Carla Bley, n?e Borg, (born May 11, 1936) is an American jazz composer, pianist, organist and band leader. An important figure in the Free Jazz movement of the 1960s, she is perhaps best known for her jazz opera Escalator Over The Hill (released as a triple LP set), as well as a book of compositions that have been performed by many other artists, including Gary Burton, Jimmy Giuffre, George Russell, Art Farmer and her ex-husband Paul Bley.
Bley was born in Oakland, California. Her father, a piano teacher and church choirmaster, encouraged her to sing and to learn to play the piano. After giving up the church to immerse herself in roller skating at the age of fourteen, she moved to New York at seventeen and became a cigarette girl at Birdland, where she met jazz pianist Bley, whom she married in 1957. He encouraged her to start composing. The two later divorced.
Carla Bley has continued to record frequently with her own big band and a number of smaller ensembles. Her partner, the bassist Steve Swallow, has been her closest and most consistent musical associate in recent years. In 1997, a live version of Escalator over the Hill (re-orchestrated by Jeff Friedman) was performed for the first time in Cologne, Germany; in 1998 "Escalator" toured Europe, and another live performance took place in May 2006 in Essen, Germany.
In 2005 she arranged the music for and performed on Charlie Haden's latest Liberation Music Orchestra tour and recording, Not in Our Name.