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Gary Peacock: Zen Bass

By Published: July 13, 2007
GP: At first it was me and the bass. Something to conquer, something to control. It gave me a sense of identity and a purpose in life. One thing in my life that wasn't flipping out all over the place, something I could count on. As a result of that, it produced a lot of anxiety, because once I became that identified with the instrument, then let's say something happened to my hands, I wouldn't have an identity. That's who I was, I was a musician—I wasn't anything but that. In the beginning it worked very well, because that anxiety kept me on target, it kept me woodshedding and developing more and more.

But if you keep pushing things down, eventually they're going to pop up and really bite you in the ass. 1964 was the first major change. I was going through all kinds of emotional stuff, I was involved with drugs and alcohol, a relationship that was kind of rocky and then one time I took acid with Timothy Leary's group. I went through periods where I would die and I would come back and I couldn't stop it. The people I was with put me in a tub of ice-cold water to shock my nervous system. I stopped breathing for a second and when I looked down I had turned into a turtle. So that didn't help!

But the next day I felt really calm. When I looked at the calm, I saw that I had realized I wasn't a musician. That was something I had made up in my mind; it was something I did, but it wasn't who I was. But if I'm not that, then who am I? My relationship with music and with the bass completely changed. The bass was an instrument I played; it wasn't me. If I couldn't play music anymore, I wouldn't die. My interest in music ended and it didn't come back until about ten years later when I did a short tour with Paul Bley in Japan and something turned the wheel, something happened. So the relationship I have now is that I'm me. There's a relationship between myself and the instrument, but it's me over here and the bass over there. We're not the same and we're not different. Now I follow a practice that I've done for about ten years. I go through an actual daily practice of greeting the instrument, positioning myself with the instrument, paying attention to my posture, my breathing, the texture, the feeling of the instrument.

Sometimes that takes seconds, sometimes it takes five minutes. Just getting a physical-sensory connection. The next thing is when I actually start playing, I don't lose that physical connection. To be completely aware of the sound that I'm playing and also what my feelings are about the sound of the instrument. Just paying attention. I don't try to do anything about it necessarily, but I just play, letting it be there. I might be playing an arpeggio or a melody, but basically the attention is on the sensory-emotional aspect of my playing. And then I let it go.

AAJ: How has zazen (sitting meditation) influenced you?

GP: I think music actually prepared me in some ways in coming to zazen, because it was the only window in my life where I felt kind of a spiritual or religious sense. I looked at that the essence of that and it was just bare awareness. Zazen is the same thing; it's a heightened sense of awareness. My daily mantra is a quote from my Zen teacher, John Daido Loori, Roshi. I asked him one time, "What is Zen?" He said, "Just do what you're doing while you're doing it." It's so simple, but it's so hard! That's something about Keith. Whatever he's doing, he's doing it. In some ways he's more Zen than anybody I've ever met.

AAJ: What are you listening to these days?

GP: Precious little. Where I live is very silent. I really love it—there's no cars, no people, just the wind in the trees, a deer walking around, a cowbell, a brook. So mostly I spend a lot of time in silence.

Selected Discography

Marilyn Crispell, Nothing Ever Was, Anyway: The Music of Annette Peacock (ECM, 1997)

Keith Jarrett, At The Blue Note (The Complete Recordings) (ECM, 1994)

Masabumi Kikuchi/Gary Peacock/Paul Motian, Tethered Moon (Evidence, 1991)

Jack DeJohnette, Have You Heard (Epic, 1970)

Albert Ayler, Spiritual Unity (ESP, 1964)

Don Ellis, Essence (Pacific Jazz-Mighty Quinn, 1962)

Photo Credit

Bottom Photo: Jacky Lepage

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