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KNKX Pays Tribute to Gary Peacock

Courtesy of Eliott Peacock/The Peacock Family

Bassist Gary Peacock passed away on Friday, September 4. He was a highly influential player, who had a seven decades-long career and taught locally during his time in Seattle as an instructor at Cornish College of the Arts. KNKX Director of Music Programming Carol Handley looks back at the life and career of Gary Peacock, honoring a bassist who blazed his own path, transforming the way that many bass players approach their instruments and whose time here in the Northwest was spent as an educator of jazz to other young artists.   

Gary Peacock was born in Idaho and grew up in Yakima. Gary also spent some years in the Northwest, first as a biology student at the University of Washington in the early 70's before going on to teach at Seattle's Cornish College of the Arts. Many musicians in the Northwest and beyond got some first-hand schooling from Gary Peacock and his years in the area gave many of us an opportunity to hear him live at Dimitriou's Jazz Alley with artists including Ralph Towner, Michel Petrucciani, Jimmy Rowles and Jerry Granelli. 

Peacock recorded a dozen albums under his own name and performed and recorded with major jazz figures, most notably 20 albums with Keith Jarrett as part of Jarrett's "Standards Trio." Leonard Feather said in Who's Who of Jazz that Peacock was "the man who changed the roll of the bass in Western Music." Drummer Jack DeJohnette stated that he admired Peacock's "sound, choice of notes, and, above all, the buoyancy of his playing." And John Dimitriou said of Peacock that "He was a consummate player who was always open to trying new stuff. I learned a lot about music through Peacock and that he led a full life, did everything he wanted to do and took care of his family."

Gary Peacock's immense musical talents kept him at the epicenter of progressive jazz and creative improvisation for more than seven decades. 

Peacock grew up in the Yakima area and his earliest musical experiences involved playing piano, trumpet,  and drums. After graduating from college in L.A. he was drafted into the Army. While stationed in Germany, he played piano in a jazz trio, but switched to bass when the group's bassist quit. After being discharged, Peacock remained in Germany, playing with Hans Koller, Tony Scott, Bud Shank, and others, before returning to L.A. where he established himself as a bass player in sessions with Barney Kessel and Art Pepper, recording with Don Ellis and Clare Fischer--and began a musical association with pianist Paul Bley, with whom he would go on to record nine albums.

While in California, Peacock heard the music of Ornette Coleman. At that time, Peacock said of his own playing that he was playing less time, and playing the time felt like a straightjacket, so he began to intentionally play out of time to open it up for the pianist and the drummer. In 1962 he moved to New York, where he played with Roland Kirk, George Russell, Archie Shepp, and others. He joined Bill Evans' trio, which included drummer Paul Motian. And in 1964, he briefly joined Miles Davis' quintet, substituting for Ron Carter. That year, he also appeared on Tony Williams' debut album, Life Time.

Peacock spent some time in Japan and then in 1972, he returned to the U.S. and moved to Seattle, resuming his musical relationship with Paul Bley. In 1977, he recorded Tales of Another with Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette. Together, they would later become known as The Standards Trio. Peacock's solo album, December Poems, followed which features four solo bass pieces and two duets with saxophonist Jan Garbarek. From 1979 to 1983, Peacock also taught in Seattle at Cornish College of the Arts. 

Carol Handley spoke briefly with bassist and Professor of Music at Cornish, Chuck Deardorf, about Gary Peacock's approach while he was teaching at Cornish. Deardorf said, "It was a very holistic way of just developing ear rather than just starting in with the mathematics of it. You would start with what you hear and how to identify it and how you move things around which was pretty amazing. It was how he thought about music. He was a very deep thinker. He just had his own sound. He had impeccable time. His time-playing was just so inspiring because he just had this white heat of energy to it. He could really propel a group as well as his solo playing. So he was definitely an inspiration for me."

Through the 1980's and 1990's, Gary Peacock released a number of albums under his own name, played and toured exclusively with Jarrett and DeJohnette, and performed and recorded with a trio known as Tethered Moon, as well as recordings with Paul Bley, Jan Garbarek, Ralph Towner, and Marc Copland.  In the 2000's, Gary Peacock continued to play and record in the existing trio contexts, as well as with Marilyn Crispell, Lee Konitz, and Bill Frisell, and with a new trio featuring Marc Copland and Joey Baron.

Gary Peacock left the fans of the music an abundant library representing the life of the man and to be able to celebrate the bass player's deep contribution to the world of jazz.  You can't complete Peacock's musical story without playing a little music with The Standards Trio with Keith Jarrett on piano, Jack DeJohnette on drums and Gary Peacock on bass. 

Listen to the full songs in the story here.