Rick Parker: Finding His Own Space
“ I consider myself a musician and composer and then maybe trombone player. ”
All About Jazz founder Michael Ricci thought Rick Parker's second CD, Finding Space (WJF Records, 2006) was one of the best records of 2006. Parker is an energetic young musician and composer who also happens to play trombone. He's serious about writing his own music and finding his own way, even releasing his new album on a label he co-founded with Jesse Selengut, with whom he runs the Williamsburg Jazz Festival.
All About Jazz's Jason Crane spoke with Parker recently about writing, recording, and livin' in the city.
All About Jazz: Finding Space is your second record. Is this a self-produced record?
Rick Parker: It's pretty much self-produced. I had the option of doing a second one with Fresh Sound New Talent, and I decided because of the limited publicity and distribution, and [because] I felt really strongly about it and wanted people to hear itI decided that if I'm going to put all this effort into it, and money, I'm going to keep it under my own name. It's on WJF Records, which stands for Williamsburg Jazz Festival Records. Williamsburg Jazz Festival is a festival here in Brooklyn that I co-produce with Jesse Selengut, a trumpet player.
Right around September  when we were having the festival, both of us were coming out with CDs. I said, "Hey, we should start an artist collective and put our two CDs out together, and then maybe in the future try to get some more people on board." That's how the record label came to be.
AAJ: Do you have a plan with the Williamsburg Jazz Festival to put out recordings of live shows from the festival?
RP: Not necessarily from the festival, because the venues that we're playing in aren't that conducive to live recording. That might be something that we do in the future. Jesse recorded one of his shows at Tonic. He got a really good recording out of that, and he's definitely been thinking of releasing that on the WJF label. We might get some other people from the neighborhood involved and get a collective going so we can garner more attention.
AAJ: Just to stick on the business side for a minuteas you were learning the trombone, did you also think, "Someday I'll have to be a record producer and build my own website and do my own publicity"? Or was that a surprise to you?
RP: Not at all. It's not something I really wanted to do, but they say necessity's the mother. That's also how I started the band. It's funny talking about the business stuff because I was an economics major. I went to Georgetown. I was really playing more music there, but I was an econ major. Moving up to New York, I got here and thought, "I sound pretty good. I'll be able to get some gigs." After a couple months, the phone wasn't ringing and nobody really knew who I was. I had this music that I was working on, so I decided I had to do it myself. That's the way it is for jazz these days. I think jazz only makes up 2% of the records sold in the U.S. So if you want to make something, you've got to do it yourself and just really push hard and push constantly. That's not something I really wanted to have to do, because it does take my time away from being a musician. Sometimes when I'm involved in the business end of things, I don't feel like a musician at all. I'm just on the phone or writing things or mailing things out. It's not inspiring, musically.
AAJ: Although the alternative of writing all this music and having no one hear it is probably even less inspiring.
RP: Exactly. And that's why I did it on my own. As much as I love Fresh Sound, and the records they produce are just great, their distribution is so limited [that] they're not even on iTunes. The digital distribution thing is really starting to blow up, and it makes it a lot easier as an independent musician to get your music out there. I'm probably getting more sales on iTunes than I am physical sales.
Maurice Brown, the trumpet player on my CD, is a good friend of mine. I've known him for a while. He put out a CD on his own label called Hip To Bop (Soul'd U Out, 2005). It's a great CD. He's been just rolling with it for quite a while, and he's sold a lot of copies, gotten a lot of press from it and a lot of gigs. It's really facilitated his whole career. He's putting the effort into it, and he's getting the return. In the end, that's really how it should be. If you put a lot of effort into something, you want to see the return. This way I know what's going on, and it's under my control whether it happens or not.
AAJ: Before we dig into the music, let's fill in some biographical details. Where did you grow up?
RP: I was born in New York City. When I was about five, my parents moved out to Greenwich, Connecticut. It's a suburb about 45 minutes outside the city. My dad's worked in the city ever since. I went to Greenwich High School. I started playing trombone when I was in the sixth grade, but really I was more of an athlete. I played a lot of basketball. It probably wasn't until about halfway through high school that I started to get more serious about music. I always enjoyed playing it, but then as things developed, I started enjoying it more and more. As I got exposed to more music, I started really focusing on that.