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Paul Bley, Spacious and Lyrical Jazz Pianist, Dies at 83

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Paul Bley. (Hans Kumpf / ECM Records)

Paul Bley, the jazz pianist whose recordings in the 1960s and 1970s helped redefine lyricism in jazz, has died. He was 83.

Born in Montreal, Bley in his early career played with Charlie Parker and recorded with Charles Mingus and Jimmy Giuffre. His early solo recordings for ESP-Disk Records introduced an understated tenderness to the anarchic music prevalent on the free-jazz label; he would later move to ECM and, with the 1973 release of Open, To Love, usher in what came to be called “the ECM sound.” Bley’s performances of compositions by former wife Carla Bley and colleague Annette Peacock also introduced two female composers into the jazz repertoire; a rarity in the era.

Bley continued to record and tour internationally, and in 2009 he released an autobiography, Stopping Time: Paul Bley and the Transformation of Jazz.

Bley’s family released a statement, as follows:

Paul Bley, renowned jazz pianist, died January 3, 2016 at home with his family. Born November 10, 1932 in Montreal, QC, he began music studies at the age of five. At 13, he formed the “Buzzy Bley Band.” At 17, he took over for Oscar Peterson at the Alberta Lounge, invited Charlie Parker to play at the Montreal Jazz Workshop, which he co-founded, made a film with Stan Kenton and then headed to NYC to attend Julliard.

His international career has spanned seven decades. He’s played and recorded with Lester Young, Ben Webster, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus, Chet Baker, Jimmy Giuffre, Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, Lee Konitz, Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorious and many others. He is considered a master of the trio, but as exemplified by his solo piano albums, Paul Bley is preeminently a pianists’ pianist.

He is survived by his wife of forty three years, Carol Goss, their daughters, Vanessa Bley and Angelica Palmer, grandchildren Felix and Zoletta Palmer, as well as daughter, Solo Peacock. Private memorial services will be held in Stuart, FL, Cherry Valley, NY and wherever you play a Paul Bley record.


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