Carla Bley: Life Goes On

Carla Bley
Carla Bley.

Boo to you too

Through Pink Floyd, I learned to know some other great artists and bands. Roy Harper, obviously. If you didn’t know who the singer was on Have A Cigar you couldn’t make it into the Pink Floyd fan circle at the Louvain schoolyard. 

Although ‘just’ the drummer, Nick Mason did bring in some interesting musical links: Gong, Steve Hillage and Robert Wyatt, to name a few.

In 1981, he released the album Fictitious Sports, with most titles sung by Robert Wyatt. A closer look at the credits though, revealed that all songs had been written by Carla Bley. Carla who?

Musique mecanique

Carla Bley’s career started as a cigarette girl at the notorious Birdland Jazz Club in New York. She worked with Paul Bley (whom she married in 1957) and on Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra. A (pretty weird) jazz opera followed in 1971, Escalator Over the Hill, with Linda Ronstadt, Paul Jones, Jack Bruce, Don Cherry, Gato Barbieri and John McLaughlin. 

Nick Masons Fictitious Sports
Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports.

Joyful Noise

She contributed to records of her second husband, trumpeter Michael Mantler, and he can be found on about ten of her albums as well. Occasionally, Mantler would invite rock stars on his avant-garde records, such as Robert Wyatt, Jack Bruce, Kevin Coyne, Chris Spedding, Marianne Faithfull and Rick Fenn.

Nick Mason joined Mantler on the albums Live, Something There and The Hapless Child which contains a sample of Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict.

The marriage with Mantler also ended, and Carla Bley started a relationship with bass player Steve Swallow. Needless to say, he can be found on several of her records.

Sex with Birds

Carla Bley’s music ranges from adventurous avant-garde and free jazz to very smooth light-hearted tunes. I remember that her Heavy Heart (1984) album was described by some disappointed fans as elevator jazz. Its follow-up Night-Glo (1985) was written when she fell in love with Steve Swallow and one critic called it pina-colada fuzak. These are very fine records though, to be consumed on a romantic evening in front of the fireplace, with a bottle of red wine.

Lawns, Carla Bley
Lawns, Carla Bley.


Her signature tune probably is Lawns, one of the finest jazz pieces ever. Try to catch the YouTube version between her and Steve Swallow. Their interaction is one of the most erotic ever. Jazz porn for sophisticated music lovers.

Link for recalcitrant browsers: https://youtu.be/YkBU5aM_6zM?si=s72-hBorrmT_UMbT

Dillharris1953 reviews it as follows: 

If Carla Bley never wrote another song, this would be enough to remember her as one of the greats in contemporary music. But she does and has done so, so very much more. Nevertheless, this is about this song. Simple and complex. The notes and chords are spare yet lush, sophisticated yet accessible. The tempo, haunting yet uplifting. Steve Swallow's bass lines are so perfect throughout and his solo is so touching and his technique is so impressive. I don't know if this song makes me smile or cry. I want to play it at every meaningful event, behind every meaningful media project. 
Carla Bley and The Lost Chords
Carla Bley, Steve Swallow, Andy Sheppard and Billy Drummond at Flagey, Brussels, Belgium (2003).
Carla Bley
Carla Bley.

Healing Power

Have you ever been to a concert where the music will haunt you for days that follow? Carla Bley had that ability and it made me run to the shop to get her latest album. She was a great lady of jazz, and pretty funny as well, with humour as dry as Nick Mason’s. No wonder they made a punk-jazz record together, although both more or less regretted the album later. Do Ya?, I’m a Mineralist and Hot River are magnificent tracks though.

Goodbye Carla, it’s time to crank up the volume to 11 and play that wacky Rawalpindi Blues again.

Link for recalcitrant browsers: https://youtu.be/GZNkt5z2yKY?si=s65JBdbF2sIZ6tot

Many thanks to: Dillharris1953.
♥ Iggy ♥ Libby ♥