Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Peacock, Gary

Bassist Gary Peacock has built a career on being a daring performer who can easily adapt to any instrumentation. His understated musicianship has contributed an essential ingredient to the work of saxophonist Albert Ayler, pianists Paul Bley and Keith Jarrett and others.

Gary Peacock was born on May 12, 1935 in Burley, Idaho. Peacock grew up Yakima, Washington, where he began his musical studies by playing the piano in elementary school. When Peacock entered high school, he began to play the drums, often participating in his high school’s jazz bands.

At the age of seventeen, Peacock moved to Los Angeles, California to attend the Westlake School of Music, where he studied drums and piano. Peacock’s stay at Westlake was brief, as he left after only six months. Peacock would later return to his musical studies in 1954, when he was drafted into the United States Army. While stationed in Germany, Peacock performed with a military band and with a German group of his own.

Peacock began to play the bass when the bassist of his German group left. Peacock took up the instrument himself, and has stated that it felt natural and easy to comprehend.

When he was discharged from the Army in 1956, he remained in briefly in Germany and began performing with saxophonist Hans Koller, trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff and guitarist Atilla Zoller.

Later that year, he returned to Los Angeles where he began working with saxophonists Bud Shank and Art Pepper, and guitarist Barney Kessel. He recorded the album Essence with saxophonist Jimmy Woods on the album Awakening! in February of 1962, with trumpeter Don Ellis and pianist Paul Bley on Essence in July, and with saxophonist Prince Lasha in July. By December of that year, Peacock was ready to move east to New York, where he found work with saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre, pianist George Russell and saxophonist Archie Shepp.

From mid-1963 to nearly March 1964, Peacock belonged to the Bill Evans Trio. Simultaneously Peacock played with pianist Paul Bley, and recorded with him and drummer Paul Motian in April of 1963 on "When Will the Blues Leave," and with the addition of John Gilmore on tenor sax for the album The Turning Point in March of 1964. Peacock also played briefly in the Miles Davis quintet, filling in for bassist Ron Carter, in April and May of that year.

While Peacock was highly productive in this period, it was his association with free jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler which brought him into his own as a musician. Ayler was a figurehead of the free jazz movement, whom Peacock admired. In July of 1964, Peacock joined Ayler and drummer Sunny Murray to record the record the album Spiritual Unity. On “Spirits,” Peacock supports Ayler while not providing a definite beat. Peacock freely expresses himself while providing a significant counterpoint to Ayler’s performance.

After touring with Ayler, Peacock took time off from music, partially to due a perforated ulcer he suffered during a concert before a European tour. In 1969, Peacock moved to Japan, where he studied eastern philosophy, including Shintoism and Zen Buddhism, and medicine.

While in Japan, Peacock recorded with saxophonist Sadao Watanabe, pianist Masabuni Kikuchi and several others. Peacock returned to the United States in 1972 where he enrolled in the biology program at the University of Washington, graduating in 1976.

In the summer of 1976, Peacock went on a tour of Japan with Bley and drummer Barry Altschul. In 1977, pianist Keith Jarrett and drummer Jack DeJohnette appeared on Peacock’s first release for the ECM label entitled Tales of Another. Peacock first met Jarrett when Peacock was working with Bill Evans at the Village Vanguard in 1964.

In 1983, Peacock formerly began an extensive association with Jarrett and DeJohnette. Under Jarrett’s name, the trio performs modernized versions of jazz standards. The group, whose first album was 1983’s Standards Vol.1. for ECM, has become known as Jarrett's "Standards Trio" has performed and recorded prolifically over the past twenty-five years.

The is known for its reworkings of classic jazz compositions, such as Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's "All The Things You Are" and Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's "My Funny Valentine."

On “God Bless The Child,” Peacock provides a groove-oriented bass line giving the ensemble a more concrete texture. Along with DeJohnette’s reserved performance, Peacock supplies Jarrett with a linear foundation to improvise over.

In 1993, Peacock recorded Oracle, the first of two duet records with guitarist Ralph Towner. Because of the sparse instrumentation, both Peacock and Towner are given equal attention. On “Gaya,” Peacock demonstrates his skillful use of space while still remaining active in the arrangement.

In 1995, Peacock, Bley and trumpeter Franz Koglmann released the album Annette, which featured the music of vocalist Annette Peacock who has been married to both Peacock and Bley. In 1999, Peacock and Bley participated in the album Not Two, Not One, which reunited them with Motian.

Peacock has also recorded two albums with Motian and pianist Mark Copland, which include Peacock's composition "Vignette" and "River's Run." Their work with Copland evokes their classic trio work with both Bill Evans and Paul Bley.

In 2007, the Standards Trio released Setting Standards: New York Sessions, which collects the first three releases culled from the group's 1983 sessions for ECM. The collection is a symbol of the group’s endurance in the jazz community.

Peacock has also had a productive career as an educator. In 1979, he took a teaching position at the Cornish School of the Arts in Seattle, where he remained until 1983. While at Cornish, Peacock developed the Music Theory and Harmony program. In the mid 1990s, Peacock was invited to teach master classes at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He is an active student of Zen Buddhism and lives in Claryville, New York, where he has taught meditation classes at a nearby prison.

Select Discography

As Gary Peacock

Eastward (1970)

Voices (1971)

Tales Of Another (1977)

Guamba (1987)

Oracle (1993)

With Albert Ayler

New York Eye And Ear Control (1964)

Spiritual Unity (1964)

Spirits Rejoice (1965)

With Bill Evans

Trio ’64 (1964)

With Paul Bley

Paul Bley with Gary Peacoc (1963)

Turns (1964)

Mr. Joy (1968)

Not Two, Not One (1999)

With Keith Jarrett

Standards Vol. 1 (1983)

Standards Vol. 2 (1983)

Still Live (1986)

Standards Live (1987)

Standards In Norway (1989)

Inside Out (2001)

My Foolish Heart, Live At Montreux (2007)

Contributor: Eric Wendell