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Monday, September 7, 2020

Gary Peacock 1935 - 2020

Gary Peacock, photo by Roberto Masotti

By Paul Acquaro

Bassist Gary Peacock passed away on Friday, September 4th at age 85. Peacock's work in free jazz goes back to nearly to the genre's beginning with his work in saxophonist Albert Ayler's groups, recording the highly influential Ghosts (Debut, 1964), Prophecy (ESP-Disk, 1964), New York Eye and Ear Control (ESP-Disk, 1964), Spiritual Unity (ESP-Disk, 1965), and Spirits Rejoice (ESP-Disk, 1965). 

Peacock also had a long association with pianist Paul Bley. The two appeared on many albums together, including Virtuosi (Improvising Artists, 1967), Mr. Joy (Limelight, 1968), and of course Paul Bley with Gary Peacock (ECM, 1970). Following the ECM thread, Peacock worked for over 30 years with pianist Keith Jarrett, appearing on Standards, Vol. 1 (ECM, 1983), Standards, Vol. 2 (ECM, 1983), Changes (ECM, 1983), Standards Live (ECM, 1985), At the Deer Head Inn (ECM, 1992) and many others, up through After the Fall (ECM, 2018).

Peacock was born in Idaho in 1935 and later studied music at Westlake School of Music in Los Angeles, before being drafted in the Army. In the 1950's he was stationed in Germany and worked with European musicians such as Hans Koller and Atilla Zoller. Upon returning to the US, he worked in LA with  Barney Kessel, Art Pepper, Don Ellis, Clare Fischer, Prince Lasha, and later in New York with Jimmy Giuffre, Roland Kirk, George Russell, Archie Shepp, and Bill Evans. 

Pianist Marilyn Crispell has said Peacock as a "sensitive musician with a great harmonic sense" and Scott Yanow describes Peacock as "a subtle but adventurous bassist" whose "flexibility and consistently creative ideas have been an asset to several important groups". This last point, especially in terms of free jazz, is further explored in an article in Jazz Times by pianist Ethan Iverson which details Peacock's influence:

"In this molten context [Ayler's music], the bassist needs to blanket the bottom with activity. Nobody did it better than Peacock, whose raw charisma and fiery temperament could almost match Ayler in songful intensity. The album they recorded in 1964 with roiling Sunny Murray for ESP, Spiritual Unity, has gone into the history books as one of the most important of all time. "

Peacock's work in free music continued over the years in parallel to his more mainstream output. Personally, I recall being thoroughly confused (at first ... I just wasn't quite ready for it yet) and later beguiled by a duo recording with guitarist Bill Frisell entitled Just So Happens. If you can, listen to the opening solo bass run on 'Only Now,' it is tense and dramatic, and absolutely throbbing before the guitar begins dancing around deep pedal tones. 

Peacock leaves behind an impressive discography as both leader and side-man. His last as a leader was Tangents (ECM, 2017) with Marc Copland, Joey Baron. The opening of Britt Robson's review in Jazz Times seems like a good coda this short tribute: "listening to Gary Peacock makes one pine for a world where all jazz bassists are steeped in Eastern spirituality, have played with everyone from Albert Ayler to Bill Evans and live to be an agile 82."

Filmmaker IJ. Biermann shared an interview he conducted with Gary Peacock in 2015 (more info below in the comments):

ECM50 | 2015 Gary Peacock and Marc Copland from ijb on Vimeo.


LYM said...

Gary R.I.P. IMHO one of the underrate giant of this music.

Jess said...

Have rediscovered my love of Jazz music, this website has been a great help, thanks for sharing

Anonymous said...

Martin Schray said...

Yes, Anonymous, we were aware of that as well and we've been really careful before it was confirmed. Unfortunately, Gary Peacock has passed away - and it's not a hoax.

cody slentz said...

NPR is reporting that he died on the 4th, not the 5th as mentioned here.

ijb said...

Hi, I was wondering if you’d be interested in adding this link to what may well be Gary’s final interview to your obituary:
I visited Gary at his home in upstate New York last autumn to record an extensive talk with him and Marc Copland. This (edited version of the) talk seems to have touched a lot of people who like Gary's music and ECM in general.

…and I added a kind of bonus track to a section that did not fit into the main short doc, where Gary and Marc talk about ECM and Manfred Eicher specifically:

This talk / shortfilm is part of a 50-part series of short documentaries on the history of ECM, about artists, composers, musicians, photographers, sound engineers etc all related to ECM, more than 30 of which are already online – including many musicians you've written about more than once – and the rest of them are more or less "in the can“ but still to be edited.

Alternative versions of these talks will also be compiled into a book.
(There’s also a YouTube version to the same video, though omitting the music, for legal reasons – )

Colin Green said...

Ijb, thanks for that lovely interview with Peacock and Copland. I’ll be sure to check out some of your other films.

Anonymous said...

Last time i saw Gary 4 years ago, just recovered from cancer.
A tough guy, he was 81 then and he jumped !! with his bass in hand from
the stage.
To me, he was a true man of the golden days of free music (Albert, Lowell Davidson)
unfortunately he got under influence of ECM - yes he had an ear for beauty and space
but not for esoteric. The only reason, i listened to the Jarrett Trio was him ....
As Albert Ayler once said: Gary was the best player i ever played with ...
truly he was one of the very best.
Do not rest always, Maestro, play where ever you are.

Tachymètre said...

IJB, thank you for sharing. I wasn’t aware of this series of interviews you conducted in celebration of ECM’s 50th. What a great collection. Obviously the Gary Peacock interview is particularly poignant, but they are all so wonderfully filmed and insightful. Thanks again.


Martin Schray said...

I agree with most of what you say, Jo, but I really like Peacock's work with ECM as well. Especially the Keith Jarrett At The Blue Note (Complete Recordings) is extraordinarily beautiful and the contrary to esoteric. As you say - he had an ear for space and beauty, this is what the great ECM albums are about. He was just a superb musician.

ijb said...

Thanks a lot, Paul, for sharing this video with your readers. I really appreciate it. As a longtime reader of this blog I am glad to see that it's welcome here.