Charlie Peacock: Accepting the Gift of Freedom

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I have these two qualities. Im a populist and a rebel at the same time, so theres a part of me thats always wanting to make something new thats never been heard and a part of me that doesnt want to leave anybody out of the conversation. So theres always a tension.
Charlie Peacock's been in the music business for twenty-five years; his recordings as a solo artist and producer (Amy Grant, Al Green, CeCe Winans, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Switchfoot) in the pop, gospel and alternative rock genres have sold millions of records. I'll admit I looked askance at his new jazz CD Love Press Ex-Curio—prejudiced by his background, I couldn't believe he could make an album of convincing music that incorporated improvisation. Still, the roster of musicians on the CD was impressive—Ralph Alessi, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Jeff Coffin, Joey Baron, just to name several—so I gave the CD a listen. It's very much to Peacock's credit that the quality of Love Press Ex-Curio immediately overwhelmed, and eliminated, any snobbish reservations I might have had about him. It's a fantastic record that successfully fuses acoustic and electric playing (Peacock's own piano and Fender Rhodes work is very much at the level of the other players), organic time and looped percussion, improvisation and studio editing. Peacock's not afraid of improvisation, nor is he reluctant to structure improv into concise and memorable songs—and the result's as unique as it is enjoyable. I spoke with Peacock at home in Tennessee.

All About Jazz: Let's start with a question so obvious you're probably already tired of being asked it. You've had an extremely successful career in the pop and gospel worlds as a producer and as a solo artist. At this point, I guess you could have continued that indefinitely or you could have gone into any area that interested you. Why a jazz record?

Charlie Peacock: In 1999, I was probably completely burned out on making pop records, so I started looking for an antidote to that. I'm one of these artists that really believes that you create and then you assess. On a very large scale, that might be three or four years of working and then you've got to take the entire month of December and just see if you're going in the right direction. So I've done that for the last twenty-five years pretty faithfully, and in '99 it was one of those assessment years, and the antidote for me was to get back to improvisation first. And so I got with my friend [saxophonist] Jeff Coffin, who plays with the Flecktones, and started just improvising with him—free improvisation. I wanted to get completely away from composition, pop song structure, and all of that, and just let my love of improvisation lead me to where the next steps were. So over several years, that started taking me into different areas, whether it was working on a duets record with Jeff or starting Love Press Ex-Curio. But that's how it all started.

AAJ: So this album, Love Press Ex-Curio, was tracked in two basic sessions; one was in New York City and the other was in Bellevue, Tennessee, which I assume is close to where you live.

CP: Yeah, it's at our house here.

AAJ: Were these sessions recent or were they done over an extended period of time?

CP: It started three years ago. It had been an ongoing project and when I started a new production company for developing pop artists, part of putting that business together was to have a development relationship with one of the independent distribution mechanisms. I had worked with Red—Sony Red at that time—on Switchfoot [the multiplatinum alternative-rock group Peacock produced] records, so I knew they could do a good job, and I made a deal with Red to release indie-level product. And then it was like, "oh, I can put this record out.

AAJ: So when did you do the basic tracks?

CP: I think they started four years ago.

AAJ: I wonder if, when you're dealing with a long-term project like this, and going back to tracks, and adding things to them—do you ever reach a point where you're saturated with the work and not even sure whether it's good?

CP: Yes, definitely, and I think that that was one of the benefits of not working on a schedule for this sort of first go-around. I could relearn—or maybe, in some ways, learn for the first time what kinds of assessment skills I needed to sharpen to be able to pull that off. So it was a good R&D time for me, and I learned a lot through it. And now on my subsequent projects—I've got two more going right now—I'm giving myself deadlines. Because, you know, the whole rest of my career has been on deadlines. If you really become an active participant in the music business, then you only get that first record without a deadline, in a sense anyway, because you've been working on it your whole life. And after that, depending on whether you're producing or doing your own work as an artist, it could be every three months, it could be every year, every year-and-a-half.

AAJ: The tunes on Love Press Ex-Curio—not to suggest they are 100% composed, but were they written just before the sessions? Or were you writing in the studio?

CP: Some of them written for the sessions and some were written afterwards. It really depended on how that particular piece was coming together. All of the New York sessions had a lot of detailed parts written for them, and the Bellevue sessions were more born out of, say, one evening of a jam session.

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