BEST JAZZ ARTIST - 2005
Like the Steele family, the Peterson clan contains so many notable musicians that individuals too often get subsumed in the surname gumbo. But Billy Peterson, who has recorded with everyone from Lee Konitz to Leo Kottke, frequently tours with Steve Miller, played on Dylan's Blood on the Tracks, and co-owns the Artists' Quarter in St. Paul, is by far the best of the bunch. Whether backing national acts or playing his weekly AQ gigs with the quartet How Birds Work, Peterson is a consistently compelling acoustic bassist, with a clean, supple tone and a precise yet inventive sense of rhythm. He can be soulful, spiritual, or madly swinging as the situation warrants, equally capable of putting ensemble synergy over egotistical exploits and knocking your socks off with a spellbinding solo. And despite his rock and folk credentials, he is first and foremost about the improvisational "sound of surprise" that epitomizes jazz. You know the saying about an artist being good enough to "write his own ticket"? Well, Peterson has recently been spending quite a bit of time on the island of Porqerolles in the South of France, helping to complete a music-and-cooking show produced by Megabien, for whom he works as musical director. No wonder he plays with such buoyancy.