Skip to content →

Meeting musical heroes…

…can prove profoundly disillusioning. It can also be wonderful, as it was yesterday. If you are reading this in or near Melbourne, before the night of Thursday June 8, you ought seize your first (almost certainly, only) opportunity to experience the Carla Bley Trio on Australian soil.

For a little more than my entire notionally-adult life to date, Carla Bley and Steve Swallow have been two of my favourite musicians; she is 81, he is 76, I am 62.

Ears aside, I have absolutely no musical ability. Carla is one of the Jazz genre’s greatest composers-arrangers – a singular combination of melodic genius, quirk, ironic humour, elephant-ears and lyricism.  Steve is (hands down) jazz’s most consistently musical electric bassist.


Steve Swallow, June 5, 2017. All photos copyright Doug Spencer.


Their musical connection spans a deal more than half of a century. For more than thirty years they have lived together, in “contented isolation”.

Both are musically vital, right now.

(the trio’s current album is one of my favourite recent releases. One of yesterday’s delights was a new work-in-progress. Beautiful Phones is named after a remark by its inspiration source/target – Donald Trump)


Carla Bley, Steve Swallow, June 5, 2017. All photos copyright Doug Spencer.


The Carla Bley Trio’s youngster/newcomer is 60; British saxophonist Andy Sheppard entered Carla’s orbit around 30 years ago, on Steve’s recommendation.


Andy Sheppard, at Monash U, Melbourne, June 5 2017. All photos copyright Doug Spencer.

Carla is most celebrated for her compositions and arrangements for large ensembles, most especially her own groups and Charlie Haden’s  Liberation Music Orchestra.

Steve is also a notable composer, a leader in his own right, and is many other jazz notables’ longtime valued colleague and friend.

Andy is likewise, and his connections extend well beyond jazz circles.

Steve and Andy are virtuoso instrumentalists.  Carla is not, but she is a very effective trio player – a much more rewarding one than are not a few more famously-dextrous pianists!

Yesterday at Monash University’s Music Auditorium the trio gave a wonderful workshop, full of wisdom, generosity, good humour, telling anecdotes, useful advice and zero pretension…plus a deal of diverse, original, playful, intelligent, satisfying, surprising-yet-beautifully-structured, conversational trio music.

I suspect that some of the music students there will long remember yesterday as a key “aha!” moment.

Carla Bley’s first visit to Australia is exclusive to the Melbourne International Jazz Festival, which runs through June 11.

In a more discerning, less-faddish, not so celebrity-focussed world, all Carla Bley tickets would have sold out, long ago.

They have not.

Seize the opportunity!

The trio concert is on Thursday June 8; tickets here.

(the link above will also lead you to video of a particularly beautiful piece and performance)

Bookings are also still available for the large ensemble concert on Wed June 7.

If you cannot seize the opportunity, you could at least console yourself with Trios and Andando el Tempo – the trio’s two superb albums on ECM.


Carla Bley, June 5 2017. All photos copyright Doug Spencer.

Postscript: audio of Carla and Steve talking with ABC RN’s Michael Cathcart.


Published in 'western' musics instrumental music music photographs

One Comment

  1. john obrien john obrien

    hi Doug, i’m still hoping ABC JAZZ will live stream her concert although they haven’t indicated so as yet.They did broadcast the, john.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *