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Carla Bley 1936 - 2023
...however, Art lives forever.
First, my outhouse-wasp-crazy belief: human beings are riddled with design flaws, the greatest being (along with all organic life) that we grow old and die. Turning 65 years old in no way tempers my sour acceptance of death. I am no Pollyanna quoting some drunk Englishman on the subject. It is cosmically crazy that those we grow up with, live with, love, and cherish eventually are but a memory, one that on average, lives for an additional two generations. Then, we are gone.
The loss of any life diminishes those still living. Composer/arranger/big bandleader Carla Bley’s death, at 87, on October 17, 2023, is a great loss to the music community. But, it was not only expected but inevitable. Fortunately, it will not be memory alone that will keep Ms. Bley in the creative mix from now on: it will be her 50-year recording and performing career that will fix her name in the stars that include not just Lil Hardin Armstrong, Blanche Calloway, Mary Lou Williams, Melba Liston, but also Louis Armstrong, Edward Kennedy Ellington, William James Basie, the Dorsey Brothers, Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, et al. If Lincoln, at his death, “belong[ed] to the ages,” then so, indeed, does Carla Bley.
So let’s listen to and celebrate, Dinner Music (WATT/ECM, 1977), Fleur Carnivore (WATT/ECM, 1989), or Big Band Theory (WATT/ECM, 1993) while hearing Bley’s big band command like a boss. Let’s contemplate her chamber recordings, Sextet (WATT/ECM, 1987), Duets (with Steve Swallow) (WATT/ECM, 1988), or The Lost Chords find Paolo Fresu (WATT/ECM, 2007) and realize Bley’s deepest thoughts…and be happy we still have them.