The Life and Death of Austin Peralta
Peralta toured relentlessly, often with Thundercat, who was five years older and part of a tightly knit group of young jazz musicians who called themselves "the unit" and often met at a little jam room behind Kamasi Washington's father's house in Inglewood. Peralta was the only white kid there.
Thundercat recalls that when Peralta was first brought into the group, the conversation drifted to favorite jazz players. Peralta chimed right in, noting that one particular well-regarded player "weirded" him out. Everyone fell silent -- who was this little kid? -- and Thundercat burst into laughter. "That's what you got to do, come in like a bowling ball," he says.
"We got each other. His language, I totally understood what he was saying -- more than just playing, we shared a lot of spiritual tactics," Thundercat says. "And that is how me and him first met -- he was a little kid, and he was crazy as cat shit, and me being a cat, it was perfect. Cats love smelling each other's shit."
Thundercat and Peralta traveled the world together, touring Europe, Asia and South America. "We'd always be in some crazy situation," Thundercat says. "He could look over -- 'OK, if Thunder is here, I'm fine.' And as long as I knew where Austin was, if I can see Austin in my peripheral, I'm good."
In November Peralta traveled to Poland with drummer Zach Harmon and bassist Gabe Noel. They stopped in Warsaw, Chopin's home city, and made a middle-of-the-night expedition to a statue of the composer, located in a park that was locked up. They broke in and Peralta climbed on top of Chopin.
Harmon credits Peralta with helping to free him from crippling self-esteem issues. In trying to explain how he did this, Harmon references Peralta's "Introduction: The Lotus Flower": "Sometimes if you grasp at something too quickly, it may be so fragile that it will be destroyed. But I ... imagine a lotus flower at the bottom of an empty pool. What he did, instead of reaching in to pick the flower up, he poured all the heart and soul and compassion he had into the pool, and it raised that flower up. It was just such gentle urgency."
"With his music, he just tried to convey, 'Keep going, keep going, be better,' " Thundercat says. "He wouldn't say that; it was implied. Be as great as you can be."
Flying Lotus says he takes comfort in Peralta's fearlessness. His conversations veered toward the concepts of infinity and the cosmos, and he sometimes called his band "the Deathgasms."
"I know without a doubt he was very unafraid," Flying Lotus says. "He was really connected to his higher self for such a young man -- of all my friends, he was the least afraid of death, and the most familiar with it.
"It's the ultimate trip. And it's the one experience we can all count on."
Corrections: In the original version of this story, the publication L.A. Record and bassist Marcus Miller were each misidentified.
A tribute to Peralta featuring the Kamasi Washington Ensemble and others will be held Jan. 31 at the Del Monte Speakeasy.