A short history of … “Ida Lupino” (Carla Bley, 1964)

Ida Lupino was an Anglo-American actress and singer. She is also celebrated as a pioneering female filmmaker, being the only female director and producer working within the conservative and male dominated 1950’s Hollywood studio system, as well as the first woman to direct a film noir – The Hitch-hiker (1953). Pianist, composer, and bandleader, Carla Bley paid homage to her with her composition, “Ida Lupino,” which she wrote in 1964.

While an article on A Classic Movie Blog recalls hearing an interview in which Bley explained that she had written her tribute because she had been struck by what she felt was Lupino’s melancholy, dreamy persona, it is possible that Bley could also identify with Lupino’s situation of working within a male-dominated structure and artistic field. Amy C. Beal explains that “Ida Lupino” represented one side of Bley’s personality as a composer; a personality that tended to be “smooth and lyrical, dominated by a simple repetitive melody, tonal or modal harmonies, slower tempos, and a calm demeanor.” These compositions were “highly patterned and repetitive,” unlike others of hers from the time, such as “Ictus,” which were unpredictable and sometimes without a pulse.”

“Ida Lupino” was first recorded by her then-husband, pianist Paul Bley, at Mirasound Studio in New York City, New York, in 1964. However, this version did not see the light of day until 1975, when it was included on the album Turning Point. Therefore, the first version of the song to be released was that from Paul Bley’s Closer, released in 1966. A review of the album from The Penguin Guide to Jazz claims that: “The key track here is Carla’s classic ‘Ida Lupino,’ which her former husband turns into a rolling, almost filmic narrative with layers.”

Many other artists have since recorded the song using various types of instrumentation. Pianist Steve Kuhn, for instance, recorded it for his live trio album Steve Kuhn Live in New York, while Bley herself featured it on her funky album Dinner Music, backed by an eight piece band. On this version, she also plays sax alongside such musicians as trombonist Roswell Rudd, drummer Steve Gadd, and trumpeter Michael Mantler.

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