May 24, 2024

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Interview with Charlie Peacock: I think congruence replaces the need for balance: Video

Jazz interview with jazz singer, singwriter, pianist, guitarist, producer Charlie Peacock. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Charlie Peacock: – My father, Bill Ashworth was a musician, the youngest son of Lee and Ella Ashworth. While he was born in Oroville, California in 1933, his parents were from Singer, Louisiana, where his maternal grandfather George Reilly Baggett had been a farmer/logger and part-time fiddler. My dad’s principal instrument was trumpet, but he played all instruments to some degree. He was also an arranger and songwriter. He married my mother Alice while performing with the Air Force band stationed in Cheyenne, Wyoming. After leaving the service, he worked as a full-time telephone lineman and weekend musician. I have no memory of a time when music did not figure into our family life.

I was born in northern California, specifically Yuba City, a small farm community. My father was always a working musician then became a music educator. My father, along with a teenage aunt, was the reason I became interested in music. He provided the jazz influence and she made sure I knew who the Beatles were. From there, I played trumpet in concert bands from 4th grade on. At 13 I began teaching myself to play the piano. As a teenager, I wrote vocal songs and instrumentals and began learning how to record. When I was fifteen my father drove me to Los Angeles to David Geffen’s office so I could deliver some tapes for consideration!

JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

CHP: – As a musician, I’ve always been eclectic. With respect to piano, I learned to play the blues first, then how to play in the style of Jackson Browne and Chuck Leavell from the Allman Brothers Band. From there, I ventured into jazz piano. First with Wynton Kelly, Nat King Cole, Ahmad Jamal and Oscar Peterson. Next came my primary jazz and composition influences: Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarret, Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk and Andrew Hill. Note that five of these had played with Miles Davis (I would count him as my biggest influence in terms of reinvention and musicality). I picked up something from each of these musicians but I seldom tried to copy them. I’ve always thought that the best thing about jazz is that you are free to pursue music not yet heard or known. The way I play today is different than twenty years ago. I seldom use the Bill Evans chordal approach anymore. Instead I keep my left hand very free, mostly playing fifths and sixths. By uncluttering the lower register I am less bound to the older concepts of chordal and passing tones as well as the extensions. Like modal approaches years ago, this simple left hand approach allows the music to feel suspended and open to anything.

JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

CHP: – For decades as a studio musician, touring artist and record producer, I seldom had to think about practice routines. I was playing all the time! I had a small batch of Hanon exercises I would do on the piano and away from hit (tapping on the kitchen table, etc.). During one period when I was playing funk (ala Headhunters) my time was very good. I honestly don’t think it’s as good now as it was then. Youth allowed me to be a much more of a visceral performer. These days, I sit at the piano and play until I come upon something I cannot play well. I stop and work on it then move on.

JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?

CHP: – I would differentiate between my compositional interests and my piano harmonic interest. Whereas my compositional skill has become very broad touching on many ways of making music, my harmonic concept on piano has become narrower and more personal. I am certainly not without my influences, but I try to explore harmonic territory on the piano that I have not played or heard before. I love Bill Evans, but I would not be happy if I played like a poor version of him. That is not why I improvise. Compositionally though, I’m all over the map. If it’s American music, I write in that vast myriad of styles and influences.

JBN.S: – Which are the best jazz albums for you of 2017 year?

CHP: – Tomasz Stańko New York Quartet – December Avenue,

Vijay Iyer Sextet – Far From Over.

JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

CHP: – As you age these two ought to become seamless, erasing the harsh lines of dichotomy. With that said, I think congruence replaces the need for balance. Your being, with years and years of music-making is at rest, not having to wrestle with the question any longer.

JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

CHP: – Dr. Frank Kofsky was the former editor of Jazz & Pop magazine and (the then) current jazz columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. He would let me tag along to Keystone Korner in San Francisco where we’d hear the giants of jazz and capture material for Frank’s column. It was there that I heard drummer Max Roach and vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, as well as the legendary tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon, quoted by club owner Todd Barkan as the man who once said, “My shoes are dusty but my soul is clean.” Frank put me in his column once, describing me as a pianist of “no mean ability.” Now why couldn’t he have just written above average?

Those were halcyon, never to be repeated days. Todd Barkan wrote to me in 2014 regarding the Dexter Gordon gig, “Bobby Hutcherson and I both believe it is by far some of the greatest music ever played at that truly psychedelic jazz club, and I am so happy you were there to hear the miracle happen in person!”

Part of Frank’s mentorship was to have me correspond with the enigmatic pianist Andrew Hill. I wrote to him requesting an interview for Keyboard magazine. Andrew responded by letter.

“Bring a bucket of chicken and something for the head,” – he wrote.

I knew what chicken was, but uncertain about “something for the head.”

“Weed,” – Frank said.

Oh. “Are we going to bring some?” – I asked.

In his book Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music, Frank had captured what many considered to be the definitive interview with John Coltrane. My wife and I knew Frank best as a grumpy but colorful character. He once called our house in Sacramento and hit a gong right before giving his name and greeting. Hence the song title “Frank the Marxist Memorial Gong Blues.”

JBN.S: – Many aspiring musicians are always looking for advice when navigating thru the music business. Is there any piece of advice you can offer to aspiring students or even your peers that you believe will help them succeed and stay positive in this business?

CHP: – You should learn about the music business, but do so in a timely and organic way. Learn as you go. Be a reader. Ask good questions of the people who have gone before you. Regarding business, the most important thing to remember is to get your music on before you get your mogul on. Music is jealous. She won’t tolerate you giving your heart to business, no matter how important or essential. Music first, business second. No one owes you anything, no matter how talented you are. It’s all of grace, your gifts, talents and ambitions. Grow as a musician but concern yourself with what kind of person you’re becoming as you grow. When two players of equal talent arrive on the scene, one will get more work because he/she is respectful, grateful, humble and highly skilled.

JBN.S: – Аnd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday?

CHP: – I think it is less and less a business that attracts investors who wish to succeed at investing. In the day to day world though, jazz can be as much a business as teaching, farming or practicing law. The key is to have reasonable expectations and run your business more like a family grocery store or small farm. There are a few select giants of jazz that are still able to live large, but the rest of the jazz musicians are living under new terms in a new time – a more modest time.

JBN.S: – Which collaboration have been the most important experiences for you?

CHP: – I would have to put saxophonist Jeff Coffin at the top of that list. He’s been with me on three of the four improvisational albums I’ve done. All the many, many artists I’ve produced and recorded with have been wonderful, collaborative experiences – here I’m thinking of everyone from Al Green, Ladysmith, Bela Fleck to The Civil Wars, Holly Williams and Switchfoot. I very much enjoyed recording with Ravi Coltrane, Ralph Alessi, Joey Baron and James Genus …

JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

CHP: – Yes, that’s why I quit playing from the Real Book a long, long time ago. I have educator friends though who believe in learning to play the standards in every key. That’s not for me. I’m interested in composition and in putting people in a room to improvise and NOT know what they are doing. There is a fascinating person of history named Michael Polanyi who termed the phrase “tacit knowledge.” A way of knowing that is under the surface, not explicitly always before your mind. Like riding a bicycle – when you’re doing it, you’re not wrestling with the physics of it, and how it is that you can stay upright. I think music should be the same. All the while realizing that you must gain some, affectual facility on your instrument.

JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

CHP: – When I’m producing a record, and artists refuse to risk, rip themselves wide open and rebel against the status quo, I feel sorry for them. I also become disinterested. Why aren’t you trying to go somewhere no one else is going? Why is your reach so limited? What keeps you from failing big in order to touch the diamond emerging from your rubble? Where’s your imagination? When I think like this, I know it’s because of Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder. And John Coltrane. Like Kerouac and Snyder, John Coltrane had a measurable influence on the direction of my life. His most popular recording, A Love Supreme, is Coltrane bringing the full weight of his spiritual quest into the public square – an idea that fascinates and drives my work today. It’s remarkable that Coltrane had his greatest commercial success with his most explicitly spiritual recording. In the liner notes Coltrane announces, “Dear Listener: ALL PRAISE BE TO GOD WHOM ALL PRAISE IS DUE.” The upper case lettering was all Coltrane. This was something he was very serious about. He closed the letter with, “Seek Him every day. In all ways seek God every day. Let us sing all songs to God.”

I’m as serious about this as I am music. The way I’ve worked it out for myself, is grace, and specifically the grace of God through Jesus. I believe in God and believe there is nothing I can to do to make him love me less or love me more. Coltrane was my model for this and for seeking the transcendent in performance.

JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?

CHP: – I see good in the future as well as the normal trials of everyday life. Talking on the phone makes me anxious! Otherwise, I am at peace and grateful.

JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

CHP: – A return to a hierarchy of musical experience, where there is someone who knows more than you and has a better handle on art-making and you want to hear from them (and not them hearing you talking). We live in a time where a twenty year old looks at a 60 year old and thinks he or she is the elder’s peer. Technology has democratized everything.

JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?

CHP: – Next I’ll be editing and preparing another solo piano recording.

JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?

CHP: – Yes, this is why I will say that I’m schooled in American music. Certainly, Europe and the African continent have very unique contributions to make. However, America gave birth to folk music (derivative of Scottish/Irish tunes), the blues, jazz, R&B and so on. I have always been about playing this grand, diverse music. Jazz has the greatest possibility for playing with the time like African and Indian music do – so there’s some overlap there. Vijay and Rudresh are the innovators with this – at least those that I know of.

JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

CHP: – Last week I revisited my roots and listened to several hours of Wynton Kelly and Ahmad Jamal. I checked in on Kendrick Lamar and Migos – then Kenny Rankin, Kamasi Washington and Herbie Hancock (Maiden Voyage). I also listened to some Freddie Hubbard – “Up Jumped Spring” I think.

JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?

CHP: – I would go back to a period between 1965 and 1975. I would be a better son and grandson. I would engage my parents and grandparents in long and worthy discussions where we would learn to know each other more completely and faithfully.

JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself …

CHP: – You’ve been talking a lot about American music and your self-described eclecticism. Could you give us some tangible evidence?

JBN.S – SS: – Thank you for answers. Tangible evidence in what? I ask circular questions to imagine more, to open jazz and blues musicians and their minds, their attitude of life, memories …

CHP: – Thank you Simon. Peace to you.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Картинки по запросу Charlie Peacock

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