The Personal Column: Peace Piece

IssueJune - July 2017
Comment by Jeff Cloves

Throughout a long association with Peace News I’ve known that PN readers are not necessarily pacifists – though I’d hazard most are. Maybe some are internally debating whether they are or not.

I’ve known gay men and women personally and also read their thoughts variously and they commonly assert that they knew as children that they were gay.
In my own life, there’s a parallel. I think age 7 – 8 I knew I was a pacifist and I’ve never had any doubts since.

Pacifism is not a popular cause. This was emphasised only too well by the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn.

Down the years there have been repeated assertions that he is a pacifist. When I lived in the London borough of Islington, JC was my MP, and although I knew of him as a consistent and committed campaigner for British unilateral nuclear disarmament, I never thought of him as a pacifist.

Back in May, the anti-Corbyn press had a field day over Labour’s divisions about retaining Trident nuclear missiles.

Several Tory MPs publicly branded Corbyn a ‘pacifist’ and it became obvious that, in their usage, this was a term of well-merited abuse.

JC then felt driven to publicly deny being a pacifist. What a sad and demeaning episode it was and it set me thinking about the very word peace.

Since my early teens I’ve been a jazz fan: from Louis Armstrong to Miles Davis, Bessie Smith to Billie Holiday, Jelly Roll Morton to Bill Evans.

Bill Evans, who died when he was only 51 in 1980, was the pianist-composer on Miles Davis’ famous Kinda Blue album.

In 1958 – only a few months before that record – Evans wrote one of his most celebrated and influential piano solos titled ‘Peace piece’. Its title alone was enough to endear it to me but once I heard it, I was completely entranced.

The mood of the piece is tranquil and peaceful and it is balm to my soul.

There’s an excellent music programme on Radio 4 called Soul Music, which examines the influence of particular songs or musical pieces and ‘Peace piece’ would suit that format very well. Perhaps it will one day – or have I already missed it?

I have no idea what Evans’ intentions were in his title but I do know he was drafted into the US military and served from 1951–1954.

From 1950–1953, the USA was involved in an anti-communist war in Korea.

It seems Evans was a musician in the army and as far as I’m aware was not in combat.

His Wikipedia entry states, however, that he was ‘traumatised by his army service and suffered nightmares for years’.

It strikes me that if you chanced upon ‘Peace piece’ without knowing anything of Bill Evans and his pivotal place in jazz history, you’d find it hard to confine this music to an appropriate genre. It transcends placement.

A favourite composer of mine is the pianist Erik Satie and to my ears his serene and beautiful ‘Trois gymnopédies’ were an influence on Evans.
The mood though is the key and it matters not whether ‘Peace piece’ is about the absence of war or about personal calmness and serenity.

Evans rarely – maybe once or twice – played it publicly, saying it was a spontaneous composition and belonged to a particular space and time.

He recorded it though and you can hear it on the net. His performance is not on film, but the YouTube version is accompanied by a set of terrific photos of him playing.

Dear readers, if you want a rest from Trumpery, strong leadership and general election gloom and doom, just tune in to this.

Trust me – I’m a pacifist… you won’t regret it.

Topics: Culture
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