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william parker

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Photo: Peter Gannushkin

William Parker

is a master musician, improviser, and composer. He plays the bass, shakuhachi, double reeds, tuba, donso ngoni and gembri. He was born in 1952 in the Bronx, New York.

He studied bass with Richard Davis, Art Davis, Milt Hinton, Wilber Ware, and Jimmy Garrison. He entered the music scene in 1971 playing at Studio We, Studio Rivbea, Hilly’s on The Bowery and The Baby Grand, playing with many musicians on the avant-garde school Bill Dixon, Sunny Murray, Charles Tyler, Billy Higgins, Charles Brackeem, Alan Silva, Frank Wright, Frank Lowe, Rashid Ali, Donald Ayler, Don Cherry, Cecil Taylor, Jimmy Lyons, Milford Graves and with traditionalists like Walter Bishop, Sr. and Maxine Sullivan.

Early projects with dancer and choreographer Patricia Nicholson created a huge repertoire of composed music for multiple ensembles ranging from solo works to big band projects. Parker played in the Cecil Taylor unit from 1980 through 1991. He also developed a strong relationship with the European Improvised Music scene playing with musicians such as Peter Kowald, Peter Brotzmann, Han Bennink, Tony Oxley, Derek Bailey, Louis Sclavis, and Louis Moholo. He began recording in 1994 and leading his own bands on a regular basis founding two ensembles, In Order To Survive, and The Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra. In 2001, Parker released O’Neal’s Porch, which marked a turn toward a more universal sound working with drummer Hamid Drake. The Raining on the Moon Quintet followed, adding vocalist Leena Conquest and the Quartet from O’Neal’s Porch.

Most notable among many recent projects is the Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield. He has taught at Bennington College, NYU, The New England Conservatory of Music, Cal Arts, New School University and Rotterdam Conservatory of Music. He has also taught music workshops throughout the world including Paris, Berlin and Tokyo and the Lower East Side. Parker is also a theorist and author of several books including the Sound Journal, Document Humanum, Music and the Shadow People and The Mayor of Punkville.

As Steve Greenlee of the Boston Globe stated in July 2002, “William Parker has emerged as the most important leader of the current avant-garde scene in jazz.” He is working in many of the more important groups in this genre, some of the most prestigious being his own, i.e. The Curtis Mayfield Project, Little Huey Creative Orchestra, In Order to Survive, William Parker’s Quartet and other groups. Mr. Parker is one of the most important composers in our time period.

In ‘95 the Village Voice characterized William Parker as “the most consistently brilliant free jazz bassist of all time.” However from the beginning of his career Mr. Parker has commanded a unique degree of respect from fellow musicians. In 1972 at the age of 20, Parker quickly became the bass player of choice among his peers. Within a short time he was asked to play with older, established musicians such as Ed Blackwell, Don Cherry, Bill Dixon, Milford Graves, Billy Higgins, Sunny Murray, etc. In 1980 he became a member of the Cecil Taylor Unit, in which he played a prominent role for over a decade.

Mr. Parker has released over 20 albums under his leadership. Not surprisingly, most of his albums have hit #1 on the CMJ charts.

These releases and their success highlight William Parker as an outstanding composer and band leader. From the beginning of his musical career, William Parker has been prolific; composing music for almost every group with whom he has performed. His compositional skills span a range including operas, oratorios, ballets, film scores, and soliloquies for solo instruments. He has also successfully explored diverse concepts in instrumentation for large and small ensembles. William Parker is a poet, with three volumes published thus far: “Music Is,” “Document Humanum,” and “The Shadow People.”

“He (William Parker) is something of a father figure” stated Larry Blumenfeld in a New York Times article this past May. He has looked for and encouraged young talent and has been a mentor to some of the younger musicians. Most importantly, for Mr. Parker has been the workshops/ performances for young people that he has conducted, both in the USA and in Europe. This has been for him amongst some of his most important work and greatest successes.”

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William Parker on 577records

THE DREAM
Daniel Carter, William Parker, Federico Ughi

Daniel Carter: Alto and Tenor Sax, Clarinet, Trumpet, flute, William Parker: Bass, Tuba, Shakuhachi, Federico Ughi: Drums

Recorded in Brooklyn, New York, Date: July 22nd 2005, Release: March 2006, Total CD time 69:58, Photograph: Federico Ughi.

The Dream features the first recorded example of multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter playing piano. While this revelation is impressive enough, the album itself is a fascinating and endlessly rewarding listen. Ably accompanied by bassist William Parker and drummer Federico Ughi, Carter demonstrates remarkable facility on a half-dozen different instruments in settings ranging from sober to tumultuous.

Opening the album with “This Is the Dream” Carter reveals a piano technique reminiscent of fellow avant gardists Cecil Taylor, Dave Burrell and Don Pullen. His turn at the keyboard emphasizes rousing pointillistic urgency and methodical development. His kinetic, hyper-linear attack is underscored by the rhythm section’s relentless, throttling undercurrent.

Equally
intriguing is the presence of bassist William Parker playing tuba on a number of tunes. On the blistering “The Truth in the Core,” Parker stutters out dense, brassy pedal tones while Ughi whips up a stirring, percussive frenzy. Carter wails away on his brusque tenor, heaving split tones with abandon. “Notorious” features the same instrumentation, this time a sumptuous swinger, with Parker blurting out walking patterns as Ughi provides casual swing that Carter uses to spin melodious variations on his tenor sax. The piece concludes in a genteel conversation between tenor and tuba.

“Life Beyond Death” proves the most unique combination. Carter’s pneumatic piano duels with Parker’s expressive, breathy tuba. Ughi drives the two with a lumbering, fractious rhythm, intensifying it as the piece progresses until it explodes in a maelstrom of loping, circuitous piano refrains and blustery tuba incantations.

But Parker doesn’t abandon his main instrument completely. He generates considerable heat on “The Traditionalist!,” a solo exploration of the expressive qualities of the bowed bass. Likewise, Ughi summons an energy level similar to Rashied Ali’s infamous performance on Coltrane’s Interstellar Space on “6 1/2 Billion.” Parker spawns a pulverizing flurry of notes on his upright to keep pace, while Carter spirals out taut alto phrases of biting intensity.

“Spiritual Awakening” is a roiling feature for Carter’s trumpet. Ughi slowly generates an increasingly turbulent undertow while Parker bleats out contrapuntal tuba lines, Carter’s horn defiantly soaring overhead, executing vigorous fanfares. “Little Did I Know” begins as a reflective flute meditation. Building gradually to a swinging middle section, the piece ends with Carter briefly switching to trumpet for authoritative closing statements before the tune fades out.

A number of these pieces fade in and out, obviously edited down from longer excursions. The abrupt edits are the only downside to the album, but they indicate that a second volume may not be far behind.

With an exceptionally high level of group interaction and a judicious combination of lengthy improvisations and short interludes, The Dream is a marvelously diverse representation of these three musicians’ multifarious talents. This remarkable achievement should be required listening for those in search of inventive free improvisation.  August 2006 All About Jazz, Troy Collins

That’s right, Carter plays piano on this date! It’s the first thing heard as this disc kicks immediately into definite but mature overdrive. It’s a blast to hear William Parker, bassist for Cecil Taylor’s much-lauded Feel Trio, free-walking under Carter’s percussive attacks, certainly indebted to Taylor but even more pointalistic. The case is made on “Zero Softly”, a spare minimalist musing where notes hang in the air like galaxies only to fade beneath Federico Ughi’s carpet of brushwork. Indeed many of the tracks fade in and out, more like dreams in that conclusion are uncertain, if they exist at all.

The program is astonishing in its breadth and scope and this trio keeps each tracks fresh throughout with sudden instrument switches. Check out “Notorious”, with its proto-swing suddenly slowing down as Parker jumps from bass to tuba, sliding effortlessly into the dialogue.

Group interaction is fantastic throughout, without a weak combination in evidence here. It’s especially nice to hear Ughi is a more traditional context, combining the timbral savvy of Tony Oxley with the controlled power of Rashied Ali. The assumption is that the pieces were taken from larger improvisations and word is that there will be a second volume issued from this session. If it is equally edited and programmed, it will certainly be worth the wait! All About Jazz New York, April 2006, Marc Medwin

Selected William Parker recordings on FMP

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