“By her own account, Carla Bley was operating outside her comfort zone when at a ceremony honoring her and three other new National Endowment for the Arts jazz masters in April, she was obliged to deliver an acceptance speech to a packed house at Lincoln Center.
When confronted with crowds, Ms. Bley, a pioneer of modern jazz composition, prefers to let her songs do the talking. That is especially true when Steve Swallow, her first-call bassist and life companion, is on hand to guide the musical conversation, as he was that night, anchoring a quartet in a wry rendition of her “Ups and Downs.”
“I was not meant to be in the socially gracious world,” Ms. Bley said recently, her eyes peeking out from under her signature shock of gray hair as she and Mr. Swallow relaxed at the kitchen table of their home in Willow, near Woodstock.“