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Rick Parker: Finding His Own Space

By Published: July 30, 2007
AAJ: Was there something in particular that grabbed you?

RP: When I was going into my freshman year of high school, I convinced my parents that I had to have my own trombone. So we went into the city, around 48th Street, which is where there were a bunch of music stores. I got a trombone and got some help from a student at the high school. I think he was a graduating senior. So he helped me out, finding out what trombone to play. But also he asked me, "Have you checked out anything? Have you listened to any trombone players?" I didn't know anyone, so he let me hear some J.J. Johnson over the phone, and that kind of blew my mind. So after we bought the trombone, we went down to the CD store and I bought one CD. It was The Eminent Jay Jay Johnson, Volume 2 (Blue Note, 1954).

AAJ: Not a bad place to start.

RP: I'm kind of grateful that I had such a pure, wonderful beginning to the music. I don't think I bought another CD. That was in September, and I didn't get another CD that year until Christmas when my mom bought me Blue Train by [saxophonist John] Coltrane (Blue Note, 1957). I wore those CDs out. I listened to them constantly. I can sing every single solo. On Blue Train, my influence wasn't so much [trombonist] Curtis Fuller. My attention wasn't there, even though I was a trombone player. I was just listening to Trane, and I was really enthralled with his sound and everything about him. The passion. That's always stuck with me. I've been a trombone player, but that intensity, the way John Coltrane plays, has been a big influence on me.

AAJ: What caused you to choose the trombone in the first place?

rick parker

RP: Another very funny story and a totally nonmusical reason. As I said, I was a big basketball fan and player. My father went to Georgetown also, and we would watch basketball games all the time. When it came time in sixth grade to choose an instrument, I was like, "I don't know what I'm going to play. I don't know anything about any musical instrument." [My family was] really not a musical family at all. I was just looking at the pep band playing at the basketball game. There in the front row was this instrument with a slide. I said, "Dad, what's that?" He said it was a trombone, and I figured, "I'll guess I'll try to play that." That's how it came to be.

AAJ: They're going to have to rewrite that part for the movie.

RP: Yeah, there needs to be something much more dramatic. "I had a vision..."

AAJ: "I was saved from drowning by a guy with a trombone."

RP: Exactly.

AAJ: So you're grabbed by it in high school and decide to become more serious about it, but when you go to college you choose economics as your field of study. Why?

RP: I could play music and do that on the side, but it still wasn't my goal to be a musician. About a month or two in at Georgetown, which is in Washington, D.C., I had met this guy who was a really great guitarist. He was in the same situation that I was. He was in the business school at Georgetown, but he was an All-State guitarist from New Jersey. He sounded great and we would play duo all the time. We went down to a Starbucks—we were just bumming around Georgetown—and there was a trumpet player playing with a quartet. We [had just been] at Blues Alley, and we had just finished seeing a Joshua Redman show there, and Brian Blade was playing with him. So we were in this Starbucks getting coffee and listening to this quartet, and who walks in but Brian Blade. Apparently he was a friend, and he was sitting in with them.

Afterward, I was talking to the trumpet player and said, "Would it be okay if I came by to sit in sometime?" He said, "What do you play?" I told him trombone, and he said, "Can you read [music]?" That was one thing I could definitely do, because the high school big band I played in was really a monster of a band and had a lot of difficult music. He said, "I have a big band that I just started, and we're playing every week at the One Step Down," which is one of the oldest jazz clubs. It's now defunct, but it was one of the oldest jazz clubs in the U.S. So I joined this trumpet player's big band. His name is Thad Wilson.

It was almost all original music, just great music. And he had the top improvisers in D.C. playing in that band for quite some time. And there'd be a lot of pretty well-known people coming through, too. That's where I met [trombonist] Frank Lacy. Steve Williams, the drummer for Shirley Horn, was there. And also Andrew White, the great saxophonist who transcribed all the John Coltrane solos. He was there pretty much every night—not playing, but just holding court—and everyone would listen to him preaching about music. That was a really great experience, and that's what made me want to really play music. The desire was always there, but that facilitated everything.

AAJ: When you finished Georgetown, did you just decide to move to New York City and try to make a go of it?

RP: The deal was that I would finish my econ degree, and when I moved to New York, my parents would help me out with music school. So I ended up moving to New York and went to NYU [New York University]. I did two years there and got my Masters in music.

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