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William Parker

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  • Born: New York, NY
  • Years Active: 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s


Biography All Music Guide

All Music Guide:

In the early '90s, the direct musical heirs of Taylor, Ayler, and Coleman were mostly ignored by New York jazz critics, who found more to like about the hard bop revivalists who dominated major-label recording. Hence, the public visibility of musicians devoted to an "energy music" aesthetic was minimal. Despite its low profile, however, that strain of free jazz was kept alive by a fairly large group of Lower East Side musicians, many of whom gathered around the music's pre-eminent bassist, William Parker. Parker was the scene's major catalyst for musical activity. With his wife, dancer Patricia Nicholson, and other downtown free players such as drummer Jackson Krall and pianist Mark Hennen, Parker founded the Improvisers Collective, an organization that presented free jazz in combination with other types of spontaneous performance. Beginning in 1994 (and continuing in one form or another as of this writing), the collective produced a well-received series of concerts and festivals that featured some of the city's finest free improvisers -- saxophonists Marco Eneidi, Sabir Mateen, and Daniel Carter, trumpeter Lewis Barnes, and pianist Cooper-Moore, to name a few. Parker was the fulcrum of the collective; he played in nearly all of its various ad hoc groups, and led the Collective's enormous big band, which later recorded under Parker's name as the Little Huey Creative Music Ensemble.

As a bassist, Parker is possessed of a formidable technique, albeit an unconventional one. Unlike a great many jazz bassists, Parker was not formally trained as a classical player, though he did study with three of the finest jazz players of the '60s, Jimmy Garrison, Richard Davis, and Wilbur Ware. Consequently, Parker's style is based on a tradition of self-expression and experimentation. His arco work is possibly the most fascinating aspect of his idiom; Parker excels at the creation of dense, hyperactive streaks of color, gleaned from the inherent harmonic properties of the instrument. At bottom, he is a textural player. Lyricism plays a secondary role in his work, with or without the bow. Parker's pizzicato style is overwhelmingly percussive, in intent and effect. Though he does, to an extent, serve as a harmonic anchor in his groups, his more important role is as a source of energy. Parker drives a band like few other bassists; in combination with a powerful drummer, a Parker-led rhythm section is an inexorable force.

Parker grew up in New York City. Very early in his career he formed an association with Cecil Taylor; Parker played Carnegie Hall with the pianist in the early '70s. Parker released his first album as a leader in 1979. Through the Acceptance of the Mystery Peace (on Parker's own Centering Records) featured saxophonists Charles Brackeen and Jemeel Moondoc, and violinist Billy Bang. Parker became Taylor's regular bassist in the '80s. He played on several of the pianist's European records, and on Taylor's most recent domestic major-label release, 1989's In Florescence, on A&M. Parker left Taylor in the early '90s and began working more often as a leader. He recorded a big-band record for his own label, then began releasing a series of CDs for other companies, significantly Black Saint. Beside his activities as a leader and community organizer, Parker would continue to work as a sideman through the mid-'90s; he remained the bassist of choice for downtown free players like David S. Ware, Matthew Shipp, and Rob Brown. 2000 was particularly busy for Parker as he recorded three of his own dates (Mayor of Punkville, Painter's Spring, and O'Neal's Porch) and appeared on numerous other recordings as sideman.

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