Paul Bley, Influential Jazz Pianist, Has Died : A Blog Supreme Bley's long-standing commitment to thoughtful yet intuitive performance proved adaptable to many different settings for nearly seven decades. He was 83.
NPR logo

Paul Bley, Influential Jazz Pianist, Has Died

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/462061538/462114400" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Paul Bley, Influential Jazz Pianist, Has Died

Paul Bley, Influential Jazz Pianist, Has Died

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/462061538/462114400" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right, any jazz hall of fame should certainly include the man who made this music. It's Paul Bley. He was a Canadian pianist who played an important role in the jazz scenes in New York and Los Angeles from the early 1950s to the present. And just a measure of Bley's talent - well, consider this. Jazz greats Charles Mingus and Art Blakey backed him up on his debut recording. In a career that lasted nearly seven decades, Bley also helped launch the careers of other younger musicians who became far more famous. Paul Bley died Sunday from natural causes at his home in Florida. He was 83 years old. And NPR's Andrew Limbong has this appreciation.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Paul Bley was all about not repeating himself.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

PAUL BLEY: An audience stays awake only so long as you give it new material.

LIMBONG: As he told NPR's Piano Jazz in 1990. By that time, he was an established improviser playing free jazz.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

BLEY: It's free only in the sense that you're not bringing written music to the table. I interpret the word free as the ability to play as far in as necessary every and as far out as possible, depending on what is needed at the moment.

(SOUNDBITE OF PAUL BLEY SONG)

LIMBONG: This particular moment is from 1958.

(SOUNDBITE OF PAUL BLEY SONG)

LIMBONG: The group playing with Bley would go on to become the groundbreaking Ornette Coleman Quartet, a group that changed the sound of jazz in the 1960s. But it was Bley who gave Coleman his first shot, just as he did for Pat Metheny and Jaco Pastorious. Paul Bley was born in 1932 in Montreal. He played music as a kid and ended up going to Juilliard in New York. He was known for being at the front of waves in music, pushing its outer boundaries and exploring its inner ones with clarinetist Jimmy Guiffre and bassist Steve Swallow.

(SOUNDBITE OF PAUL BLEY SONG)

LIMBONG: In the early 1970s, Bley experimented with electronic music.

(SOUNDBITE OF PAUL BLEY SONG)

LIMBONG: But about 15 years ago, Bley returned to the acoustic piano.

(SOUNDBITE OF PAUL BLEY SONG)

LIMBONG: His playing was prodding, challenging because, said Bley...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

BLEY: The whole point in making a performance, joining a band is that, at the end of the night, you've found something out you didn't know at the beginning of the night.

(SOUNDBITE OF PAUL BLEY SONG)

LIMBONG: And that's what Paul Bley was all about. Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.