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Gary Peacock 1935-2020

Where did they come from, those jazz bassists who appeared in the 1960s, transforming not only the way the instrument was played but also its role in the music? They were the children of Jimmy Blanton, Oscar Pettiford, Charles Mingus and Paul Chambers, and they were legion: Reggie Workman, Richard Davis, Jimmy Garrison, Scott LaFaro, Ron Carter, Charlie Haden, Henry Grimes, Chuck Israels, Steve Swallow… and Gary Peacock, whose death at the age of 85 was announced today.

I suppose the first time I heard his playing was on Don Ellis’s Essence and Prince Lasha’s The Cry, both recorded in Los Angeles in 1962, then Tony Williams’s Life Time in 1964 and Albert Ayler’s epochal Spiritual Unity in 1965, followed by a host of albums — not least with the pianists Bill Evans, Paul Bley, Marilyn Crispell and Marc Copeland, and in Keith Jarrett’s long-lived Standards Trio — that secured his place in the music.

To a superlatively agile technique, an almost voice-like tone, a gift for phrases that sang in the ear and an adventurous spirit he added a subtly poetic sensibility intensified by a spell in Japan that began in the late ’60s and lasted two and a half years. During that time he became a student of Zen Buddhism and a sense of meditative calm began to suffuse his playing, even when it was at its most active.

He made a few albums while he was in Japan, and one of them has long been my favourite of all his recordings. Titled Silver World, it was made in 1970 under the leadership of Hōzan Yamamoto, the great shakuhachi player and teacher, with Masabumi Kikuchi on piano and Hiroshi Murakami on drums. Somehow a copy found its way to me soon after its release, and it was one of those recordings that made me aware how jazz could be open to collaborations with all kinds of music from all over the world.

As far as I know, it has never been released outside Japan. But here it is. If you have the time, listen to the 12-minute title track, and marvel at the delicacy with which intense emotions are conveyed — and, of course, at Gary Peacock’s genius for finding the right notes, the right weight, the right attack all the time. And for understanding the value of silence.

Another of his Japanese albums, the almost equally wonderful Eastward, with Kikuchi and Murakami, included a sleeve note in which he wrote:

“No art form can be unaffected by the environment it lives in. The spiritual, social, political, scientific, technological Renaissance of today, exrpessing itself on all levels and in all societies, has been and continues to be the dominant theme in much of today’s music. The increasing use of electronic devices, accentuation of loud raucous sounds, lyrics suggesting a spiritual Utopia in one case, or denouncing war, government, tradition, show this influence. It is at the same time a testimony of the inseparabilities of music and environment. They are dependent one upon the other. They are expressing one another. They are one.

The music on this album does not claim immunity to such environmental influences. It does however lack a certain degree of aggression, violence, or a special message. It was not conceived with the purpose of making a strong spiritual, social, scientific or musical statement. It was, on the contrary, conceived with no specific purpose in mind. Therefore it may lack some ‘excitement’ for the listener, but perhaps they can sense a certain spirit of joy and humour which we had in producing it.”

I think I understand what he meant: in a sense, in this instance, “purposelessness” is the highest state the creative mind can achieve. Not at all times and on all occasions, of course. A sense of purpose can be the driving force of the greatest art. But the Zen mind lets go and allows it to happen. And when the mind was that of Gary Peacock, what happened needed no other justification.

* Hōzan Yamamoto’s Silver World was released on the Philips label in Japan in 1971. Eastward was released on Japanese CBS in 1970. The photograph of Gary Peacock was taken by Bob Gwynne and is from the cover of Peacock’s December Poems album (ECM, 1977).

17 Comments Post a comment
  1. Henry Lopez Real #

    I saw and read this yesterday morning and presume the story has now been confirmed. Thanks for the link to the LP which was new to me. It’s beautiful and I immediately located and bought a copy of the 1971 Japanese pressing. The benefits and dangers (to the inveterate record junkie) of the internet. I’ll be making use of it when doffing a cap in tribute on the wireless and really appreciate both your writing and the recommendation.

    September 7, 2020
  2. Patrick Hinely #

    It was my good fortune that the first paying work I ever got photographing a recording session in New York City was for Peacock’s SHIFT IN THE WIND trio sessions, which also included Art Lande and Eliot Zigmund, as well as producer Manfred Eicher, in February, 1980. Later, I caught Gary in several other contexts, with Messrs. Petrucciani, Haynes, Bley, Motian, Jarrett, DeJohnette, Copland and Stewart, but most uniquely, deputising for Dave Holland in Kenny Wheeler’s quintet, early in 1991, a group which at that point also included John Abercrombie, John Taylor and Peter Erskine. They had a glorious afternoon of rehearsal on the bandstand at Blues Alley in Washington DC, as a blizzard howled outside while Kenny and his longer-standing colleagues did their best to make the visitor feel at home in those big shoes. It worked. That evening, time and again, Kenny and the band carried all of us with them as they set the stage afire without it ever erupting into open flames. Gary was a subtle giant, and a nice person for whom humility seemed as natural as breathing. I salute him for a musical life well lived.

    September 7, 2020
    • Bren Pointer #

      Beautifully expressed Patrick. I was privileged to meet him backstage at many of the Trio’s concerts in London and other European cities. He was indeed very humble, engaging and warm. I remember being totally memorized by not only his playing, but by the way he played (usually with a huge smile on his face) and also the way he listened, how intuitive he was to Jack and Keith. A real joy to witness. A sad loss indeed.

      September 7, 2020
  3. GRAHAM ROBERTS #

    That’s a lovely tribute to a wonderful musician. Like many, my first acquaintance with Gary Peacock was through his association with Albert Ayler, and then more recently with Keith Jarret’s Standards Trio – a trio that I believe made its debut on an ECM recording under Gary Peacock’s leadership, ‘Tales of Another’.

    But the recordings I will be listening to today include an old favourite, together with a more recent acquisition. Bud Shank’s ‘New Groove’ from 1961, which features Gary Peacock in tandem with Mel Lewis on drums in support of a fine front line of Shank on saxophones, Carmell Jones on trumpet and Dennis Budimir on guitar, is a great session. His superb bass playing apart, the album includes one of his earliest compositions, ‘Liddlelldablldyua’. And only last year, ECM released a marvellous live recording from Lugano in March 1999, with Paul Bley and Paul Motian, ‘When Will The Blues Leave’; it’s sublime.

    What a great life.

    September 8, 2020
    • Mick Steels #

      Good to see the Bud Shank recordings getting a mention, most younger listeners tend to associate the great bassist with the Jarrett trio

      September 8, 2020
      • GuitarSlinger #

        Fact is Mr Steels … it doesn’t matter how they found Peacocks brilliant musicianship and bass playing . All that maters is … they did !

        FYI .. in my never humble opinion … Peacock was at his absolute finest on his two collaborations with Ralph Towner ; ” A Closer View ” and ” Oracle ”

        Which is what I’ll be listening to today as I raise a glass in tribute .

        September 8, 2020
  4. Dom Imonk #

    Hello from Bordeaux area France! Thank you very much for your bright chronicle. Had the great chance to see Gary Peacock twice live with the trio of Keith Jarrett, him and Jack DeJohnette, and one time in a duo with Marilyn Crispell. Amazing concerts, each time different, so open and brillant. Big respect and love for Gary Peacock. Very sad loss. dom

    September 8, 2020
  5. GuitarSlinger #

    Sigh …. I’m thoroughly broken hearted .Yet another icon of jazz … lost . Not to mention yet another of the very few true gentlemen of jazz … lost !

    I swear we’ve lost more jazz icons in the last eight months than any other twelve month period I can remember

    September 8, 2020
  6. Bren Pointer #

    Beautifully expressed Patrick. I was privileged to meet him backstage at many of the Trio’s concerts in London and other European cities. He was indeed very humble, engaging and warm. I remember being totally memorized by not only his playing, but by the way he played (usually with a huge smile on his face) and also the way he listened, how intuitive he was to Jack and Keith. A real joy to witness. A sad loss indeed.

    September 9, 2020
  7. I just learned about Gary Peacock´s death yesterday from a friend, as usual the loss of a musician of caliber like him is always saddening, but alas inevitable… that´s the one drawback of life… it always ends badly.
    That said, just want to add a personal word about my only personal encounter I had with him, it was in my town Montreal, but can’t quite remember the year, within the last decade for sure.
    He was in fact subbing for Lee Konitz (another sad disappearance of the year), who back then was supposed to play a duo with pianist Dan Tepfer in a local club, during one of our jazz fests in the summer. (Tepfer was a lucky man finding a replacement like that!)
    Between sets, I had a most pleasant chat with Peacock. He talked about seeing LaFaro in L.A. and how impressed he was by him, and also seeing Glen Gould in his early days of live performances…. talk about being in the right place at the right time….
    Looking back it, it was one of those occasions where I should brought along a tape recorder… something along the line of what Dolphy said: when you hear (someone talking), it’s all up in the air, you can never recapture it again!
    Likewise for Peacock and his bass….
    Will that be the end of the Jarrett Trio?
    (Pretty sure, there is still a stockpile of albums still in the can… that alone will ensure us to hear Peacock for many years to come.)

    Marc Chénard
    Jazz Editor
    La Scena Musicale

    p.s. Mr. Williams, I listened in to the Berlin Jazz Festival livestreams in the years that you were its Artistic Director, and I absolutely loved them.

    September 9, 2020
    • Thank you, Marc. That’s good to hear. I wish I could live through some of those concerts again!

      September 9, 2020
      • GuitarSlinger #

        When it comes to the arts …. Never make the mistake of trying to relive the past nor attempt to predict the future . Both .. are the realms of fools . The present .. is the only thing that matters

        September 10, 2020
    • Chris Walsh #

      I believe the Standards Trio actually ceased operation at least a couple of years ago.

      September 10, 2020
      • Patrick Hinely #

        The date I have repeatedly seen for their last performance together is 2014.

        September 10, 2020
      • GuitarSlinger #

        Not to be pedantic .. but …. 2014 to be exact

        September 10, 2020
      • GuitarSlinger #

        November 30th 2014 if one wishes to be excessively pedantic 😉

        ( re; Jazziz .. Jazz Times .. ECM website etc etc et al

        September 10, 2020
  8. Patrick Hinely #

    It is good to be able to report that the SILVER WORLD album you mentioned has been reissued on CD under the title GINKAI and seems to be available from all of the usual suspects.

    September 13, 2020

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