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Avant-garde jazz pianist Bley dies – Blues guitarist Hunter dead at 84

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This undated photo provided by ECM Records shows the visionary Canadian-born pianist Paul Bley. Bley, a pivotal figure in the avant-garde jazz movement known for his innovative trio and solo recordings, has died at age 83. (AP)
This undated photo provided by ECM Records shows the visionary Canadian-born pianist Paul Bley. Bley, a pivotal figure in the avant-garde jazz movement known for his innovative trio and solo recordings, has died at age 83. (AP)

NEW YORK, Jan 6, (Agencies): Visionary Canadian-born pianist Paul Bley, a pivotal figure in the avant-garde jazz movement known for his innovative trio and solo recordings, has died. He was 83.

Bley died Sunday of natural causes at his winter residence in Stuart, Florida, said Tina Pelikan, publicist for the ECM record label, citing family members.

Throughout his career, Bley was a musical adventurer determined to find his own voice. “If I come up with a phrase that sounds like somebody else, I don’t play it,” he said in a 2006 interview for the website All About Jazz.

He challenged the bebop orthodoxy, adapting the free jazz of saxophonist Ornette Coleman for the piano, offering a quieter, moodier version. He later pioneered experiments with synthesizers.

His groundbreaking piano trios — notably with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian — liberated rhythm instruments from their traditional supporting roles, making everyone equal as improvisers.

Bley also helped introduce promising young musicians such as guitarist Pat Metheny and electric bassist Jaco Pastorius, and influenced many musicians including pianist Keith Jarrett and guitarist Bill Frisell.

Born Nov. 10, 1932, in Montreal, Bley began studying music at age 5, starting on violin and switching to piano by age 7.

As a teenager, he was already playing gigs around Montreal, and at age 17 replaced fellow Montreal pianist Oscar Peterson at the Alberta Lounge. Bley moved to New York in 1950 to study at Juilliard, but remained active in his home city, where he formed the Montreal Jazz Workshop, playing with such bebop legends as Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins.

In New York, he participated in pianist Lennie Tristano’s experimental jazz workshops and met bassist Charles Mingus, who produced and played on Bley’s 1953 debut recording, “Introducing Paul Bley.”

In 1957, Bley moved to Los Angeles where he performed with trumpeter Chet Baker. In 1958, Bley invited a then-unknown Ornette Coleman and his quartet with drummer Billy Higgins, trumpeter Don Cherry and bassist Charlie Haden to play with him at the Hillcrest Club.


That gig led Bley to be regarded as “the man who headed the palace coup that overthrew bebop” in the Penguin Guide to Jazz. In 1959, Coleman’s quartet appeared at New York’s Five Spot jazz club and released the album “The Shape of Jazz to Come” — a seminal moment in jazz history that ushered in the free jazz movement.

Bley “was the one who understood what Ornette was doing and who brought that kind of tonal mobility and melodic freedom to the piano,” the noted critic Stanley Crouch once observed.

He married pianist and composer Karen Borg, who changed her name to Carla Bley, and the couple moved back to New York in 1959. His groups featured her compositions.

Bley worked in clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre’s avant-garde chamber jazz trio, and then formed his own trio with bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Pete La Roca, releasing the influential 1963 album “Footloose.”

He turned down an invitation to join Miles Davis’ band, choosing instead to tour in 1963 with Sonny Rollins, with whom he recorded the album “Sonny Meets Hawk” featuring tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins.

Bley helped form the co-operative Jazz Composers Guild in 1964 which brought together many of the leading avant-garde jazz musicians in New York, including pianist Cecil Taylor and saxophonist Archie Shepp.

In the late 1960s, Bley became one of the first jazz musicians to use electronics and Moog synthesizers. He showcased the songs of the synth-playing singer Annette Peacock, with whom he was romantically involved. They presented the first-ever live performance with a portable Moog audio synthesizer at Philharmonic Hall in New York in 1969 and made several recordings.

During the 1970s, Bley partnered with his second wife, videographer Carol Goss, to create the production company, Improvising Artists Inc., which issued LPs and some of the first music videos.

In 1972, he released his first solo piano album, “Open, to Love” for ECM, and would record a series of solo albums after 2000, including “Play Blue: Oslo Concert” (ECM) released in 2014.

Describing his solo improvised concerts, Bley told the New York Times in a 2000 interview: “The purpose of playing a concert should be to know something at the end of it that you didn’t know at the beginning.”

Bley released more than 100 albums as a leader and sideman. He was featured in the 1981 documentary “Imagine the Sound” and wrote an autobiography, “Stopping Time: Paul Bley and the Transformation of Jazz.” In 2008, he was named a member of the Order of Canada. Private memorial services are planned.


An early champion of controversial “free jazz” pioneer Ornette Coleman, whose quartet he hired and accompanied in 1958 to play at the Hillcrest Club in Los Angeles, Bley has always trafficked in avant grade circles, and his solo improvisational gifts could be said to have influenced such later innovators of the form as Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea (Bley, like Jarrett and Corea, used all aspects of his instrument, including plucking the piano strings.) Perhaps the one constant in Bley’s career — characterized by a rigorous, at times severe aesthetic in his recordings that rarely matched the warmth and dynamism of his live performances — was his unpredictability.

In its review of Bley’s duet performance with the late bassist Charlie Haden at the Jazz Bakery in Culver City, the L.A. Times wrote: “The only constants were the ongoing depth of sometimes strange, frequently beautiful harmonies the pianist employed and his intent to take listeners deep into improvisational adventures.”

Bley, born Nov. 10 in Montreal, Quebec, proved a virtuoso from an early age, when he began music studies at the age of five. He formed the Buzzy Bley Band at age 13, and by the time he was 17, he filled piano giant Oscar Peterson’s seat at the Alberta Lounge. He was already wielding sufficient influence as a musician and tastemaker that he invited Parker to play at the Montreal Jazz Workshop, which he co-founded, made a film with big band leader Stan Kenton and ended up in New York City to attend Julliard.

Blues guitarist Long John Hunter, who recorded seven solo albums in a 60-year career and was known internationally for his onstage showmanship, has died. He was 84.

Hunter died in his sleep early Monday at his home in Phoenix, his family announced Tuesday on their Facebook page.

The cause of death wasn’t immediately known, said Marc Lipkin, director of publicity for Chicago-based Alligator Records. Lipkin added that he believed Hunter lived in Phoenix for the past decade or more.

Hunter also was a singer-songwriter whose best-known tracks are “El Paso Rock” and “Alligators Around My Door.”

Born John Thurman Hunter Jr. in Ringgold, Louisiana, Hunter grew up in Arkansas and Texas and bought his first guitar after seeing B.B. King in concert.

Hunter adopted his stage name in 1953 when he released his first single. He relocated to El Paso, Texas and then made a name for himself leading the house band at the Lobby Club in Juarez, Mexico, from 1957 to 1970.

James Brown, Buddy Holly, Etta James and Albert Collins reportedly attended shows by Hunter, who also became a mentor to then-teenager Bobby Fuller of “I Fought the Law” fame.

It was at the Lobby Club that Hunter developed his showmanship. He was known for holding his guitar by the neck in one hand while continuing to play. With his free hand, Hunter would reach up, grab a rafter above the stage and start to swing but never missed a beat.

The antics inspired the title of Hunter’s 1997 album “Swingin’ From The Rafters,” which made him an internationally touring festival headliner.

Hunter released independent CDs in 2003 and 2009 and reportedly continued to play regularly until he was 80.

He’s survived by his wife, Gayle, and brother, Tom. Funeral services were pending.

 In the early 1960s he became one third of the Jimmy Giuffre 3, with Giuffre on clarinet and Steve Swallow on bass. The trio was characterized by its thoughtful understatement and high degree of innovation, with a repertoire that included compositions by Bley’s first wife, Carla Bley. (Bley’s second wife, Annette Peacock, wrote much of Bley’s material from the mid-’60s on.

In 1964, Bley was a key figure in the formation of the Jazz Composers Guild, which rallied some of the more noted free jazz musicians in New York at the time, including Carla Bley, Cecile Taylor, Archie Shepp and Sun Ra.

He was also one of the first jazz pianists to embrace electric keyboards in the late ’60s, pioneering the use of Moog synthesizers before an audience at NYC’s Philharmonic Hall in 1969 and in a series of recordings with Peacock, including the use of the melodic electric piano and modulated synthesizer.

But Bley was first and foremost an acoustic pianist, and a master of the trio format, and his storied career, which comprised more than 80 recordings as leader or co-leader, included celebrated collaborations with Chet Baker, Lee Konitz, Gary Peacock, Pat Metheny and Jaco Pastorius, among many others.

He is survived by his wife of 43 years, Carol Gross, 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, Fla. and Cherry Vallet, NY.