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Paul Bley

Paul Bley

1932 - 2016

Origin: Quebec, Canada

Main instrument: Piano

Genre: Jazz

A bold and adventurous jazz pianist, Paul Bley is considered one of the pivotal figures in avant-garde and experimental jazz. Born in 1932 in Montréal, Bley launched his career at age 13 leading the Buzzy Bley Band, performing as a teenager, replaced Oscar Peterson in Montréal’s Alberta Lounge at age 17, and headed to New York in 1950 to attend Juilliard. From the early ’50s, he played with Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins as part of the Montreal Jazz Workshop, an organization he co-founded that united visiting soloists with local musicians. In 1953, Bley launched his first album as a bandleader, Introducing Paul Bley, accompanied by Charles Mingus and Art Blakey. Moving to California in 1957, he performed alongside Chet Baker and was accompanied by Ornette Coleman, Billy Higgins, Charlie Haden and Don Cherry before forming a trio with Steve Swallow and Pete La Roca. The recordings that followed, Footloose! (1963) and Closer (1965), would rank among the most influential jazz albums of the decade, revealing the pianist’s evolution towards a freer, more original style. He is recognized for having upended the codes of bebop, his original style, to create a free jazz inspired by the playing of Ornette Coleman, offering his own softer, more subdued version. He would later experiment with synthesizers, navigating between free improvisation and the virtuosity of the jazz tradition. His international career stretched over 7 decades and included dazzling collaborations with Gary Peacock, Paul Motian, Albert Ayler and Sonny Rollins, among others. He played on a hundred albums as bandleader or accompanist, including such celebrated classics as Open, To Love (ECM, 1972). In 2008, he was named a member of the Order of Canada for his role as a free jazz pioneer and his influence on many artists. He passed away on January 3, 2016 at the age of 83.



  • Invitation Charlie Haden - Memories of André Ménard 1989
  • Chet Baker-Paul Bley-Gil Evans-Memories of André Ménard 1986

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