Paul Bley is the most influential jazz pianist you have never heard of.  And its not because he is an abstract, inaccessible, musician’s musician.  His playing is as lyrical and straightforward as Keith Jarrett.   Go to Pandora and create a Paul Bley station.  Here, I did it for you.

Ethan Iverson wrote an essay on Paul Bley, focusing especially on an album entitled Footloose! (which I have never heard.  I have stuck mostly to his solo stuff.)

Not just Jarrett and Corea but a whole generation of mostly caucasian post-1970 NYC jazz pianists checked out Footloose!: Richie Beirach, Joanne Brackeen, Jim McNeely, Marc Copland, Kenny Werner, Fred Hersch, etc., all seem to have made room for Paul Bley to hang at the same table that Bill Evans presides over. Bley’s peers Steve Kuhn and Denny Zeitlin seem to have paid attention, too. I suspect that not all these comparatively straight-ahead musicians paid the same kind of attention to more hardcore classic Bley albums like the ferocious Barrage or the minimalist Ballads. But since Footloose! is so swinging, it has always been interesting to just about everybody. Indeed, I believe that Bley’s influence crossed the color line with Geri Allen in the 80s and that now he is considered a resource for any curious musician regardless of background.

The article is typically brilliant Iverson writing, but this bit was just precious:

When I finally met Paul Bley a couple of years ago, I was about to go onstage with his old associate Charlie Haden. Bley was rather chilly at first handshake. These days he’s a famous contrarian, and I sensed I needed to not grovel but respond in kind. I leaned into him and told him, viciously, “I had all your records at one point. But you know what? I can’t play like you, and why would I want to? I gave all your records away when I was 24. I turned my back.”

Bley looked astonished, but then he grinned. “I’m glad you got rid of all my records, that’s what I tell all pianists to do.”

I responded, “Yeah…good. Well, recently I got some of your records, and I decided to love you again.”

Bley said, “That was a mistake. Get rid of my records.”