Tuesday, September 04, 2007


In the course of my recent Carla Bley obsession, I came across this old interview in New Music Box. Worth checking out in its entirety, but here are some highlights:

I don't consider myself a jazz musician at all. I'm not spontaneous. I take a lot of time thinking about everything and when I finally get an idea during a solo, the piece is over. So, I'm really slow. I'm not a jazz musician; I wish I were. I'm just writing for them [...]

FRANK J. OTERI: You took the earliest Glenn Branca and Sonic Youth records.

CARLA BLEY: Yup, and Philip Glass. We were his first distributor. We did Laurie Anderson, Gil Scott Heron. Whenever someone had a hit we'd just fire ‘em. We'd say you don't need us anymore. Come on, give the other guys a break.

FRANK J. OTERI: It's kind of like Moe Asch's philosophy of Folkways. Once he had a hit record he'd say, some other label take it off of me please, I'm not interested!

I used to go around to Teo Macero at Columbia, or Nesuhi Ertegun at Atlantic, or Frances Wolf at Blue Note -- I had my presentation together and my tapes together. And they said, look, there's no market for this, we can't do it, very sorry. Finally we had to start it ourselves. We started the Jazz Composers Orchestra and Escalator Over the Hill. We fundraised ourselves: made every penny, put ourselves deep into hock, and made rich people give us money. That's how we did it. After that point I got interested in that and I didn't want to leave the outcome of my life up to anyone else. I though I'd rather be my own director.

The process has been, until this last album, to do a tour and record sometime during the tour. Two thirds of the way through is usually best because it would cost a fortune to go into a New York studio and hire guys—like I just did. So I always did these things either live, or at a studio when we had just a couple days off. There was not much that I could control with planning that. I had the band together so I didn't have to worry about someone not being able to make it, or having to go home early or something. I had those guys. They were in my band. They were in my bus and in my hotel. I got to do whatever I wanted with them for the duration of the tour, so that how I made all my albums.

I listen to NPR a lot. When there is a music show I have to go do something else for a half an hour. I'm really not crazy about listening to music because my head had music in it already. I might listen to a talk show or something, but I don't know if I would want to listen to music on the radio. So I don't blame them for not playing [my stuff].

And, on the subject of her website:

Yeah, we tried to make it hard for everybody because we were so tired of the sales game. Why sell something all the time? Why not give people something they can't have and refuse to sell it to them. Maybe we backed off of that a bit now with all that music for sale in the library. Otherwise, all the lead sheets can be downloaded for free. We didn't want to make money off of it. Strange.

And finally, on composition:

But, if you're stuck and take a long, hot bath, then it just might come to you. And then there's that thing when you're in bed and all of a sudden you can't sleep and you're going over and over that certain thing and you think, "Ah, that might work." The next day it usually doesn't, but in the garden you can keep singing something over and over again and maybe you'll come up with something. The bathtub is good for not only music; the bathtub is good for all sorts of life situations. Like, what should I put on the cover? Or, when should I visit the lawyer? The bathtub is good for everything. I'm a firm believer in not thinking too hard.


Mwanji Ezana said...

"Why not give people something they can't have and refuse to sell it to them"

I love that sentence.

I'm happy she mentions the bath thing. I take super-long showers because as soon as the water starts running, I start thinking about tonnes of stuff and lose track of time. Does anyone else do that?

Andrew said...

For me it's walking. I have some of my best thoughts on a good brisk walk.

I suppose I might be able to get some work done in the tub if we ever get around to remodeling our bathroom -- as for now it's not the most comfortable room in the house...