CARLA BLEY PROFILES HERSELF
I'm a typical New York Times reading, National Public Radio listening, left
leaning liberal. I vote Democrat whether I like the candidate or not.
On the other hand, I drive a light truck, eat meat and enjoy watching The
Of course I was appalled by the U.S. invasion of Iraq. I don't believe anyone
should kill anyone else unless he or she plans to eat every bit of the
corpse. We should make George Bush and his whole cabinet go over there with
knives and forks.
I find it difficult to be reverent about anything obvious (with the exception
of certain musical phrases).
My inner editor picks apart everything I think before it gets said or
written. (Hold on, that's not true.)
This album isn't just about the United States. America encompasses two
continents. I'm focusing on the original and transformed music that has come
out of this vast region.
LOOKING FOR AMERICA
It started a few years ago, when a quote from The Star Spangled Banner
inserted itself into a piece I was working on. I laughed, wrote it down and
moved on with no intention of following that thread. When it happened again
a few days later I purposely ignored it. But when a melody that sounded
suspiciously like Anchors Aweigh turned up on the page I knew my new piece
had a Patriotic Virus!
If this had happened after the recent rash of aggressive actions by the
present administration I would have crumpled the piece up and started fresh.
But, Hail To The Chief, I was still feeling lucky to have been born in the
United States, and realized that our poor National Anthem really could use
It wasn't the first time, It's A Grand Old Flag, I'd been tempted to improve
upon one of our patriotic songs. There was Spangled Banner Minor, the
arrangement I had written during the late seventies to express some
disappointment or other with the United States government, and a long piece
on the first Big Band album called You're In the Army Now. Wrong! It was
called United States! The Genuine Tong Funeral contained a piece called The
New National Anthem, and I had included a fragment called Flags (which was
just an inversion of the first eight bars of The Star Spangled Banner) in
Escalator Over The Hill. So, God Bless America, why not let myself get
infected and do it again?
Well, I'm A Yankee Doodle Dandy, uh...So then I wrote page after page of
Stars And Stripes Forever, I mean different versions of parts of The Star
Spangled Banner. Eventually, My Country Tis Of Thee, I had a long, five-part
Battle Hymn, no, I had Dixie...Dixie? It was America The Beautiful. No! It
wasn't! It was just that one song - Stout Hearted Men. What? When The
Saints Come Marching In. Somebody pull the plug! Off We Go Into The Wild
I originally wrote this piece for a saxophonist (Christof Lauer) who could
play real fast. But it didn't even cause him to break a sweat, so I realized
it was simple enough to play with my own band. Even though 'honking' is a
word usually associated with the saxophone, I found that the brass could
sound more like real car horns during road rage incidents.
Most of the workers in the underworld of New York City restaurants are from
Central America. My daughter Karen became familiar with the group of Mexican
cocineros (kitchen workers) who inhabited the basement of the sandwich shop
where she was an assistant manager, and was able to get me copies of the
latest Spanish language pop music cassettes that they listened to while they
worked. One of the musicians in the band, baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan,
had a job in a restaurant kitchen when he was young and struggling, so I gave
him an honorary solo in the piece.
A few years ago I got a call from a director who was making a film about
Cesar Chavez for Public Television. He needed music, and Charlie Haden had
recommended me for the job. I wouldn't ordinarily have taken a film music
assignment, but that year I had decided to take everything I was offered, so
I said yes. After our phone conversation ended I went to the piano and
instantly got an idea. The next time the director, producer and I talked on
a conference call, I enthusiastically told them about my instant
breakthrough, and offered to send them a cassette of the material. I
recorded about 20 minutes of rambling piano based on the theme which later
became Tijuana Traffic. And that was, luckily for me, the last I ever heard
OLD MACDONALD HAD A FARM
Susan Scofield, John Scofield's wife, had an idea for an album, which she
successfully pitched to a record company. A selection of musicians were
asked to choose a theme from a list of popular American folk songs, nursery
rhymes and holiday favorites, then write an arrangement for their bands. I
chose Old MacDonald and scored it for my 4X4 band. We recorded it and sent
the tape to the record company, but for some reason the album was never
released. I had been asked not to record it with or for anyone else for 5
years, but I couldn't resist reorchestrating it for the big band when it
became clear that I was writing an American theme album. And by the time I
finished writing the album the 5 years were up anyway.
GRAND MOTHER, STEP MOTHER, YOUR MOTHER and GOD MOTHER
The Mothers are parts of a large piece that I referred to, casually, as
The Mother. For several years, pieces broke off from what seemed to be an
emerging major work. Finally there was nothing left.