Sometime in the mid-70’s I wound up in Seattle.
Friends from Providence had taken over KZAM, the local radio station; I had a place to stay near there, one of the deejays was booking a local club, and he said I could play there on off nights.
Our lives weren’t linear then, we drifted from possibility to possibility.
It was a time when “I know a girl in Portland” sounded like a plan.
I got new strings for my guitar and got a gig for Sunday night.
THE CELLAR was a dark and drafty cave with candles everywhere and baskets of apples on the tables. The apples worried me a bit. If people got bored or I was off key, they could be hurled at the stage. I tried not to think about that.
I found a bass player, and we rehearsed a little. But the day of the gig, he called in a panic. There was a problem, his daughter was sick, he wouldn’t be able to make it. But he’d found me a sub.
His replacement turned up at the club a few hours before our first set. He wasn’t a large man, but he and his acoustic bass seemed to fill the room, taking up all the available air and almost all of the light. He looked a bit like a sea captain back on land, with a wool cap, a navy blue pea coat and a woolen scarf around his neck, and he angled his bass against the wall then thought better of it and put it down on its side, where it seemed even larger. He shook my hand rather formally and nodded, and I heard the name “Gary Peacock.”
I knew that name. Not his music, but his name, and I knew he’d worked with the likes of Miles Davis, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Bill Evans and…what the hell was he doing here? Had he lost a bet?
“Alright,” he said, taking his bass out and unpacking it. There seemed to be a number of scarves or cloths wrapped around it, and when it was undone, it was magnificent, as if he’d been carrying around a piece of French Provincial furniture. Its dark wood absorbed all the light in the room. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.
“So what will we be playing?”
My guitar looked like a toy next to his instrument. It looked cheap and uncared for, with no sweaters around it, no padding, and a clumsy set list taped to the side. I fumbled with the tuning.
“The first song is open-tuned.” It sounded like I was apologizing. “You could just pedal a D through the changes.”
I realized he hadn’t taken his coat off. He leaned the bass against the wall and shook his head.
“No,’ he said. He motioned toward his bass.
“This isn’t a bicycle.”
He sounded stern, but there was no unkindness in it. I wonder if he had these conversations with Miles before each set. I didn’t ask.
“Play the first song.”
“I don’t know… tell me some of the words?”
I recited the opening.
Holes in my family
Holes in the earth
It ends as quiet as the rain is wet
Holes in the shovels
Filling holes with dirt
It ends as quiet as all you forget. *
“It’s for my father,” I explained. “About his death.”
“No,” he said. It wasn’t said as a reprimand. It was an explanation. “The song isn’t about his death. The song IS his death. The song you wrote is his grave. Every time you play it, you’re digging a hole, you’re putting another bit of earth on top of it. It’s a mark of respect. It’s not a....it’s not a postcard.”
He fumbled in his pockets. It looked like there was an old train schedule, a note pad, a menu from a Japanese restaurant, and a faded picture postcard folded in half. He unfolded it and showed it to me. It was a beach scene from somewhere tropical, maybe Hawaii, with palm trees, the sun going down, waves stretching out in the distance. Someone had written on the front as well as the back with a blue ball point pen. The ink had smudged.
“You don’t want a song ABOUT the ocean. Music IS the ocean. You can swim in it. It surrounds you. You get lost in it.”
“This?” He held up the postcard again. “All you can do with this is put it in your pocket or tape it up somewhere in your kitchen.”
I wondered if he showed postcards to Bill Evans when they played at Bradley’s. It was probably too dark.
He took off his coat and folded it and put it by the side of the stage. People began drifting in, and we checked the microphones and adjusted the stands. The sound man said something about jazz, but nobody laughed.
Then we played. The bass lifted the songs, buoyed them on waves I’d never known were there, and once in a while I’d look over in his direction, and he’d nod in a 'keep going' sort of way, not smiling, exactly, but stretching out his notes to help me over any rough spots, making sure I could climb up and over any walls that were there.
And then it was over, and we said goodnight.
Gary Peacock (May 12, 1935 - September 4, 2020)
* “Vacancy” @ Brian Cullman c 1977 Songs On Toast, BMI
Brian Cullman is Journal of the Plague Year's West Village Editor
Snow ::: Gary Peacock
Basin Street Blues ::: Keith Jarrett & Gary Peacock
Requiem ::: Gary Peacock
Prism ::: Keith Jarrett Trio (w/Gary Peacock)
God Bless The Child ::: Keith Jarrett Standards Trio
I Fall In Love Too Easily :: Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette & Gary Peacock
again anew ::: Paul Bley & Gary Peacock
A Northern Tale ::: Gary Peacock
The Prowler ::: Ralph Towner & Gary Peacock