Exploratory Bassist Gary Peacock Dies At 85

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Gary Peacock (1935-2020)

(Photo: Daniela Yohannes/ECM)

Bassist Gary Peacock, who performed and recorded alongside trailblazing bandleaders Albert Ayler, Keith Jarrett and scores of others, in addition to leading his own trio, died Sept. 4 at age 85 following an unspecified illness.

Working from a broad musical palette, Peacock demonstrated full command of jazz standards, but his inquisitive nature pushed him toward engaging with the music’s freer aspects as well.

“Gary was quite well-known and sought after because of his unique improvising concepts,” said drummer Jack DeJohnette, a longtime collaborator. “His tone was incredible—rich, deep and even all over. His feel was amazing. He could really swing, and his free playing was like a rocket taking off, like a spring exploding.”

Born in 1935 in Idaho, Peacock played a range of instruments before moving over to bass while stationed in Germany during a stint serving in the Army. By the early 1960s, he had made a name for himself as an imaginative and highly skilled jazz bassist, playing in trios with pianists Paul Bley and Bill Evans, as well as groups led by drummer Tony Williams, pianist Lowell Davidson and saxophonist Ayler. He even did a two-month stint with Miles Davis, subbing for Ron Carter. Peacock was never defined by one particular idiom or style; instead, he sought to explore the freedoms revealed in any given musical context.

After establishing himself on the New York jazz scene, Peacock moved to Japan in the late 1960s, immersing himself in Eastern culture and studying Zen Buddhism. During that time, he recorded the albums Eastward (1970) and Voices (1971) for the Japanese CBS/Sony imprint.

The trio of Peacock, DeJohnette and pianist Jarrett was assembled for Peacock’s 1977 album Tales Of Another (ECM). That grouping would later become Jarrett’s Standards Trio, which toured annually for decades and released numerous recordings, beginning with the 1983 ECM albums Standards Vol. 1, Standards Vol. 2 and Changes. On the occasion of the trio’s 25th anniversary, Peacock reflected on the trio’s longevity.

“We all surrender to the music and we’re all 200 percent committed to the melodies in the American Songbook,” he said in the November 2007 issue of DownBeat. “But if someone had told me at the time that we started that I’d be playing in the same band, even for 10 years, I would have thought they were a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic. But we have stayed together by immersing ourselves in these great songs, engaging in a spirited symbiosis and reaching a depth that’s rare to achieve.”

Other Peacock leader recordings on ECM included December Poems (with Jan Garbarek), Voice From The Past: Paradigm (with Garbarek, Tomasz Stanko and DeJohnette), Shift In The Wind (with Art Lande and Eliot Zigmund) and Guamba (with Garbarek, Palle Mikkelborg and Peter Erskine).

Peacock remained active in recent years, releasing Now This (2015) and Tangents (2017) on ECM with his own trio, which included drummer Joey Baron and pianist Marc Copland.

“Gary will be missed but remembered as one of the giants of the double bass,” DeJohnette said. “He’s a legend, and he will remain that.” DB

Updated Sept. 22