see?” Sheppard played it “straight,” then slightly blurred, slurred; and he played it with Hispanic swing. Carla Bley was comping from a copious chart set on the piano, hand in hand with Steve Swallow’s upper register (fifth string, “guitar”) vamp. The mood moved from emphatic to elegiac, Carla bent far over the piano in a position of prayer, holding off forever—it seemed—on that “land of the free, home of the brave” denouement, irony everywhere until that final note was finally delivered.
Combining playful paraphrase with parade patriotism, spare and subtle passages with discordant voicings worthy of a Charles Ives Fourth of July, satirical but never sarcastic, keeping its difficult balance, the piece is—in its own way—a prolonged tease of sentiment, like the promise of America itself: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “fresh, green breast of the new world”—the “last and greatest of all human dreams,” human beings “face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to [their] capacity for wonder.” But, in the words of another writer, Robert Graves, “Nothing promised that is not performed.” Carla Bley’s unique interpretation, it seems to me, is more appropriate to our present situation than any “straightforward” rendering you are likely to hear before a football game.
Carla Bley prefaced the next piece by saying, “We’re now going to a different part of the world”; then, again with characteristic humor, “Where’s India? Let’s go there.” The tune is called “Vahskar,” and it amply displayed not only Sheppard’s versatility (he could sign on with Shakti tomorrow) but that of the complete quartet: Steve Swallow’s steady drone, Billy Drummond’s percussion build up beneath swirling soprano sax figures, Carla’s head down in a sort of trance again, as she offered a spare, simple, light touch framework for the rest: tasteful, mood-sustaining, fluid yet formal, elegant configurations (all the more rich for their seeming disinterest) that show just how much respect she has for a keyboard, and herself!
The group fleshed out the set with her arrangement of “Someone To Watch Over Me” (“It’s in there somewhere,” she said) and the patterns were recognizable within what was really a very original piece of music, all of the group’s virtues just pointed out present as well. A bright, delicate, Watteauesque waltz featured Sheppard again on soprano sax, and The Lost Chords closed out their set with Monk’s “Misterioso.” “Our version,” Carla said, and while the piece honored its composer’s craggy rhythms, it became joyously sacrilegious (in a way, I like to think, Monk would approve of), shifting key and turning into a honk and stomp close out, accelerating to a train run and maybe wreck with appropriate Sheppard sax squalls, then—enhanced by Carla’s blues (she can do that too!), his sweet “fuzz” tone at the very end.
The next night, I sat in the main arena, and listened to “The Black Orchid” commissioned piece I’d heard rehearsed, presented now on the Jimmy Lyons Stage. Many people I talked to after, knowledgeable people, felt this may have been the best such offering since Tim Jackson reestablished this practice in 1994, with Billy Child’s “Concerto for Piano and Jazz Chamber Orchestra.” If so, that’s saying a lot for Carla Bley, when you consider that since that time, Maria Schneider, Cedar Walton, Gerald Wilson, Ray Drummond, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland, Don Byron, Ralph Towner, and Terrance Blanchard have also provided Monterey Jazz Festival commissioned works.
What Carla Bley announced as “Appearing Nightly at the Black Orchid” (Steve Swallow’s originally suggested title) was preceded by two shorter works, both of which I had heard portions of at the rehearsal: “On the Stage in Cages” and “One Way”; but it’s the commissioned piece I’d like to focus on. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche came to believe that music could never be used as a means to strengthen a conception (such as in opera or programme music); that you could “push, screw, torture it, as tone, as roll of the drum,” as whatever, but that music would always “defeat poetry”; that a form such as opera was “not only an aberration of music, but an erroneous conception of aesthetics.”
However, after hearing a composition such as “Appearing Nightly at the Black Orchid,” I do not agree with him at all. Many people I talked to after felt as if they’d “been there,” actually sat in that short-lived club and on her first gig, just as the performing musicians were when, at the start of the piece, with a touch of theatrical genius, they gathered around the piano, some resting their elbows upon it in a genuine piano bar huddle, while Carla played two standards she might have played at the Black Orchid fifty years ago: “My Foolish Heart” and “Here’s That Rainy Day.” And even when they returned to standing behind their racks (standing, not sitting, another nice touch; “Let’s just do it for fun,” Carla had said at rehearsal) and performed the entire piece, the audience felt as if it, and they, had never left that bar, right up through “Last Call” and closing time. It was an extraordinary musical and extra-musical (human) experience.
As for strictly musical elements (all of which, it seemed to me, handsomely reinforced the theme itself), they were all there: solid vamps, stuttered rhythms, joyous swing, mournful trombone tones over lowland sax section work, sudden horn blats and shrieks and droops and shivering; a sweet ballad portion, fine solos by John Worley, Marty Wehner, Andy Sheppard, George Young; the classic eternally rich big band sound, accretion, chromatic climbs or ascents; handsome flute/alto/tenor/baritone sax harmonies and exchanges; the ideal rhythm section, and Carla’s constant lucid and delightfully oddball on occasion underpinnings—her sense of humor and playfully serious nature--informing it all.
Introducing her commissioned piece, Carla Bley said, “Fifty years ago I played in a club called the Black Orchid and it was my first gig as a leader, even though I was the only musician.” The next day, at the “Conversation” session, when someone asked a question about rehearsal and just how a big band gets “tight,” she replied that, even before the curtain parted on Saturday night, she couldn’t find the ingredients Steve Swallow would outline that make a band “tight” (playing with “precision,” possessing an attitude that led to getting “the details into shape”), and she told her band, “Look, I want you guys to play like the [Radio City Music Hall] Rocketts! Go Rocketts!” And the Rocketts wenton Saturday night—a high-stepping, high-kicking chorus, with Carla Bley patting out the tempo on the palm of her hand, when she wasn’t playing herself.
When I had my first phone conversation with her (I called her home in Woodstock, New York), and told her I would like to ask, if she were willing to answer, some questions about the “Conversation” on the creative process she and Steve Swallow would be engaged in on Sunday afternoon, she said, “What? The creative process?!”—and during a second conversation, less startled, she said, “I didn’t know what the subject was and when you mentioned it, fear crept into my brain. The Creative Process—wow! All my life I’ve written it off by saying really stupid things, like, ‘I take a cup of coffee and I go to my desk and I sharpen the pencil,’etc.”
I did, over the phone, ask about the degree of intentionality involved, as opposed to intuition. I had read that, composing his homage to Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets, Such Sweet Thunder, Duke Ellington actually replicated the ten syllables (notes or tones) and five stresses of iambic pentameter in “Sonnet in Search of a Moor,” and while listening to the Carla Bley Big Band goes to church, in a piece called “Beads,” I heard chromatic ascents that seemed to mimic that act of intoning rosary beads and, in the coda at the end, the exact syllables (notes, tones) of “Hail Mary, full of grace,” etc. Was this just my imagination, or is it there?
“Great! I know it’s your imagination,” Carla said; “Well, no, it’s not just your imagination! It’s true, I guess. But I didn’t really have anything like that in mind. I have used bird songs in composition, a lot; I’ve even recorded birds—just stole their songs outright, huge songs! And another thing, when I played organ twenty years ago, I used to make all the phrases match words as I improvised. I’d say something to myself and then play it as I said it. I’d be playing with Steve Swallow, on stage, and I would play the syllables of, ‘Oh Steve, I can’t believe I had that fight with you last night! I’m so sorry.’ But I don’t do that anymore …”
“How much is instinctual then,” I asked, “and how much actually does get planted?” “It’s allinstinctual,” she replied. “It’s all sub-conscious; let’s put it that way.” I asked her about a sudden shift in rhythm, to a “Latin tinge,” at the start of Looking for America. It seemed intentional, acknowledging our multiple origin. “That was intentional,” she said. “I knew when I decided to call that piece Looking for America—the title didn’t come until after the album was finished—that I would actually bring in South America and Central America—and Mexico, in particular.” I mentioned introducing “The Old Rugged Cross” and “Bringing in the Sheaves” in the Carla Bley Big Band goes to church—employed with respect, perhaps even reverence, but also a measure of playfulness; and Carla Bley said, “There are some people in my family who have never spoken to me since that album came out.”
With these thoughts of hers in mind, I was curious to see what she and Steve Swallow, together, might add to them throughout the “Conversation” session held at the Monterey Jazz Festival itself, and they did not let me, or the audience, down. I could sense that they would complement each other handsomely when, pausing at the foot of the stage before going on, Steve Swallow gave Carla a quick kiss. Introduced as a “jazz maverick who always follows her muse” by Andy Gilbert, Carla Bley said straight out that the commissioned piece “could have been a disaster, but it wasn’t.” This led into a discussion of what it’s like to put a long or extended form together, and also finding appropriate titles for such works.
She talked about the time when, working on what would become Looking for America, she found Steve looking through a telescope and told him, “You look really good looking through a telescope,” adding that this might make a good photo for his next CD; and then she took a look herself while he snapped pictures of her, and she decided, “I look good looking through a telescope … perhaps everyone does.” And that’s where the title Looking for America came from. Steve Swallow said that most titles come “after the fact … the piece has to be called something or you don’t get your royalties.”
These observations led back to reflection on instinct or accident and intentionality again. The act of composition seems to require a balancing act between “welcoming fortunate accidents and making the most of them,” and “manufacturing.” Swallow said, “That’s not an inaccurate word,” one does end up working in a sort of “music factory,” especially on “a long piece like Carla writes.” By this he meant that at some stage, “you put on the lab coat and go to work.” This part of the process may be “dry,” and must follow on the heels of the realization of “what you’ve got and the implications.”
Carla: “You start out not getting a single idea. The next day you feel suicidal, because you know it’s all over … then one note comes, which is not enough … then two notes, which is better than one … then a rhythmic feel.” Initially, Carla Bley doesn’t write directly for an orchestra. “It could be a quartet, or just a lead sheet, or an opera with a forty voice chorus.”
Steve: “Carla is the real composer of the two of us. I’m a tune composer, Carla writes forms. It’s difficult to write a good two or three minute piece. It’s difficult to boil a piece down to absolute essentials, writing for an improvising ensemble.” The work, he said, can’t be “bloated” and you want to provide a “field in which to play,” but one that won’t work against improvisation. Steve Swallow feels the two of them do work alike “in the initial stages.” There are “no formulas.” The initial impulse is “utterly mysterious,” and it’s the same, he feels, in the visual arts or poetry. “Several days of sitting for several hours,” waiting for “notes that excite my interest in a way I know I can work with”—notes that “resonate.”
Carla: “I have a lot of abandoned work. Two or three pages that just didn’t last. You have to be very stern with yourself. Just because you once had it, doesn’t mean you have to play it.” Asked about playing from written scores, she said she would like to “get rid of sheet music,” especially in the quartet (which she regards as “a smaller big band”), and she did once, but solely by accident. Playing outdoors at Newport, the wind suddenly blew the charts away (the sheet music “suddenly out to sea somewhere”), and she had to resort to a standard F7, rather than the “bizarre version” of that chord she had written out.
Steve Swallow commented on just how meticulous her method of composition can be, saying that, listening to her compose in a room upstairs at home, he’ll hear a note, then hear it “replaced,” then hear it return again, perhaps in a new position (“moved over to an eighth note”). “This could be seen as a form of disease,” he said, which occasioned laughter from both the audience and Carla. He foresees the day when her music might become so thoroughly “distilled,” so “finely calibrated” as she gets “better and better at eliminating,” that she might end up with just one note, but that note would contain “the meaning of life, and then fade to black.” His love and respect for the woman he called “Ms. Bleythoven” shone through, and the couple even discussed commonplace daily habits while composing seven days a week: “driven by beverages,” as Carla said—Compari and soda replacing coffee as night comes on.
They even discussed the use of “birdsong” (which she’d told me about), and also “chicken songs and donkey songs” as well. Steve told a great tale about three chickens which, until they were eaten by dogs, became “a wonderful source of musical licks.” The chickens—who were named “C,” “Eb,” and “John” (the latter sang in “no key,” the “Arnold Schonberg of the chicken world”)—inspired a tune of Carla’s called “Chicken.”
There was a provision for questions from the audience, and someone asked about “collaboration” with other composers—something they have not done, not even with each other (they write separately, but “help each other,” Steve verifying the rhythms of a bass part she has written, he providing tips on her own performance). Because I have set my own poetry to music, I was tempted to ask about collaboration with writers, poets, which they have done, and fortunately Steve Swallow did mention Carla’s work with Paul Haines on Escalator Over the Hill (“I wrote all the music before the words,” she said) and Steve talked about working with Robert Creeley (The Way Out Is Via the Door and Have We Told You All You’d Thought to Know), from whom he found inspiration when he’d reached “some kind of impasse” as far as composition went, and turned to the words of his “favorite poet.” Creeley’s “vernacular speech” suggested “wonderful rhythms” and “odd time signatures,” potential phrasing and structure. “I think I collaborated with Robert Creeley,” he said, “and profited mightily from it.”
A final question from the audience, regarding her place as a woman in the “man’s world” of jazz, brought a perfect response: “I hate to say I’ve never noticed, but it’s never been a problem” (when she worked as a “cigarette girl” at Birdland, after moving to New York, “If someone wanted to buy something, I’d say, ‘Shhh; wait until this solo ends’”). She told a fine story about asking her father, who was her piano teacher at age three, “Where does all this music come from?” “People write it,” he replied, and she sat down and covered a full page with little black dots. Her father looked at it and said, “That’s good, but you have to get rid of some of them.” There seems to be a large measure of continuity in her compositional methods today.
I and those present at the 48th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival were privileged to hear Carla Bley distill great music, and wise reflection on her work, throughout the entire weekend. In our initial phone interview, commenting on the rigors of writing music, she said, “I enjoy making stone walls and dams, working with stone. It’s the only time in the world when I can lose track of time. Writing music is hard … and playing it is hardest of all—just improvising. I’m very happy when it happens, when I don’t fall off the cliff.” In her compositions, arrangements, and performances, throughout her lifetime, Carla Bley has built an impressive “edifice” of stone—work full of risk, wit, humor, wisdom, and first-rate musicality. Appearing Nightly at The Black Orchid—soon to be recorded, I hope--will take its rightful place among that body of work.