My only exposure to Gary Peacock was mid-1985, New York City. Sometime one hot Saturday, after wandering through a bunch of art galleries around the East Village, I came across a small cinema, probably on 2nd Ave. It was showing Michael Snow’s “New York Eye and Ear Control” film on repeat. I’d never heard of the film, but at just 34-minutes it offered, for $2.50, the perfect rest bite from the sweltering heat and humidity of a New York summer. The avant-garde soundtrack album, recorded with Albert Ayler, an ensemble improvisation of free jazz, is often overlooked in the discography of Gary Peacock. It was be recorded in July ’64, right after Peacock had substituted, in April and May, for Ron Carter in Miles Davis Quintet.
Here, CTI historian, jazz aficionado and writer, Doug Payne looks at the intersections of Gary Peacock and Creed Taylor.
The great jazz bassist Gary Peacock died at his home in upstate New York on September 4. He was 85. Peacock spent over 60 years gracing a wide range of jazz records with a sound not so much his, but of the genuinely engaging groups whose music he enhanced. His style was very much his own.
“Peacock revealed early in his career,” wrote Leonard Feather, “a tendency to extend his role as a bassist beyond the normal concepts heard in the bop and post-bop eras. His exceptional technical facility and wealth of ideas militated against his adhering to the old method of “walking or time-keeping and established his style as an integral part of the overall sound of many musical experiments in which he participated.”
His early years were spent on the West Coast, where he recorded and performed with Bud Shank, Barney Kessel, Paul Horn and Shorty Rodgers. When he made his way to New York in the mid-sixties, he aligned himself with such avant-garde visionaries as Roland Kirk, Albert Ayler, Don Cherry and Paul Bley. Peacock and Bley formed an immediate kinship and the pair would record frequently – often with drummer Paul Motian – throughout the remainder of their careers.
The bassist relocated for a time to Japan, where in 1970 he recorded his first solo album, Eastward (CBS/Sony), featuring the late great Masabumi Kikuchi, whose later well-chronicled band, Tethered Moon, also included Peacock.
Returning to the United States, Peacock began a relationship with ECM, where he recorded Tales of Another (1977), an album featuring pianist Keith Jarrett (in one of his last of few sideman roles) and drummer Jack DeJohnette.
These three reconvened in 1983 under Keith Jarrett’s leadership for what became known as the Standards Trio, probably jazz’s only formidable unit during the period. Together, the Keith Jarrett Trio waxed some two dozen worthy discs of standards and group improvisations through the trio’s final performance in 2014 – the most recent, After the Fall, a 1998 recording released in 2018, indicating there’s probably plenty more to come.
Gary Peacock had little to do with the crossover worlds of Creed Taylor, but he factored in two CT productions of note. In 1964, there was the incredible The Individualism of Gil Evans (Verve), for which Peacock participated on only two tunes, “Time of the Barracudas” and “The Barbara Song.” It’s a wonderful record with many notable moments, but Peacock isn’t a major factor for the album’s success.
More significantly, there is Peacock’s presence on Bill Evans’s seminal Trio 64 – produced by Creed Taylor and recorded in December 1963: the first of the pianist’s trio recordings for Verve, after waxing scores of trio records for Riverside.
Evans hadn’t recorded in a trio format since the death of bassist Scott LaFaro in 1961, so Peacock had some big shoes to fill – for the pianist and his listeners. Likely, he wasn’t worried about shoes – and the result doesn’t sound that way either.
Trio 64 was something of a welcome comeback: the reviews were good (“tunes no other jazz artist would touch with a 10-foot pole,” wrote Billboard, but “[h]ard to beat jazz.”) and so were the sales. Its reputation remains strong to this day. All Music Guide’s Lindsay Planer said “Evans sparkles, gliding around Peacock’s full-bodied basslines and Motian’s solid yet restrained beat.”
“His solos,” wrote pianist Fred Hersch of Peacock in his liner notes to the 1997 CD release of Trio 64, “have an urgent, abstract quality to them, partially made possible by Motian’s superior timekeeping and by Bill Evans providing extra harmonic space by laying out during many of the bass solos. One gets the feeling that the awkwardness of his instrument and the harmonic confines of the tunes aren’t issues at all for him. It’s clear he has a lot to say and says it boldly”.
Gary Peacock never turned up on another Bill Evans record or Creed Taylor production. But his Standards Trio mates did factor on later CT productions. Keith Jarrett is heard to surprisingly electrifying effect on Freddie Hubbard’s Sky Dive (CTI, 1972) and is pleasantly playful (he can be) on fellow Miles Davis-alum Airto’s Free (CTI, 1972).
Jack DeJohnette, who played with Jarrett in Charles Lloyd’s famed quartet and then again in Miles Davis’s early seventies band, was one of the original CTI All Stars, having been a significant part of the label and some of its most important records between 1970 and 1974.
In a condolence tweet to Peacock (which he has since strangely deleted), DeJohnette said their first meeting was on the bassist’s Tales of Another. But it was actually much earlier than that on the drummer’s own 1970 Japanese album Have You Heard (CBS/Sony).
Whatever the case, jazz has lost yet another one of its major contributors in Gary Peacock. He didn’t have the marquee value of, say, Ron Carter or the mercurial volatility of Charles Mingus. But he had the magic of firing up so many recordings by Paul Bley, Marilyn Crispell, Marc Copland and – unforgettably – the Keith Jarrett Trio that no listener can dismiss.
Postscript: Listeners who want to hear the Trio 64 songs Gary Peacock recorded elsewhere can check out Keith Jarrett at the Blue Note (1995) for “Everything Happens to Me” (II) and “For Heaven’s Sake” (VI), Jarrett/Peacock/DeJohnette’s Yesterdays (2009) for “A Sleepin’ Bee” and After the Fall (2018) for “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “I’ll See You Again.” The bassist also recorded Individualism’s “The Barbara Song” again on Tethered Moon/ Kikuchi, Peacock, Motian/Play Kurt Weill (1995).
When Christmas comes around this year, don’t forget possibly the best jazz bass Christmas tune, ever, from Evans Trio 64,