Paul Bley (November 10, 1932 - January 3, 2016)


The death of the visionary pianist/ improviser Paul Bley leaves a big hole in the jazz universe. Bley, a fearless improviser with grace, bite, humor, and knowledge, will be remembered for the ability to empty his self of all preconceptions and impediments before sitting down at the instrument, and for the ability to take his own specific approach and language and to morph it into something that works with whatever the environment and/or musicians that are in the ambient -- and for the ability to sit at any piano [and they all have different personalities] and except for being extremely stylized, he could pull out the personality of that particular piano while still sounding like himself.

Paul, though studied, was completely naturalistic and organic in his musical conception. He had a mindset that was always in the moment, and if so-called history ever came through in his playing, it was more a function of the natural flow of language than any ostentatious show of jazz knowledge.His music breathed, flowed, sang, and danced. He spanned so many movements: from post-bop sessions with Coleman Hawkins and Sonny Rollins [Bley's style on this record is the template for the Keith Jarrett trio sound] to the Third Stream austerity of the Jimmy Giuffre Three to his collaboration with free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman to his project with John Gilmore on the Improvising Artists label -- and on and on. He just cared about sitting down at the piano -- making music and being honest in his expression. His style (if you want to use that term) is open at the top, and over his career it morphed into many fascinating asides and different angles, being more an open sound and facility that had minor transformations based on what was before him. He also created a personality about how he went about his business in the music industry that was just as fascinating as his playing. Bley was a completely honest artist who did not give a fuck about all the fashion and distracting forces that can exist in all this. - Matthew Shipp

Mr. Shipp is one of the leading pianists in modern jazz. His most recent album, The Conduct of Jazz, has been honored on many best-of-2015 jazz lists. He is also curator of the Thirsty Ear label's "Blue Series."