Sunday, January 25, 2015

Gary Foster, The Peacocks and A Timeless Place

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

One of the most wonderful things about maintaining this blog is all the great musicians who “drop by” the editorial offices of JazzProfiles from time-to-time [metaphorically speaking, of course].

Such was the case recently when I re-posted an archived feature on vocalist Norma Winstone which elicited this response from flutist, reedman, composer-arranger and all-round great guy, Gary Foster.

“Dear Steve:

It was interesting to find Norma Winstone as your recent subject. Perhaps something not well known about her relates to Jimmy Rowles’ “The Peacocks.” In 1991, Jim and I recorded “The Peacocks,” for Concord using his choice of the alto flute as the solo voice. Previously the song had been recorded by Jim, Bill Evans and Stan Getz.

“The Peacocks” is an AABA song form. The bridge is quite unique in that it is highly chromatic. In the early 90’s Jim had an actor/singer friend who wanted to write a lyric to the song but couldn’t deal with the bridge and asked him to change it by making it melodically more simple. That, of course, wasn’t going to happen.

I was at Jim’s house one afternoon when the postman delivered a cassette recording of Norma Winstone singing her lyric to “The Peacocks.” Her quite original treatment of the bridge was perfect. Rowles reacted immediately and made arrangements to record the song with her. I don’t remember any of the details but I believe George Mraz and Joe La Barbara were on the recording.

As a vocal, Norma titled the song “A Timeless Place.” Rowles contacted his publisher and arranged to share royalties with Norma when and if the song was released commercially with her title and lyric.

In 1999, several years after Jim’s death,  Tierney Sutton asked me if I had any unusual songs that she might consider recording. I sent along a few obscure favorites including “ A Timeless Place.” We recorded it on her 2000 Telarc recording, “Unsung Heroes.” Tierney sings it perfectly – like a classical art song. I wish Jim could have heard her.

I would be pleased to send along copies of the original sheets to “The Peacocks” and “A Timeless Place” for you files….

Best Regards,


After saying “Yes, please” to a copy of the sheet music to both The Peacocks and A Timeless Place, and being the clever guy that I am, I decided to surprise Gary by putting together the video montage of peacocks that you’ll find at the conclusion of this piece using Gary’s alto flute performance of Jimmy Rowles’ composition "The Peacocks" from Gary’s Make Your Own Fun Concord CD CCD-4459]

[Incidentally, I am now the proud owner of 8 pages of sheet music that contain Norma Winstone’s clever lyrics set to Jimmy Rowles’ melodic refrains for "The Peacocks."]

After the video was made, I sent Gary a link to it on YouTube along with a note about being introduced to pianist Jimmy Rowles way back when by my drum teacher Larry Bunker and even sitting in for Larry on occasion with Jimmy’s trio at the Carriage House [later Chadney] which was situated across the street from NBC Studios in “beautiful downtown Burbank.”

I also suggested to him that if he should like to recount how the experience of recording "The Peacocks" with Jimmy Rowles on piano, John Heard on bass and Joe Labarbera on drums came about that perhaps I could weave all of this together into a blog feature.

Here’s Gary response.

“Dear Steve,

Once again – thank you for the surprise You Tube of "The Peacocks" and your kind words about the performance.

You suggested an accounting of how "The Peacocks" happened to be on the Make Your Own Fun recording. I just reread the liner notes and that reminded me that probably twice as many songs were considered  as could be on the final record. Typical of anything musical that passed through Jim’s scrutiny, every detail – The key, exact melody, rhythm, the perfect chord change - had to meet his standards. That alone was a great music lesson in our preparation. After graduate school, my wife and I decided on life on the street before the PhD. Clare Fischer, Warne Marsh, Jimmy Rowles. Larry Bunker all provided my PhD.

One night at Jim’s house, in late 1990, we we chatting and I asked him how he happened to write "The Peacocks" for Arthur Gleghorn. They were drinking buddies he said, and in their bar hopping days they referred to themselves as “The Peacocks.” Arthur was a first desk studio flute player in the film and TV studios. I worked with him a few times when I first started doing dates. I asked Jim if Arthur ever played "The Peacocks" for him. He said “No.” I offered to play it for him sometime. He said “Now?” and I went to the car for my flute.

I have a convenient triple case that holds a piccolo, flute and alto flute. The case was open on the chair and after we played it on the flute. Jim saw the alto flute and asked “How would it be on the big one?” We played it with the alto flute and he commented that he liked it. As I was backing out of the driveway later, he came out of the house and to the car. I rolled the window down and Jim said “'The Peacocks' is the alto flute!”


Regarding Rowles:  Before we moved here in 1961, I had a couple of Rowles LP’s and hoped to hear him live once we were in LA. I looked for mention in the paper of where he might be playing and, once I had a Union directory, I phoned him and asked where he was playing. After a silence, and true to his cynicism, he said “Is this a gag?” I went to The Carriage House/Chadney’s many times over the next few years to hear him. It is possible that you were there, of course. I was playing regularly with Larry Bunker in Clare Fischer groups and in 1968 Larry introduced me to Jim. It gives me pleasure to relive mentally the years after that with Rowles in my life. ….

Best Regards,


And here are Gary’s insert notes to Make Your Own Fun Concord CD CCD-4459 which are followed by some observations about Gary by Carl Jefferson who produced the CD for his label, Concord Records.

“A new jazz recording which focuses on the improvised solo is a document, in its time, of the beliefs, influences and growth of the individual performers. As a basis for improvising on this recording, I chose a few standards, two originals and a few not-so-standards. Loosely organized, this material was used to try to find those elusive few moments that might be called "a good eight bars." Finding the right tempo and a feeling of spontaneity were common thoughts of all involved. Carl Jefferson produced this recording. He gently nudged things here and there but, with great care, allowed the music to evolve on its own.


John Heard brings to any jazz performance a keen sense of what is right. He produces a beautiful sound, his time is strength itself and he is purely intuitive in the way he puts it all together. John has played with everyone. For many years we played together with Toshiko Akiyoshi's band. His graphic art works and his sculpture are becoming as well known as his bass playing.

Every time I've seen Joe LaBarbera in recent years we always talk of playing sometime. This recording became the reason to make it happen. Every tune on this album has moments which show Joe's beautiful taste and unfailing musical sense. Warne-ing was written for Joe to play along on the displaced rhythm of the melody and features him playing an extended solo on brushes.

Jimmy Rowles is a jazz man; the real thing. In the 1970s Jimmy moved to New York City for a few years and finally received the recognition and documentation on recordings that he had long deserved. I see him as a direct line to the jazz that counts. Billie, Ben, Pres, Sarah and all who have worked with him have sung his praises. He has gained the respect of all in the old fashioned way. He earned it! Jimmy never just comps. He reacts to the music around him and he can never be anticipated. His solos are conversational and confidential. They are full of invention, wit and surprise. His presence here gives me great personal satisfaction.


Jazz lore has it that Minnie Pearl was asked to sit in and "just sing something" on a TV talk show. Rowles, the pianist on the show, quickly asked, "how about 'Lush Life' Minnie Pearl?" To her credit, Minnie didn't accept the challenge and I doubt if Easy Living or Some Other Spring found their way into her repertoire either. These old standards have rich notes of the harmony throughout their melodies and have become jazz favorites for that reason.

Alone Together, I'll Close My Eyes, I Concentrate On You and Nica's Dream also fall into the standard class. With these beautiful songs it is a matter of agreeing on the right harmonic road map, getting a beginning and an ending and then making a try for a spontaneous performance.

Jimmy's The Peacocks is now a part of the jazz repertoire. It was written for Arthur Gleghorn who was for many years the preeminent flutist in the Hollywood studios. Asked if Arthur had ever played the song, Jimmy answered, "eight bars or so." After trying it with the flute, Jimmy asked to hear it on the alto flute and that became his choice for the melody. I asked Jimmy to sing one and he chose the beautiful, but obscure, What A Life.

‘Teef is a blues I have played for many years. The title alludes to Yusef Lateef. It works well as a duo-line for alto and bass. John took hold of this and roared.

In his New Yorker profile of Warne Marsh, Whitney Balliett referred to Warne as a "True Improviser." I had the pleasure of making music with Warne for nearly twenty-five years. Warne set and achieved the highest standards. Warne-ing, written over a set of his favorite changes, is not meant to capture Warne's musical way. It is simply a tribute from a grateful friend.

Sweet Lips was written for another great musician and friend, Wilbur Schwartz. The beautiful, soaring clarinet sound of Glenn Miller's music was created by Wil. In great contrast to that lead sound, Wil could produce a soft, intimate and personal sound that we called "sweet lips." A unique and brilliant man who took life on his own terms, Wil often advised, "make your own fun." Not a bad idea for life...or for an album title!

Gary Foster, March, 1991”

“Naturally, Gary neglected to write about himself, so I'd like to take this opportunity to share some of my personal insight into one of today's foremost reed men.

We've all heard Gary Foster on numerous recordings, TV and movie soundtracks over the years, as he is one of the most in demand studio musicians in the business. I have had the pleasure of recording Gary many times with such distinguished artists as Cal Tjader and Poncho Sanchez, as well as with the Marty Paich Dek-tette on two records with Mel Torme. Gary has always proven to be the epitome of professionalism as well as a consummate jazz musician, greatly enriching every project with his musical presence. Whenever Gary is involved, those "elusive moments" he refers to are virtually guaranteed.

On top of all this, he is simply a fine individual. Part of the concept for this album, had a lot to do with Gary's affection for Jimmy Rowles.

In conclusion, I wish all the dates were this pleasant. This is a well thought out album with exceptional musical values.

-Carl E. Jefferson
President, Concord Jazz, Inc.


  1. Hi Steve,
    I'm studying vocal jazz and would like to arrange The Peacocks for my Combo class. Do you have the chords for that piece? It would be really helpful.

    Thank you.

    1. Gary sent me the sheet music with the chords, but I can seem to locate it at the moment. Why not write to him directly and ask him for the changes? You can reach him at


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