Carla Bley: On Her Own

Some Great Records

FRANK J. OTERI: Getting back to some of the music, I want to talk about some of my favorite things of yours. I know we’re jumping back into the past again, but then we’re going to jump back into the future. I love Musique Mecanique. That album features an extremely young Eugene Chadbourne. He’s really made a name for himself with electric rake and all his crazy country experiments.

CARLA BLEY: Shockabilly.

FRANK J. OTERI: Yeah. But I think that record with you is his earliest recording.

CARLA BLEY: No, we distributed one of his records at NMDS.


CARLA BLEY: He put out his own record.

FRANK J. OTERI: So that’s how you found him.

CARLA BLEY: No. I found him at a concert in Toronto. A painter friend of mine, Mark Snow, said, you got to hear this guitar player, you’ll just love him. I went, and I just loved him. It was at a gallery. It wasn’t even a club.

FRANK J. OTERI: It’s a very, very unique record on many levels.

CARLA BLEY: Terry Adams… wasn’t that amazing? I met him because he came to a Jazz Composers Orchestra session and said, I recorded one of your tunes. He was this weird, wonderful guy from Kentucky. I was really surprised. I just put in everybody I knew at that point.

FRANK J. OTERI: Soon after that record you put out a whole series of records with a pretty much consistent group of people. Getting back to an earlier thread we were talking about, how do you get the sounds that you want out of a group of people? Your response was you have to be there. But you had a pretty tight regular group—Roswell Rudd and Steve… There was a definite group of people who played together. The people who where on the Europe ’77 tour album.


FRANK J. OTERI: That’s a very, very tight sound.

CARLA BLEY: Well, that had nothing to do with me. They had their own sound. I used them. That was the end of it. My choice to use them was the creation of the sound because they wouldn’t sound like anything I would want them to sound like if they didn’t sound like that in the first place. Those people wouldn’t do that or they couldn’t do that. You just choose. You hire the sound that you want.

FRANK J. OTERI: How big of an ensemble can you have sound that tight?

CARLA BLEY: Escalator Over The Hill—I’ll give you a video of the live concert—was great!

FRANK J. OTERI: How many players total?

CARLA BLEY: I used about 35 something.

FRANK J. OTERI: That’s big!

CARLA BLEY: They sounded perfect!

FRANK J. OTERI: I know on the recording that there are different people on each track. It wasn’t the same consistent group.

CARLA BLEY: That’s true, and it was recorded over the period of years—many different sessions, many different locations.

FRANK J. OTERI: In terms of a touring group, a more recent record that I love is Big Band Theory. In that group you have something like 9 horns on there: 5 trumpets, French horns—maybe 10 horns—trombones…

CARLA BLEY: No, that was Fleur Carnivore with a 10-horn band. The others are standard big bands.

FRANK J. OTERI: There’s a lot of brass.


FRANK J. OTERI: There are voicings on there with moments that feel like that entire brass section is moving like a single line. I think the only other time I heard brass sound that tight was on Willie Colón salsa records from the early ’70s.


FRANK J. OTERI: I mean I love how tight that group is!

CARLA BLEY: Thank you! I didn’t know that was unusual at all.

FRANK J. OTERI: I think it is.

CARLA BLEY: I’m so thrilled. Wow, it’s great. I’m just sitting here thinking about it. [pauses] Mmmm. I don’t know why.

FRANK J. OTERI: Did you tour with them a lot before it was recorded? Or did that happen in the studio and then you toured with it? What’s the process?

CARLA BLEY: 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.

FRANK J. OTERI: Do you record all the gigs on the tour?

CARLA BLEY: No, definitely not. Well, if it’s a small group maybe we can record—like the duo things where we recorded 10 different gigs. But this last album, Looking For America, I said, I want to make an album with the best New York musicians, I want to make it at the best New York studio, and I want to have a rehearsal in advance, which is something! God, who gets rehearsals? You know, I want to rehearse! Maybe I’ll have two rehearsals. I’m going to save my money and do it. And I did it. So, finally I have a studio recording with great musicians. But I think it pretty much sounds like my other albums.

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