Legendary jazz bassist Gary Peacock dies at 85

He recorded on Bill Evans’ Trio 64 and Tony Williams’ Life Time

Gary Peacock

Photo: Tom Copi / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

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Gary Peacock, the legendary jazz bassist who played and recorded with Bill Evans, Albert Ayler, Marc Copland and Tony Williams, has died at the age of 85.

Peacock’s family confirmed his death in a statement to NPR, stating that he died peacefully at his upstate New York home on Friday, 4 September 2020. No cause of death was given.

Peacock’s jazz bass career spanned seven decades – though, he initially started out as a drummer and pianist. While stationed in Germany during a stint in the Army, he played piano in a jazz ensemble. When the group’s bassist left, Peacock made the switch to the bass, despite his initial reservations about the instrument. He was convinced by band drummer “Red” Holt – who was the original drummer of the Ramsey Lewis Trio – to give the instrument a chance.

In the 1950s, after being discharged, Peacock relocated to Los Angeles where he performed and recorded with West Coast jazz legends the likes of Barney Kessel, Art Pepper and Bud Shank, before moving once again to New York in the 1960s.

In that decade, Peacock embarked on a longtime creative partnership with free jazz pianist Paul Bley and recorded on albums for Bill Evans, Albert Ayler and Tony Williams. He also briefly joined Miles Davis’ quintet as a stand-in for Ron Carter.

In a 2017 interview with Artsfuse, Peacock shared that during his time with the quintet, Davis said “one of the most brilliant, useful, and necessary comments I’ve ever heard.”

“Somebody was recording with him, and Miles looked at him and said, ‘What I want to hear is what you don’t know’,” Peacock recalled. “That is really the key: not playing what you know, playing what you don’t know. To do that, you have to get very quiet inside, listen, and surrender to whatever that particular musical setting is.”

He continued: “It doesn’t make any difference whether I’m playing standards or free stuff, because you’re giving up any kind of fixed positions or attitudes you may have about what it should or shouldn’t be. And to do that, you have to be vulnerable, to be in a place where you realise that what you’re after, you cannot know. It’s not conceivable. But it’s there. It’s the muse. So it’s kind of a switch from the self playing the muse to the muse playing the self.”

Peacock’s first solo album was 1970’s Eastward, recorded in Japan with drummer Hiroshi Murakami and pianist Masabumi Kikuchi.

In 1977, Peacock teamed up with pianist Keith Jarrett and drummer Jack DeJohnette for Tales of Another. The trio’s collaboration extended throughout the following two decades; they were best known as the Keith Jarrett Standards Trio. They recorded multiple albums, including Jarrett’s two-part Standards, as well as three live standards albums, Standards Live, Still Live, and Standards In Norway.

In his later years, Peacock remained an active musician, performing with the likes of guitarist Bill Frisell, pianist Marilyn Crispell and saxophone player Lee Konitz. His last album as a bandleader was Tangents from 2017 – recorded with Marc Copland and Joey Baron.

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