You are listening to WZBC 90.3 FM and this is Test Pattern. Tonight we’ll be hearing music from one of the great minds of our time, the bassist / improvisor / composer / theorist / poet Mr. William Parker, the high priest of the free jazz community today…in New York, and worldwide. Test Pattern is a special program that occurs weekly here on WZBC and focuses on the work of a single artist for one hour.
And tonight is Part I of a multi-part program covering the music of bassist William Parker over a thirty-year retrospective. The Village Voice describes William Parker as “the most consistently brilliant free jazz bassist of all time”, and I doubt many would argue much over that. Considered one of the great improvisors of our time, he’s been through the so-called loft scene of the 70s through to becoming the doyen of the free jazz community, leading several of the most sophisticated and forward-looking ensembles in modern music.
What you just heard was a solo piece recorded in 1997 from his solo record entitled Lifting the Sanctions. William entitles that piece “Rainbow Escaping” and tells the story of a rainbow that fell to earth, is taken prisoner, and escapes back to the Tone World. Over the course of the program, you’ll be listening to William Parker in his words talk about all manner of topics, including discussions about the Tone World.
This record is the second of his solo recordings released in the 90s, and just one of a massive discography of hundreds of recordings as a leader and collaborator over the span of 30 years. Tonight is Part I, and we’ll focus on Mr. Parker’s early work in the 70s as a collaborator in collective ensembles. And Monday night is Part 2, when we’ll focus on the lion’s share of his work as a leader and composer, which will bring us to the 90s and up to the present.
“Through Acceptance of the Mystery Peace”, 01/79 [9:43]
Some biographical background: William Parker is a native New Yorker…he was born in the Bronx on January 10th in 1952. At an early age, William was listening to the Modern Jazz Quartet and what Percy Heath was doing on the bass…that were placed differently than walking bass lines. And of course he was listening to John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, and Ornette Coleman. Here are some of his reflections of his life during that timeframe:
“At an early age……and project onto the world.” [interview]
In the early 70s, William Parker was studying bass with a who’s-who of bassists: Richard Davis, Jimmy Garrison, Milt Hinton, and Paul West, who was his first teacher and the bassist for Dizzy Gillespie. At age 20, he started playing at the Salt and Pepper Jazz Club in the South Bronx and began composing and playing jam sessions in local clubs in Harlem and Brooklyn.
It was in 1972 when he started performing in the so-called Loft Scene at Studio WE, the East, Ornette Coleman’s Artist House, and Sam Rivers’ place, Studio Rivbea, which is where he met and performed with many musicians he would go on to play with, including saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc. In 1974, William had done a session at WKCR radio, which was the initial session of a recording later released under the name Through Acceptance of the Mystery Peace, which was inspired by a poem from Kenneth Patchen. The record was meant to contain a varied selection of different kinds of music that William was playing during this period. The 1974 session includes many of the musicians he played with regularly during this time — Jemeel Moondoc on alto, Charles Brackeen on tenor, Arthur Williams on trumpet, Henry Warner on clarinet, Billy Bang on violin, Roger Baird on percussion, and of course William on bass…it’s entitled “Rattles and Bells and the Light of the Sun”…
“Rattles and Bells and the Light of the Sun”, William Parker [12:12] or [6:16]
Through Acceptance of the Mystery Peace, 02/74
We’re listening to early sessions of bassist William Parker on tonight’s Test Pattern. That was William Parker on bass performing his composition “Rattles and Bells and the Light of the Sun” with Jemeel Moondoc, Charles Brackeen, Arthur Williams, Henry Warner, Billy Bang, and Roger Baird in 1974…which was right around the time of the Loft Scene, in the early 70s. The period of the Loft Scene in the early 70s is when you had an influx of proficient, creative musicians coming into New York from St Louis, Chicago, and Detroit…and lofts were run by musicians and could stay open all night and never pay a dime of rent. So places like Studio Rivbea became a sort of incubator for new developments in free jazz and experimental music. William’s first known recording is on the powerhouse ESP Frank Lowe 1974 record Black Beings with Joseph Jarman, where all things would collide and magical moments would occur…an auspicious if not daunting beginning….
“…I had been going down to Studio Rivbea……Joseph Jarman and Frank Lowe.” [interview]
“Thulani” (excerpt), Frank Lowe’s Black Beings [4:00]
That’s William Parker on bass performing on Frank Lowe’s 1973 record Black Beings with Frank Lowe on tenor, Joseph Jarman on alto, Raymond Lee Cheng on violin, and Rashid Sinan on drums.
During this time, throughout the mid-70s, William was also regularly performing and recording with violinist Billy Bang, drummer Rashid Bakr (who he performs with to this day in Other Dimensions in Music), Gene Ashton (otherwise known as Cooper-Moore), who he would work with in the In Order to Survive quartet). He also did a week at the Five Spot with Don Cherry during his Brown Rice phase.
William was also performing around the East and West Village at small clubs in a collective ensemble known as The Music Ensemble, with Billy Bang on violin, Roger Baird on drums, Daniel Carter on reeds, and Malik Baraka on trumpet. The Music Ensemble was an alliance of musicians that shared similar approaches to alternative and creative music…Billy Bang called it his New York version of Chicago’s AACM, without the hierarchy. The collective would continue to perform for five years up until 1977, and form the seeds of such present-day ensembles as Other Dimensions in Music…
“Echoes Wind Transpire” (excerpt), The Music Ensemble [8:47]
“Music is like grass…may never happen again” [interview] [0:51]
“Calling it the 8th, (excerpt), Cecil Taylor: The Eighth.
Recorded at the Freiburger Jazztage in Freiburg, West Germany, 11/81
You’re listening to bassist William Parker on tonight’s Test Pattern. William joined the Cecil Taylor Unit as the regular bassist in 1980, and this performance you just heard was shortly after that, featuring Cecil Taylor on Bosendorfer piano, Jimmy Lyons on alto, Rashid Bakr on drums, and of course William Parker on bass. As I spoke to earlier, William started playing with Cecil in 1971 at 20 years old and played with him at Carnegie Hall in 1974, which is where he met a young saxophonist named David Ware, who he would befriend and form a very important relationship with from then on in the David S Ware Quartet. William Parker now stands today as one of the master musicians that young and old artists alike look to for inspiration, strength, and energy.
Also during this time, in the late 70s, William was regularly performing with violinist Billy Bang and his group The Survival Ensemble. In 1978 a recording at WKCR produced a record entitled New York Collage, with Bilal Abdur Rahman on tenor, Henry Warner again on alto, Khuwana Fuller on congas, Rashid Bakr again on drums, and William Parker on the bass. Here’s a piece from that album, “Nobody Hear Music the Same Way”.
“Nobody Hear Music the Same Way”, Billy Bang’s Survival Ensemble (excerpt) [3:00] Recorded at WKCR, 05/78
That’s Billy Bang’s Survival Ensemble featuring bassist William Parker. As I said earlier, Jemeel Moondoc was an important early collaborator with William, and his New York Live performance at the Public Theater in October of 1980 included many of the musicians William would play with for over 20 years in Other Dimesions in Music, Roy Campbell on trumpet, Rashid Bakr on drums, plus Daniel Carter on reeds. We’ll be listening to Other Dimensions in Music in Part 2, along with William Parker’s work as a composer and leader of the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, In Order to Survive, and more recent releases in solo, duet, trio, and quartet settings. All of this will be aired on an extended Part 2 on Monday night’s Free Association program at 7PM EST.
Here’s Jemeel Moondoc’s New York Live record to take us out…with a Roy Campbell composition entitled “Thanks to the Creator”. Join me Monday at 7PM EST for Part 2 of our special on bassist William Parker…