Carla Bley

Author: Amy C. Beal
The first in-depth look at a highly innovative jazz icon
Cloth – $110
Paper – $24
eBook – $14.95
Publication Date
Paperback: 11/21/2011
Cloth: 11/21/2011
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About the Book

This is the first comprehensive treatment of the remarkable music and influence of Carla Bley, a highly innovative American jazz composer, pianist, organist, band leader, and activist. With fastidious attention to Bley's diverse compositions over the last fifty years spanning critical moments in jazz and experimental music history, Amy C. Beal tenders a long-overdue representation of a major figure in American music.

Best known for her jazz opera "Escalator over the Hill," her role in the Free Jazz movement of the 1960s, and her collaborations with artists such as Jack Bruce, Don Cherry, Robert Wyatt, and Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, Bley has successfully maneuvered the field of jazz from highly accessible, tradition-based contexts to commercially unviable, avant-garde works. Beal details the staggering variety in Bley's work as well as her use of parody, quotations, and contradictions, examining the vocabulary Bley has developed throughout her career and highlighting the compositional and cultural significance of her experimentalism.

Beal also points to Bley's professional and managerial work as a pioneer in the development of artist-owned record labels, the cofounder and manager of WATT Records, and the cofounder of New Music Distribution Service. Showing her to be not just an artist but an activist who has maintained musical independence and professional control amid the profit-driven, corporation-dominated world of commercial jazz, Beal's straightforward discussion of Bley's life and career will stimulate deeper examinations of her work.

About the Author

Amy C. Beal is a professor of music at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the author of New Music, New Allies: American Experimental Music in West Germany from the Zero Hour to Reunification.

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Johanna Beyer cover


"Excellent."--New Yorker

"Beal ... expertly contextualizes Bley's career within the landscapes of emergent avant-garde, free jazz, and experimental music while also exploring her creative relationships with the legendary Steve Swallow, Charlie Haden, and others. . . . Readers and researchers interested in women composers, American music history, music theory, or jazz from 1950 to the present will find this book invaluable."--Library Journal

“Beal’s prose is often lyrical and always dynamic, she instantly finds the appropriate pacing for the narrative and, just as quickly, demonstrates deep knowledge of and affection for her subject.”--Popmatters

“Beal could have easily written a biography three or four times longer than the present volume. But it would be a mistake to consider Carla Bley something of a half-loaf, as it is more than enough to set the record straight.”--The Wire

Carla Bley is a marvel of concision, packing biography, musicology and cogent, descriptive analysis of her major work in barely 100 pages.”--Shepherd Express

"Accurate and kind, Carla Bley reveals with remarkable effectiveness the anatomy of the successive moments of Bley's musical life."--Clarin


"An intelligent and sensitive compositional history of Carla Bley's music. Amy C. Beal honors Bley's famous humor and autodidactism without compromising a serious analysis of Bley's compositions over a very long and distinguished career."--Sherrie Tucker, coeditor of Big Ears: Listening for Gender in Jazz Studies

"Amy C. Beal responds with alacrity and intellectual force to the challenge of contextualizing the work of this uniquely important, yet academically underexplored twentieth-century American composer-performer. An important and salutary work that greatly enriches the field of jazz studies."--George E. Lewis, author of A Power Stronger Than ItselF: The AACM and American Experimental Music