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Rick Parker: Finding His Own Space

By Published: July 30, 2007
AAJ: During that time when the phone wasn't ringing, was this when you started to assemble the Collective?

RP: Right. I'd written some music before I moved up there. I was just starting. Thad encouraged me to write a lot of music when I was down in D.C. He helped me to form a group down there. In addition to playing in his band, I would just hang out with him a lot. So I really learned a lot about how to run a band, and how to do everything that's not necessarily playing music but is how to put music together. I wrote some pieces for his big band, and he would give me a lot of advice on that.

At NYU I met a saxophonist, Charis Ioannou, who plays on my first CD [New York Gravity (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2004)]. A couple other people that I knew from D.C. had moved up there at the same time: Andrew Haskell, the pianist on New York Gravity. I played with him in D.C. when he was still in high school, and then he moved up to New School [University]. And Matt Grason, who plays bass on the CD. He moved up to New York at the same time as me. He introduced me to Kyle Struve, the drummer, who's on both CDs.

rick parker

When I was at NYU, I was studying with [trombonist] Conrad Herwig. The lessons that we were doing were more like extended hangs. I would go up to his house in Brewster, which is an hour and fifteen minutes north of New York City. I'd get there in the morning. We'd have some coffee, talk, listen to music. So one day I brought by a demo CD that I'd been shopping. He heard it and liked it and said, "Yeah, you really need to just go in there and record a CD. You've got the whole concept. You've got to go do it." That's what I did, and that's how the first CD came about. It was really from his inspiring me to do that.

AAJ: Did you send your demo to Fresh Sound?

RP: Actually, I did send the demo to Fresh Sound once and never heard anything back. Then I put out the CD on my own and had it out for about a year-and-a-half or two years. We had just started to get some better gigs. We did a couple gigs down at Blues Alley in D.C., and we did a jazz festival—the Somers Point Jazz Festival [in Atlantic City]. I did some MiniDisc recordings and I had a lot more music. So I sent the CD along with the MiniDisc recordings to Fresh Sound. I sent them to a couple other places too. One morning around 7:30, I was fast asleep and my phone rang. It was Jordi [Pujol], the owner of Fresh Sound, calling me from Spain. The initial idea was to put out the CD New York Gravity and then about a year later, release a new CD, the one I ended up recording on my own. I put New York Gravity out with Fresh Sound and then after a while decided that it wasn't going to work for me.

AAJ: Before you were getting accolades for this new CD, you were winning awards for composition, including the ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Award just a few years ago. What is that and what did you submit to the competition?

RP: The ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Award is an annual award they give to musicians under thirty years old. They award about twenty musicians every year. I think they have it split up by age ranges. I submitted the second tune on my [second] CD, "Nervous Energy." I had submitted something before and didn't get anything, but I had a really good feeling about this tune when I sent it in. It's definitely a nice award. It's nice to be honored there. Maurice had gotten an award there also. [Saxophonist] Jaleel Shaw, who's also on the new CD, got an award the same year. It's a good thing and it definitely recognizes some musicians who are doing some interesting stuff compositionally.

AAJ: Let's talk about the Collective. You've already mentioned Maurice Brown, Jaleel Shaw and Kyle Struve. Tell me about the rest of the band.

RP: On tenor and soprano saxophones is Xavier Perez. He's a Cuban saxophonist—Miami Cuban—who moved up here. We met at the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead program that's run by the Kennedy Center. We had a great connection when we met, and we played a lot—just an instant bond that we have with our sounds.

On piano and some keyboards is Sam Barsh, who I also met at the Betty Carter program in D.C. He's a great pianist. He's also made a lot of noise playing with Avishai Cohen, the bassist. And then Gavin Fallow is the bassist. I also met him in D.C. and had my first group with him. Gavin moved up to New York a little before I did this CD. I'd always wanted to be playing with him. It was great that he finally moved up and we were able to reconnect.

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Sam Barsh, John Ellis, Gavin Fallow and Rick Parker

AAJ: You wrote every composition on Finding Space except the final track, which was written by Kyle Struve. How long did it take you to write the music for this CD?

RP: I didn't write it for this CD. I just write, and everything I write is inspired by a person or something that happens to me. I never really write for the sake of writing. I think that's the reason some of my music comes out the way it does. The first track, "McKibbin," is the name of the street I lived on when I moved to Brooklyn. I shared a loft space with Sam Barsh and Kyle Struve.

Everything just came out organically. I don't try to force things, so I don't have any timeframe about how I write the stuff. I tend to take a long time, too. I'll hear something in my head and want to get it down on paper as fast as I can. Then I'll sit with things. I want to toy with things and change things around. I might take a note that's in the melody and try to extend it or shorten it. I just go with things until they feel good.

I had the benefit of having a band, and we played this music a lot before we recorded it. Everybody felt comfortable. Nobody was sight-reading on the session. People were playing confidently and really trying to make music out of it.

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