Courtesy of Gary Peacock
FIRESIDE CHAT WITH GARY PEACOCK
Albert Ayler is a god at the Roadshow, dominating the airwaves. Gary Peacock
was in Ayler's inner circle. Damn, some people are just fucking lucky
that way. I am rubbing Mr. Peacock for luck next time he is in town. It
is my honor to present Gary Peacock, a bassist that truly has transcended
the confines of the string instrument, unedited and in his own words.
FRED JUNG: Let's start from the beginning.
GARY PEACOCK: Actually, Fred, I was in the Army. I had been drafted in
the Army and put a quintet playing piano at the time. The bass player
quit and there was nobody else to play bass and so I started playing bass
at that time. I ended put being a bass player instead of a pianist.
FJ: Any regrets?
GARY PEACOCK: If I had been left to my own devices and had anything I
wanted to do, I probably would have stayed with the piano, but that wasn't
what the circumstances or conditions needed at the time, so I started
FJ: Do you ever find yourself noodling around the keys?
GARY PEACOCK: No, not professionally. I did for a very short time in Seattle.
This was a long time ago in the Seventies, but not in terms of recording
or anything serious. I still get my hand on the keyboard during the day
and use it for exploration, harmonic and melodic exploration and things
FJ: It has been some time since you have released a solo effort.
GARY PEACOCK: It has been a while. Right now, nothing is coming up that
is really pushing me internally. I am kind of reluctant just to do another
CD or do another album.
FJ: Why don't you just go into the studio for a couple of days and hammer
a record out? Plenty of musicians seem to do that these days without an
GARY PEACOCK: I have just never bought into publish or perish. I just
don't give a shit. No, I really don't. If something does come up that
I really want to do, then I will do it, and if it doesn't then I am just
not going to do it.
FJ: You were a vital member of Albert Ayler's group.
GARY PEACOCK: Oh, yeah (laughing). Albert Ayler, a very dear friend at
the time and a very, in my estimation, a very great musician. No question
about it. Yeah, I think he brought something that was so genuine and so
natural and so authentic that it was unavoidable. If someone could get
past their ideas about what something should be and just listen. It is
incredible. It is unfortunate in a way because all the recordings that
I have heard are, they just don't quite get it. The difference between
the actual performance and playing and listening to him and what is on
record or on CD, there is something missing there, but there is enough
preserved so that I think that anyone that is really interested would
be able to listen and get it. He was definitely a major influence for
FJ: Do you find it pleasing that young musicians find Ayler more interesting
GARY PEACOCK: Yeah, Fred, and I think there is two aspects to that. One
is just the raw emotionality of it and if someone focuses on that, they
are going to miss ninety percent of what he was really about.
FJ: What was Ayler really about?
GARY PEACOCK: He was about music, really, really about music and about
continual development with the instrument, with technique, with all of
that. So when he played it wasn't just squawks and beeps and honks and
that kind of thing. He was really, he was coming from a real place. It
was authentic. It was really him. A similar kind of thing that I've noticed,
not infrequently, among some of the young avant-garde players as it were.
They heard Ornette Coleman and thought that, "Oh, I don't have to understand
anything about harmony or melody and I can't play changes anyway and so
I'm going to be a free player." Well, that is exactly wrong. That's completely
backwards. In fact, Fred, that isn't even true. Ornette could play changes.
Albert Ayler could play changes. It is almost a prerequisite. So if someone
already has that ability and has gone through that, they have developed
their ear to the point where they intuitively know what harmonic order
and what melody is. Then they are at a place where they can simply let
it go. Paul Bley is that way. Paul Bley can play the changes to anything.
But without earning that, without going through the necessary disciplines
musically of recognizing that the music is fairly deep and if you are
going to be an improviser, there is a pretty rigorous pathway. If you
come up short, not being able to hear harmony or finding it difficult
as it were to play changes, that should indicate something, then you need
to stay there for a while until you can become fluid in that. There is
a kind of tendency for musicians who recognize that they can't really
hear harmony that well or play something with changes that they still
want to play that they can forget about that hurdle. I think that is a
FJ: Albert Ayler's death is jazz's unsolved mystery, do you know how Ayler
ended up in the East River?
GARY PEACOCK: I don't know. All the information I got was second hand.
The information that I got was that he was found dead in the East River
and died by gunshot. And why that happened and how that happened, what
the circumstances were, I have no idea, Fred.
FJ: You played with both Paul Bley and Bill Evans. Evans, at the time,
was more of the media darling, but Bley was innovating just as much as
Evans was, if not more.
GARY PEACOCK: Well, again, Fred, it is very difficult to point out one
thing. I don't even think I could do that. It is more of a general, a
kind of, in my experiences, it is not so much, I realized that I have
always kind of been this way, it is not so much what the person is playing
as much as where that is coming from. And I can't really explain that
and I don't even know what words I would use, but there is a, when somebody
puts their hands on the piano or somebody puts a horn in their mouth and
makes a sound, I am immediately aware of where it is coming from. When
it comes from a place that I resonate with, I am immediately attracted
to it. It is not a question of wanting to play free or wanting to play
structured music or wanting to play a music that you could put a moniker
on it. It is more like a sense of where this music is coming from. Once
that is recognized, once I get that, then I really want to be involved
with that. I am drawn to it like a moth to a flame. On the other side
of that, or in the more understanding aspects of it, what Paul was able
to do was present me with music that totally contradicted what my own
conditioning was, what my own musical conditioning was. So in a way, it
forced me to come to grips with that and broaden my own understanding,
broaden my own hearing of music in general. So that was one thing and
people have asked me that question before, Fred, and one of the things
that is kind of enjoyable working with Paul is that he never leaves you
anything to hang on to. That is a big assist because you have to listen,
really listen. A similar thing happens with Keith and Jack. It is not
the same. It is different in that a lot of the stuff, the majority of
stuff that we've done since we've been together has basically been standards,
jazz standards, the American songbook, and some free playing. We are doing
more free playing now, but even in the American songbooks, jazz standards,
because Keith is so prolific, if I am not listening, I could fall into
some kind of thing that would just destroy everything like somebody chopping
wood. So I have to continually listen to what he is playing and what he
is playing, in a large part, determines what I'm going to play, determines
what bass lines. Somebody asked me, "Where do you come up with these bass
lines when you are working with Keith?" I don't have any idea, but I do
know that it does come from listening to what Jack is doing and what Keith
is doing. So in a way, I can't really claim that I am the author of my
own work (laughing). I don't have any bass lines. It would be kind of
nice if I could say, "Oh, yeah, I worked that out yesterday."
FJ: You went to Japan for a period, I am curious as to what called you
to the Far East?
GARY PEACOCK: I did, yes. I went there basically to learn the Japanese
language, study the Japanese language, and also to study the oriental
philosophy in medicine. So while I was there, I did study acupuncture
for a year and a year and a half at a Japanese language school as much
on reading about the orient and the philosophy of yin and yang, that kind
of thing, as much as I could get from an English publication, which was
rather rare then. It was kind of hard to find. But that was what my main
interest in going there was, although I did record while I was there and
I did record periodically.
FJ: Let's touch on your time with Keith Jarrett.
GARY PEACOCK: Our first meeting actually was, in terms of just him, well,
I was working at the Village Vanguard with Bill Evans and he and two or
three other people had come in to listen to the group and we had a short
chat outside of the Village Vanguard after the performance. That was in
'64 maybe or '63 and then we didn't really connect again until we did
Tales of Another (Jack DeJohnette) in 1978 in New York. That happened
because Manfred had approached me about doing something for ECM in respect
to doing a trio project. I hadn't really heard much of Keith up to that
time and so he sent me some music that Keith had done and I said, "Man,
let's do this." So that was the first real musical exchange that we had
was that particular album.
FJ: What is it about Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, and Gary Peacock
together that makes this trio so formidable?
GARY PEACOCK: Well, I don't think it could be reduced to an "it" as much
as it is a kind of common sharing that we have, a common history. Basically,
the musicians that informed us musically and intuitively are the same
bunch of guys as it were. So we came up and developed in a period of jazz
improvisation that was incredibly vital and alive and all three of us
had the experiences of players and performers live, and actually performing
with them at some point. So I think there was a commonality in terms of
our own experience and what we experienced and the message that got across
to us was the same message. There is a common recognition when we're playing
just the music. There is a common recognition of what the music really
is and what swing is and what jazz is. Some people you just resonate with.
It is like your right and left hands are one thing, that kind of thing.
It is interesting because there are very few drummers that I get that
with. I get it with Paul Motian. That has been there since, Paul and I
go way, way back, 1962, '61. But an interesting case and point that went
the other way was Philly Joe Jones, who I really loved this guy. His playing
was just, I used to memorize his drum solos. Particularly when he was
doing the work with Miles. I hadn't played with him and I was thinking,
"Boy, I would sure like to play with this guy before it is all over."
And we actually had the opportunity to play and it was a disaster. It
was just a fucking disaster, couldn't hold a tempo anywhere. We both looked
at each other because he wanted to play with me. He liked my playing and
here we get together and we are both dying to play with each other and
it just doesn't work. So sometimes it doesn't work. It does make a difference.
Who knows why, but with Jack, it is just there it is.
FJ: And your latest release as a trio, Whisper Not, certainly shows that.
Do you gentlemen ever make a bad recording?
GARY PEACOCK: I will leave that up to the audience at large (laughing).
FJ: As you have spoken of earlier, the trio typically has been playing
the American songbook, thus, the trio has been aptly named the Standards
GARY PEACOCK: It is not just standards of the songbook. It is a double
étagère in a way. It is a musical standard, the jazz standard or a musical
standard, as to what level of playing. What is your intent? What is your
intention? Are you just going to go out and play the songbook? Or are
you going to, is your intent to go deeper and deeper and deeper into the
music? Going deeper into the music doesn't have anything to do with whether
it is a standard or whether it is free playing or whether it is swing.
That doesn't make any difference. Getting deeper into the music, if that
is not there and you don't hear that with people I play, why play? Why
bother with it? I'm not interested.
FJ: That trio has been performing together for almost three decades and
the most curious thing is that you are not even a formal group.
GARY PEACOCK: (Laughing) Yeah, that's right.
FJ: How long do you anticipate the journey will continue?
GARY PEACOCK: I never really can think about that, Fred. I don't even
really consider it. As far as I'm concerned, every concert we play is
the first concert and the last. If I can remind myself or bring myself
to that point when we play then that tends to bring an aliveness to the
music. If this is the last time that you ever play together, I think it
behooves one to be present.
FJ: It provides an immediacy to the integrity of the moment.
GARY PEACOCK: I think there is that element in it too, the fact that we
don't know when it is going to end. There is just no way to know. It could
end tomorrow. When Keith came down with chronic fatigue, it could have
been the end. So you never know what is going to happen tomorrow, so I
prefer to pay attention today.
Fred Jung is Jazz Weekly's Editor-In-Chief and next stop Scuzzi. Comments?