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At A Glance
Over the span of five decades, Gary Peacock has established himself as one of the most versatile and talented bass players in jazz. One of his earliest influences was avant-garde saxophonist Albert Ayler, with whom Peacock performed and recorded in the 1960s. His music has also been greatly affected by his studies of Eastern music and philosophy. Since the 1980s, Peacock has been adding contemporary twists to old standards with pianist Keith Jarrett's trio, which also features Jack DeJohnette on drums. Peacock also continues to experiment in his collaborations with pianist Paul Bley, with whom he has worked since the 1960s. Peacock began playing music as a child, studying piano in elementary school and taking up the drums as a teenager. He still considered himself a pianist and drummer when he entered the Westlake School of Music in Los Angeles in 1952, where he left a fter only six months. Peacock resumed his musical education in 1954 when he was drafted into the army, performing both with the military band at his base in Germany and with a local ensemble of his own. When the bass player left his German group, Peacock took up the instrument himself and has been a bass player ever since. "Once I started playing it, it felt somewhat natural and easy to understand and I got more and more involved with it," Peacock said in an interview published on the Earshot Jazz website. Upon his discharge from the army in 1956, Peacock remained in Germany, briefly joining saxophonist Hans Koller's quintet. Later that year he returned to Los Angeles where he began working with saxophonists Bud Shank and Art Pepper and guitaris t Barney Kessel. He also toured with vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, recorded his first album with keyboardist Clare Fischer, and began his longstanding association with pianist Paul Bley. In 1962 Peacock moved to New York, where he continued to work with Bley and was introduced to the influential avant-garde saxophonist Albert Ayler. "He was about music, really, really about music and about continual development with the instru ment, with technique, with all of that," Peacock recalled in an interview published on the All About Jazz website. "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." In addition to playing with Ayler, Peacock performed with pianist George Russell and saxophonist Archie Shepp, then joined a quartet featuring Bley, trumpeter/cornetist Don Cherry, and drummer Pete La Roca. During this period he also became part of pianist Bill Evans's trio and recorded in a second trio with Bley and Evans's drummer Paul Motian. Peacock played briefly in the Miles Davis quintet, filling in for bassist Ron Carter in April and May of 1964. Later that year he toured Europe with Ayler, Cherry, and drummer Sunny Murray, and appeared on several Ayler releases, including the saxophonist's seminal Spiritual Unity, "performances [that] established Peacock as one of the most accomplished doub le bass players in jazz," according to the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz. After the tour with Ayler, however, Peacock took a partial hiatus from music (he continued to record and perform with Bley), stemming in part from a perforated ulcer he suffered during a concert preceding the trip to Europe. In 1969 he moved to Japa n to study Eastern philosophy and medicine. There he recorded with saxophonist Sadao Watanabe, pianist Masabumi Kikuchi, and several visiting American musicians. Peacock returned to the States in 1972 and enrolled in the biology program at the University of Washington, graduating in 1976. After finishing his studies, Peacock resumed his music career in earnest. He returned to Japan in 1976 with Bley and drummer Barry Altschul; their tour produced the live LP Japan Suite. Peacock began to make a name for him self as a bandleader during this period as well, releasing of the critically lauded Tales of Another, with Jarrett and DeJohnette and December Poems on the ECM label in 1977. The latter earned plaudit s from Down Beat magazine: "The reemergence of the unique voicings and intricate logic of bassist Gary Peacock has been one of the undeniable pleasures of the last few years." In both collaborations and solo releases, Peacock's Eastern influences shone through. "The Peacock album is a very different expression of modern jazz," noted a Down Beat review of the 1980 ECM release Shift in the Wind. "It is not 'in the tradition'--or, more precisely, it is in a different tradition ... There is a great concern with space and silence in this music, and it often bridges the gap bewe en jazz and modern classical music." Peacock took a teaching position at the Cornish School of the Allied Arts in 1979, where he remained until 1983. During this time he continued to perform and record as a bandleader with Bley, Jarrett, and DeJohnette. In 1995, along with Bley and tru mpeter Franz Koglmann, he released the album Annette featuring the songs of the innovative vocalist Annette Peacock, who'd been married to both him and Bley. Peacock's recordings with Jarrett and DeJohnette took him in a new direction--back to jazz standards. The disparities between traditional and experimental music is not as great as one would think, Peacock told All About Jazz. "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 ma ke any difference." In 1999 Peacock and Bley reunited with drummer Motian, with whom they had last performed in the 1960s, to record Not Two, Not One. The album was received ecstatically by critics. The Pop Matters website called it "[a ] superb, essential recording, and a perfect album to help bridge the gap between [Miles Davis's] Kind of Blue and right now." The review went on to quote Will Smith's Down Beat analy sis, which noted: "One would not be too far afield to suggest that the direction offered by this trio might be a model for jazz's future--it looks ahead while never ignoring the greatest of the past." Reflecting his Eastern-influenced beliefs, Peacock told the Earshot website that he has no long-range plan for his music and that living in the present, for him, is key. "I could die at any moment, any second, regardless of whether I felt bad or good. So if this is my last moment, where do I want to be? How do I want to be? Do I want to be paying attention? Do I want to experience something? Do I want to be present? That element exists now in my own playing, regardless of who I play with."This attitude spills over into his philosophy on the Jarrett trio, despite the group's 20-year existence. "[T]here is a sense of every performance being the first time we're playing together and the last time we're playing toget her," Peacock told Earshot. "Because we don't know what will happen. Are we ever going to play again? Nobody knows."
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