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Bley, Paul

trio charlie jazz peacock

Bley, Paul, jazz pianist; b. Montreal, Canada, Nov. 10, 1932. He led his own quartet in a hotel in 1945, playing Montreal nightclubs in the wake of Oscar Peterson; he was soon accompanying visiting artists such as Ben Webster, Charlie Parker (1953), Lester Young, and Roy Eldridge. Bley’s debut album (1953) was a trio album produced by and featuring Charles Mingus and Art Blakey. He left Montreal for N.Y. (1954), where he studied at the Juilliard School and formed a band with Donald Byrd, Doug Watkins, Art Taylor, and Jackie McLean. He then moved to Calif., playing with Chet Baker, and then forming a trio with Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins. They were joined by Don Cherry and Omette Coleman for an engagement at the Hillcrest, Los Angeles; he later issued two LPs from these gigs. Apparently Bley returned to Canada for a while, because he got a visa to go to N.Y. at the end of 1959, and played there with Rene Thomas; he then joined Mingus around May 1960. Bley worked with George Russell, and recorded with D. Ellis (1961–62). In 1961, he formed a trio with Steve Swallow and Pete La Roca and then toured Europe with Swallow in the Jimmy Giuffre trio, which reunited for a tour and recordings in the mid-1990s. While married to Carla Bley, he was a founding member of the Jazz Composers Guild, along with Bill Dixon, Archie Shepp, and Sun Ra; it failed but led to the more successful Jazz Composers Association formed by Carla and Mike Mantler. He has had a particular empathy with great bassists, recording with Mingus, Charlie Haden, Scott La Faro, Gary Peacock, and Dave Holland. He teamed with singer Annette Peacock in the 1970s and they experimented with synthesizers; he was the first jazz artist to perform publicly on the synthesizer. In 1974, he established the Improvising Artists record label with video artist Carol Goss. His recording Fragments emphasized his connection to Bill Evans. The low-key beauty of this kind of music has influenced New Age music. In 1996, he toured with Evan Parker and Barre Phillips. An intense, controlled, lyrical perfectionist, Bley has influenced and been admired by Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, and others, just as they shared his colleagues Charlie Haden, Barry Altschul, and others. His concept of the interactive trio developed just after that of Bill Evans, and the two shared Gary Peacock and Paul Motian. His importance has been little acknowledged, partly because of the subtlety of his music and perhaps partly because he has not successfully promoted himself.

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