Paul Bley, vi­sion­ary jazz pi­anist, dies at 83

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OBITUARIES -

Vi­sion­ary Cana­dian-born pi­anist Paul Bley, a piv­otal fig­ure in the avant-garde jazz move­ment known for his in­no­va­tive trio and solo record­ings, has died. He was 83.

Bley died Sun­day of nat­u­ral causes at his win­ter res­i­dence in Stu­art, Florida, said Tina Pe­likan, pub­li­cist for the ECM record la­bel, cit­ing fam­ily mem­bers.

Through­out his ca­reer, Bley was a mu­si­cal ad­ven­turer de­ter­mined to find his own voice. “If I come up with a phrase that sounds like some­body else, I don’t play it,” he said in a 2006 in­ter­view for the web­site All About Jazz.

He chal­lenged the be­bop or­tho­doxy, adapt­ing the free jazz of sax­o­phon­ist Or­nette Coleman for the pi­ano, offering a qui­eter, mood­ier version. He later pi­o­neered ex­per­i­ments with syn­the­siz­ers. His ground­break­ing pi­ano trios — no­tably with bassist Gary Pea­cock and drum­mer Paul Mo­tian — lib­er­ated rhythm in­stru­ments from their tra­di­tional sup­port­ing roles, making ev­ery­one equal as im­pro­vis­ers.

Born Nov. 10, 1932, in Mon­treal, Bley be­gan study­ing mu­sic at age 5, start­ing on vi­o­lin and switch­ing to pi­ano by age 7.

As a teenager, he was al­ready play­ing gigs around Mon­treal, and at age 17 re­placed fel­low Mon­treal pi­anist Os­car Peter­son at the Alberta Lounge. Bley moved to New York in 1950 to study at Juil­liard, but re­mained ac­tive in his home city, where he formed the Mon­treal Jazz Work­shop, play­ing with such be­bop leg­ends as Char­lie Parker and Sonny Rollins.

In New York, he par­tic­i­pated in pi­anist Len­nie Tris­tano’s ex­per­i­men­tal jazz work­shops and met bassist Charles Min­gus, who pro­duced and played on Bley’s 1953 de­but record­ing, “In­tro­duc­ing Paul Bley.” In 1957, Bley moved to Los An­ge­les where he per­formed with trum­peter Chet Baker. In 1958, Bley in­vited a then-un­known Or­nette Coleman and his quar­tet with drum­mer Billy Hig­gins, trum­peter Don Cherry and bassist Char­lie Haden to play with him at the Hill­crest Club.

That gig led Bley to be re­garded as “the man who headed the palace coup that over­threw be­bop” in the Pen­guin Guide to Jazz. In 1959, Coleman’s quar­tet ap­peared at New York’s Five Spot jazz club and re­leased the al­bum “The Shape of Jazz to Come” — a sem­i­nal mo­ment in jazz history that ush­ered in the free jazz move­ment.

AP PHOTO

This un­dated photo pro­vided by ECM Records shows the vi­sion­ary Cana­dian-born pi­anist Paul Bley.

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