№ 5

Gary Pea­cock

The Cadence Interview


In the style of the old Cadence mag­a­zine, this inter­view ran in two parts, nearly fill­ing the Sep­tem­ber and Octo­ber 2001 issues. Gary Pea­cock and I met in Toronto, the night before his per­for­mance with the Keith Jar­rett Trio. We spoke in a small bar, just to the east of the ele­gant King Edward Hotel, among the city’s finest, the trio’s lodg­ings for their two nights in town. Pea­cock remem­bered the last time he was here. It was the early 1980s, the Stan­dards Trio’s first days. They’d come north to see if their approach would work in a large con­cert hall.

GARY PEACOCK: It [the Stan­dards Trio] could have been jeop­ar­dized by a really large hall. How do you cre­ate an inti­macy at the level that we wanted to do it at, or expe­ri­ence it at? In gen­eral, in a smaller club (200–300 peo­ple) that’s not a prob­lem because it’s built into the whole sys­tem. You don’t have to rely so much on ampli­fi­ca­tion or speak­ers or any­thing like that. But when you’re in a big hall, is it pos­si­ble? We came to Toronto and we said, “Well, it looks like it’s pos­si­ble. But we’ll have to do some work with it.”

CADENCE: You’re talk­ing about right after those Vil­lage Van­guard gigs in the early ‘80s [the first Stan­dards Trio per­for­mances in Sep­tem­ber 1983].

G.P.: Not right after. It was some­time after that. We did the Van­guard, and then there was a lot of inter­est in the group. Offers com­ing in from Europe and Japan. So Keith said, “Is this gonna work? We have to see if it’ll go, if it will really work.” But it is dif­fer­ent, very very dif­fer­ent, when you work in a large hall.

CAD: Do you miss the clubs?

G.P.: Yeah, because all of our early his­tory was basi­cally club work. The music that we’re play­ing is part and par­cel of that con­text. The music wasn’t orig­i­nally designed in a way for an audi­ence of 2,000, 3,000, or 10,000 peo­ple. But we’ve found ways to make it work. And we’ve done some halls that were just so loud. An Opera House in Vienna, they’d never had jazz before. We had to play almost triple pianis­simo. And it worked. But every­body had to be atten­tive. So this is actu­ally the first time I’ve been back in Toronto, I think, since the ’80s.

CAD: You were just in Europe with Mar­i­lyn Crispell. Now these two Stan­dards Trio per­for­mances [over the same Novem­ber week­end in Toronto and Chicago]. In the New Year you’re tour­ing with Ralph Towner. Then in the spring you’re back play­ing with Mar­i­lyn Crispell and Paul Mot­ian. This seems so typ­i­cal of the kinds of things you do: spread­ing your net so wide. A lot of peo­ple couldn’t do it.

G.P.: That question’s been asked before. I was talk­ing to Steve Cloud, my man­ager and Keith’s man­ager, and I real­ized that it’s not some­thing new for me. I started doing this stuff thirty-five or forty years ago, and what I dis­cov­ered was that it isn’t so much the form of the music or the style of the music that makes it dif­fer­ent. That isn’t what makes it different.

So in one sense, where I am musi­cally — with Mar­i­lyn, or at least before with Albert Ayler or with Jimmy Giuf­fre or with Paul Bley, or if I’m with Bill Evans or Miles Davis or Keith Jar­rett — doesn’t make any dif­fer­ence at all, because the space, the inter­nal space that this music comes out of, is no dif­fer­ent. The form that emanates from that is dif­fer­ent, but the musi­cal space that comes out of it — that it comes from — it’s the same kind of space. And for me to say, “What is it? Can you put that into words?” That’s a bit more problematic.

There are some key fea­tures. One is the intent of lis­ten­ing. If you are work­ing and play­ing with who­ever it is, and they’re lis­ten­ing — lis­ten­ing, lis­ten­ing, lis­ten­ing — they’re not just there to play their thing. They’re really lis­ten­ing. And that means lis­ten­ing to them­selves and lis­ten­ing to every­thing around them at the same time.

CAD: Every­thing you’ve done has been like that.

G.P.: Right. Exactly. That’s a nec­es­sary ingre­di­ent. Another ingre­di­ent is that there has to be an ele­ment of lack of seri­ous­ness and a very high intent of sin­cer­ity. Seri­ous­ness is usu­ally when some­one has devel­oped a par­tic­u­lar skill, a par­tic­u­lar under­stand­ing, a par­tic­u­lar ori­en­ta­tion to music. And this is all-important. So when­ever they play this is the thing that they have to do. That’s seri­ous­ness. Sin­cer­ity includes all that but at the same time it’s like open for some­thing that you don’t know what’s going to hap­pen, so you can give it all away, you don’t even need to play any­thing you’ve ever devel­oped, ever, you just let it go. You don’t have to make a statement.

So those, for me, are two cru­cial ingre­di­ents. And some­times it looks like — Peo­ple say, “What’s so great about Paul Mot­ian, for exam­ple. [Takes on a funny voice.] He doesn’t have any tech­nique. He’s not really a skilled drum­mer.” Like you’ve missed the whole thing, you know. [Laughs.]

CAD: What he’s doing on the Crispell record [Noth­ing Ever Was, Any­way (ECM, 1997)] is —

G.P.: It’s unbe­liev­able. Yeah, but see, and I don’t mean this deroga­to­rily, it’s because he doesn’t care.

CAD: What peo­ple think, you mean?

G.P.: He doesn’t care, period. [Laughs.] He says, “This music? OK, let’s play.” He’s not car­ry­ing all this bag­gage. He doesn’t have any bag­gage on his shoul­ders. He’s not car­ry­ing a lug of Paul Mot­ian around with him. He isn’t car­ry­ing any­thing. And Paul Bley — same kind of thing. He’d be play­ing some­thing and then make a right turn. It’s like, “What?