Bassist Gary Peacock on How Jazz Chose Him

Long before becoming one of the world’s preeminent jazz bassists and performing with celebrated pianists like Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans and Paul Bley, Gary Peacock had an experience in 1953 while playing drums for his high-school graduating class that made him realize that jazz was his calling.

“I had a rather interesting serendipity,” he says. “I guess it was during the performance, that later, very shortly after I took a break, I realized that, very clearly, my life was going to be spent doing music, and basically jazz and improvised music. And it was a realization I didn’t even question. It was so thorough and so complete and so natural. I wasn’t hyperventilating or anything. I was just like, ‘Oh, got it. Okay. Good. That’s what I’m going to do.’”

Peacock says it was his first really unique experience of realizing something without having to think about it, and that it was a feeling that didn’t leave any questions.

“I didn’t plan to be a bass player at that time,” Peacock adds. “I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, whether it would be percussion, which I had been doing through high school — playing drums. I’d also played a little trumpet and piano. So I still wasn’t clear what instrument I would eventually settle on. And as it turned out, I eventually settled on bass.”

He says when he started playing bass in 1955, it was out of need. “There weren’t any bass players,” Peacock says. “So I said, ‘Okay.’ The instrument felt natural. It just turned out to be a recognition, like, ‘Oh, this is it. This is good.’”

On many of the recordings on which the eighty-year-old Peacock has played over the past six decades – especially his forty appearances on the ECM imprint — it’s clear that there is a natural, intuitive quality to his bass playing that makes it seem almost effortless. Peacock is particularly fluid on his most recent ECM album, Now This, which also features pianist Marc Copland and drummer Joey Baron, who will join the bassist at Dazzle on Thursday, February 11.

On Now This, the trio revisits a few compositions that Peacock has recorded before, like “Moor,” which also appears on the 1970 album Paul Bley with Gary Peacock, 1981’s Voice From the Past (with Tomasz Stanko and Jan Garbarek) and 1995’s A Closer View (with Ralph Towner), and “Vignette,” from 1977’s Tales of Another, which marked the first time that Peacock recorded with what would become Jarrett’s Standards Trio, which also included Jack DeJohnette.

On recording those older songs with a fresh perspective supported by Copland and Baron, with whom Peacock will be working again on a new album in May, the bassist says, “Those compositions are fairly open, and so if Joey or Marc can...hear what the music is, they can relax into that, [and] then it’s the individual expression that’s manifested.”

Now This also includes a tune apiece by Copland and Baron, as well as a vibrant rendering of bassist Scott LaFaro’s “Gloria’s Step,” which originally appeared on Evans’s landmark 1961 recording, Sunday at the Village Vanguard, released a few years before Peacock appeared on Evans's Trio 64 album. Peacock started working with Jarrett in the late '70s, and the bassist also recorded a number of albums with Bley. Peacock says the easiest way to describe his experience working with those three pianists is to imagine a plot of land with very rich soil.

“And so in this acre of land, or whatever it is, you plant several different species of flowers,” Peacock says. “Each flower that comes up from the root has a different color and a different shape, a different height, but they’re all different colors. They’re all different. Every one of them is different. What they all have in common is the ground.

“The pianists that I’ve worked with that have supported me and also encouraged me and enlightened me and enriched my life are like the flowers," he continues. "But they all have the same ground, and that ground that they come from, the musical ground they come from, is more than just about the music. It’s something that even comes before that. So the difference is just in one of the ultimate expressions of what it actually sounds like in the world — but their ground, where it’s coming from, is the same.” 
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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon