№ 5

Gary Peacock

The Cadence Interview


This inter­view ran in two parts, near­ly fill­ing the Sep­tem­ber and Octo­ber 2001 issues of the mag­a­zine. Gary Pea­cock and I met in Toron­to, the night before his per­for­mance with the Kei­th Jar­rett Trio. We spoke in a small bar, just 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?