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Artist Profiles

William Parker: Deep Roots

By Published: January 28, 2009
The trio came together in 1990 at the FMP festival in Germany and was a mainstay at such clubs as The Cooler and the Knitting Factory back when the music was readily found between Houston and 14th streets. After a hiatus of a decade or so, By Any Means is back. They have recently been playing again in Europe, a reunion marked on the powerful new double CD Live at Crescendo, recorded in Sweden in October 2007 and released on Ayler Records. Their previous record, 1991's Touchin' on Trane (FMP), has just been reissued by Jazzwerkstatt. And an appearance at two local festivals this month will mark their triumphant return to the New York stage.

"All these lives intersect and bounce off each other," Parker said, perhaps, particularly reflective on this day after Thanksgiving. "It's been quite wonderful. There's a lot to be thankful for. I haven't met anyone I wasn't supposed to meet."

Parker is humble when asked about his role in keeping the music vital in New York, but he is clearly thinking about the future of the music and how younger musicians will find the opportunities he had at their age and building projects around creating those opportunities. He closed last year's Vision Festival with his ongoing project The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield, performed with a youth choir from Brooklyn and his Olmec group (as heard on the AUM Fidelity CD Long Hidden) includes his son's percussion- heavy band Southern Satellites.

Isiah, 23, plays keyboards, guitar and bass, drawing inspiration not just from his family life but the largely Latin surroundings of his neighborhood, the round-the-clock drum circles in nearby Tompkins Square and the largely Dominican school he attended, where he met many of his future bandmates.

"Nobody said 'be a musician,'" Parker said. "They're picking up something in the air or through coming to the house. They're being rained on with possibility. Maybe his friends are being rained on with the same sort of possibility I had. Youth have this great source of energy, but they don't know how to use it. Music or art can be a transformer for that energy."

Parker acknowledges, however, that times have changed and exploring the music around the clock might be a thing of the past. But the inspiration to create, he said, lives on.

"It seems harder now because of the economics and the dumbing down of the whole society," he said. "30 years ago there were more people who were aware of things. You could just go to Columbia Records and get a record date. Now you can't get past the guard. It seems harder, but what has not changed is sunlight, mountains, rivers, trees. These are the foundations. And they'll have help. They'll run into someone somewhere who will say 'Oh, why don't you try this?'"

And with a little guidance and a little good fortune, they go on to set their own path, through which the music will survive.

"There are rules—you can't put seeds in sand and expect something to come up," Parker said. "But that's the wonderful thing about music—anything can work."

Recommended Listening:

William Parker, Through Acceptance of the Mystery Peace (Centering-Eremite, 1974-1979)

William Parker/In Order To Survive, The Peach Orchard (AUM Fidelity, 1997-98)

William Parker & The Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, Mass For the Healing of the World (Black Saint, 1998)

William Parker/Hamid Drake, First Communion + Piercing the Veil (AUM Fidelity, 2000)

William Parker/Joe Morris/ Hamid Drake, Eloping with the Sun (Riti, 2001)

William Parker, Corn Meal Dance (AUM Fidelity, 2007)

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