Carla Bley: On Her Own

Looking for America

FRANK J. OTERI: It does! I want to talk about Looking for America; it’s what put you back on my immediate radar again. I called Tina Pelikan over at ECM and said, I have to talk to Carla Bley next week! This record is just too good!

CARLA BLEY: I bet she likes that! [laughs]

FRANK J. OTERI: I think it’s so exciting because this album is so deceptively mainstream. Yet, it’s so out there if you really listen into the details of what’s happening. In a way I think it’s the most—hyperbole again but I can’t help it, I love this record—amazing political statement, and there are no words. I adore what you’ve done with “The National Anthem.” Here you have the National Anthem and then chords change and it goes off-kilter: it’s like something has gone wrong with America, and you can hear that! I think it’s funny there is a disclaimer on the record.

CARLA BLEY: Yeah. [laughs]

FRANK J. OTERI: I don’t know, am I right? Is this a political record?

CARLA BLEY: I don’t know what to say but thank you! [laughs]

FRANK J. OTERI: [laughs]

CARLA BLEY: I started writing this 3 years ago and it wasn’t a political record at all. In fact by the time all this stuff happened with this country and George Bush got elected, this record was half-way finished. So, it wasn’t a political record. On the other hand, was I ever happy with anything? No, I always though America needed a little bit of work. I mean it was a criticism of America, but it wasn’t about what has gone on recently. I think if I had written about that it would have been a horrible, deadly serious, sad album. I was still poking fun and waxing sentimental.

FRANK J. OTERI: It’s interesting because the album harkens back—you’ve played around with the National Anthem back in 1977

CARLA BLEY: Oh yeah, all the time. I was always a troublemaker, being politically provocative in someway even though I didn’t know what I was talking about. I always did that. The day Reagan got elected I quickly wrote an arrangement of The Star Spangled Banner on the bus in a minor key and we played it at the concert that night. I was always criticizing and complaining.

FRANK J. OTERI: There are some other things on the album that I think are so wonderful: your use of the brass to sound like a traffic jam…

CARLA BLEY: Oh, wasn’t that great? I must admit, I think that was so good! Ah, I can’t believe that was so good. I originally thought that I’d ask the percussionist to bring some child’s toys—I need horns in this. I wrote the piece first without horns in it.

FRANK J. OTERI: Really?

CARLA BLEY: Yeah. I mean not without horns, but without the traffic noises. It was just [sings]. It was just this fast piece.

FRANK J. OTERI: Almost Bebop sounding.

CARLA BLEY: Yeah. Then the horns came in a bit later and I thought, oh, I have to get some horns and sirens from the percussionists. By the end of the tour I was telling them to layout because the brass sounded so good. I think that was one of my best moments—making the brass be horns—that was really nice.

FRANK J. OTERI: It’s pretty great. Also the Latin tinges all over the record are really interesting. At times it grooves. It almost feels like there are montunos.

CARLA BLEY: Yeah, thank you again. But you know that’s because America is more than half Latin. I mean this is huge two-continental country. Latin music is so pervasive. When I was a kid in Oakland, California, my best friend was Mexican. In New York, there are all kinds of Latin music things. It’s a big influence in jazz in general. It’s American music!

FRANK J. OTERI: Of course, having Don Alias on there is just amazing.

CARLA BLEY: Yeah, he’s worked with me for a long time.

FRANK J. OTERI: Upcoming projects?

CARLA BLEY: July 1st we’ll be at the University of Minnesota.

FRANK J. OTERI: With the quartet?

CARLA BLEY: No, with the big band.

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