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Carla Bley, née Borg, (born May 11, 1936) is an American jazz composer, pianist, organist and band leader. An important figure in the Free Jazz movement of the 1960s, she is 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 and her ex-husband Paul Bley.

Bley was born in Oakland, California. Her father, a piano teacher and church choirmaster, encouraged her to sing and to learn to play the piano. 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 Bley, whom she married in 1957 . He encouraged her to start composing. The two later divorced.

Her compositions were soon beginning to appear on record — for example, "Bent Eagle" on George Russell's Stratusphunk in 1960, and then Ictus on Jimmy Giuffre's Thesis and Paul Bley's Barrage.

In 1964 she was involved in organising 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, now also a musician in her own right.

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 Escalator Over The Hill and Mantler's Jazz Composers' Orchestra LPs. Bley and Mantler followed with WATT records, which has issued their recordings exclusively since the early 1970s. 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 has collaborated with a number of other artists, including ,Robert Wyatt and Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, whose 1981 solo album Fictitious Sports was a Carla Bley album in all but name. She arranged and composed music for Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra, and wrote A Genuine Tong Funeral for Gary Burton. Her arrangement of the music for Federico Fellini's 8½ appeared on Hal Willner's Nino Rota tribute record, Amarcord Nino Rota. She has also contributed to other Hal Willner projects, including the song "Misterioso" for the tribute to Thelonious Monk entitled "That's the Way I Feel Now", which included Johnny Griffin as guest musician on tenor saxophone, and the Willner-directed tribute to Kurt Weill, entitled "Lost in the Stars", where she and her band contributed an arrangement of the title track, with Phil Woods as guest musician on alto saxophone.

Carla Bley has continued to record frequently with her own big band and a number of smaller ensembles. Her partner, the bassist Steve Swallow, has been her closest and most consistent musical associate in recent years. In 1997, a live version of Escalator over the Hill was performed for the first time in Cologne, Germany; in 1998 "Escalator" toured Europe, and another live performance took place in May 2006 in Essen, Germany.

In 2005 she arranged the music for and performed on Charlie Haden's latest Liberation Music Orchestra tour and recording, Not in Our Name.

1971: Escalator over the Hill (Carla Bley and Paul Haines)
1974: Tropic Appetites (Carla Bley)
1975: Live in 75' (The Jack Bruce band)
1977: Dinner Music (Carla Bley)
1978: European Tour 1977 (Carla Bley Band)
1979: Musique Mecanique (Carla Bley Band)
1981: Fictitious Sports (Nick Mason, recorded 1979)
1981: Social Studies (Carla Bley Band)
1982: Live! (Carla Bley Band)
1983: The Ballad of the Fallen (Charlie Haden and Carla Bley)
1984: I Hate to Sing (Carla Bley Band)
1984: Heavy Heart (Carla Bley)
1985: Night-Glo (Carla Bley)
1987: Sextet (Carla Bley)
1988: Duets (Carla Bley and Steve Swallow)
1989: Fleur Carnivore (Carla Bley)
1991: The Very Big Carla Bley Band (Carla Bley Band)
1992: Go Together (Carla Bley and Steve Swallow)
1993: Big Band Theory (Carla Bley)
1994: Songs with Legs (Carla Bley)
1996: …Goes to Church (Carla Bley Big Band)
1998: Fancy Chamber Music (Carla Bley)
2000: 4x4 (Carla Bley)
2003: Looking for America (Carla Bley Big Band)
2004: The Lost Chords (Carla Bley)
2005: Not in Our Name (with Charlie Haden/ Liberation Music Orchestra)


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