Beloved musician succumbs to cancer: Dead at 87

Written by Henrik Rothen

Oct.18 - 2023 1:52 PM CET

Beloved musician succumbs to cancer.

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Carla Bley, a luminary in the realm of jazz, has passed away at the age of 87 due to complications from brain cancer.

According to The Guardian, Her death was confirmed by her longtime partner and collaborator, Steve Swallow. Bley's career was a tapestry of innovation, spanning from mainstream jazz to avant-garde compositions.

Born as Lovella May Borg in 1936 in Oakland, California, Bley was introduced to the piano at the tender age of three. She left school at 14 and began her musical journey playing piano in Bay Area jazz clubs. At 17, she moved to New York and took a job at the iconic jazz club Birdland, where she was more engrossed in the music than her job as a cigarette girl.

Watch Carla Bley perform in the video below

A Life in Music

Bley's musical journey took her from the Bay Area to New York, where she married pianist Paul Bley in 1957. She composed music that Paul and other musicians like Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry could improvise upon.

She later became a pivotal figure in New York's free jazz scene and was actively involved in the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra and its associated Guild, advocating for musicians' working conditions.

Bley was not just a musician but also a political activist through her art. She was the arranger and conductor for the Liberation Music Orchestra, led by bassist Charlie Haden. The orchestra was inspired by themes like the Spanish civil war and Che Guevara. Bley also ventured into the world of rock and pop, collaborating with artists like Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason and Robert Wyatt.

Diagnosed with brain cancer in 2018, Bley continued to make music until her final days. She released a series of albums with German label ECM, the most recent being "Life Goes On" in 2020, featuring Swallow and saxophonist Andy Sheppard.

Bley's death marks the end of an era, but her diverse body of work ensures that her legacy will continue to inspire musicians and listeners alike.