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A Fireside Chat with William Parker

AAJ Staff By

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Every year, it [the Vision Festival] has a political theme or an idea about a vision, how you would like the see the world change.
William Parker is the best bassist of my time. Whether or not people coming to terms with hard bop having ended with the Alfred Lion Blue Note days learn to appreciate Parker is not a question of if, but when. Parker's uncanny ability to make saxophonists that play alongside him better is akin to Jimmy Garrison and Henry Grimes. The latter, a lesson in the often, cruel neglectfulness of the times we live in, a bed we have made and one I lament daily. Parker, however, is in pursuit of a reverent spirituality, a catholic respect. Sounds familiar to John Coltrane devotees. But that is the grace of William Parker, unedited and in his own words.

All About Jazz: We live in tenuous times when anxieties are understandably high. John Coltrane's spirituality has great relevance.

William Parker: I think it is very pertinent. I think if people had adopted and followed spiritual paths, we wouldn't be in such turmoil today. The world would be quite different. We would have a different perceptive on things. We would live different. We would look into each other's eyes and see a different vision. I think it was very important from the Sixties until now to lead a spiritual path because certain people led paths. They stayed out of the political agenda, hoping that things would balance out, but we left America in the hands of people who didn't listen to John Coltrane. Whereas, the people who did listen to John Coltrane were not interested in running for public office or becoming involved in the political arena.

FJ: Are musicians more spiritual than the average bear?

WP: The term 'spiritual' or 'spirituality' is a wide and broad subject. There is one idea that the guys on Wall Street, during lunch hour, would meditate on their moneybags. If you follow the trail, you see that the sneaker company, their sneakers are made by people in Vietnam or Cambodia and they are getting paid five cents an hour and they are selling the sneakers for three hundred dollars a pair. At lunchtime, they go jogging or they mediate and on Sundays, they go to a prayer service and when they are interviewed, they say that they are spiritual. What does that mean? Does that mean you believe in God when you want to and the rest of the time, you do what you want to do? Personally, I would say that artists tend to be closer to nature and closer to the creative part of the earth's vibrations and tend to think in terms of the betterment of human beings. For me, the most important part of spirituality is not what you do, whether you are a mailman, a doctor, a lawyer, or a musician. It is how you live your life and what you do everyday. That is the real test of your spirituality.

FJ: One of the many things I lament is four days before my scheduled with Peter Kowald, he passed. You had a close association with Kowald.

WP: Right, I met Peter Kowald around 1980 in New York. Peter was very, very, very personable. He would met musicians and non-musicians and talk and communicate and exchange numbers. If you were a musician, he would say, 'Let's play together.' If you were not a musician, he would say, 'Come to my concert. Here is a CD.' That was one level of him. He gave to people. He gave a lot of his energy. He set up tours for people. He would give instruments to people. However he could help a person, he would help them. Peter never spoke about spirituality. He just did things. As a musician, he was constantly working, constantly trying to play and develop his music. He was one force of perpetual motion. I can't even begin to name the things that he did throughout his career.

FJ: The Die Like a Dog Trio recently released a CD on Eremite dedicated to Kowald, Never Too Late But Always Too Early .

WP: Yeah, the project came out of a tour we did two years ago. We did a tour of the United States with the Die Like a Dog Trio: Peter Br'tzmann, Hamid Drake, and myself. The music came out of the first concert of the tour, which was Montreal.

FJ: It has come to my attention that the bass Henry Grimes is using was given to him by one William Parker.

WP: I received an email that Henry Grimes was not dead, that he was found, and he was living in LA, and that he showed interest in getting back to playing. I didn't respond at first because I thought there was lots of bass players in LA and it would probably be easier for him to get a bass in LA, which I think he would have eventually gotten if I wouldn't have sent that bass. Someone in LA would have eventually gotten him a bass somehow. I think a bass needs to be played. When an instrument is just sitting around and not being played, it just sort of dies and then the more you play it, the better it sounds because the wood begins to vibrate and the molecules begin to spread. Instruments need to be played. They really don't need to be lying around dormant.

FJ: And you named the bass?

WP: When I got the bass, it was a regular colored bass. I stripped the bass and I refinished it in a green color, an olive green finish and I called it Olive Oil.

FJ: Tell me about the Raining on the Moon project.

WP: I guess since the Seventies, I have always written music and written words with the music. It wasn't until the Nineties that I began to really do CDs and recording the music that I have been working on. The Raining on the Moon project came out of an extension of a record I put out called O'Neal's Porch, which was a quartet record that did very well. It was an independent record produced on Centering. It is the same O'Neal's Porch quartet plus the vocalist Leena Conquest. I have written all of the material and the lyrics. It's sort of a different sound. It has folk elements. It's an album where the rhythmical aspects and melodic aspects are separated from the color spectrum of sound. It is not as dense. It is more accessible to people.

FJ: And the latest project with your Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, Raincoat in the River?

WP: That was taken from a concert we did. We did two nights, one in Amherst and one in Boston, Massachusetts. We tapped into some different areas. The idea for the piece comes from two sources. One, it is dedicated to saxophonist Marvin Nunez, who was a saxophonist, who always dealt in sub-tone music, music that was very soft and very quiet when he played. You could hardly hear what he was doing when he played. There was that idea, in exploring sub-tones, which I use a shakuhachi and a cello. And then the other part of it was the childhood idea of guns into trumpets. When I was a child, we would get these Mattel guns for Christmas, but me and my brother would always turn the guns around and blow into them like they were trumpets. We would always play jam sessions. We would never play cowboys and Indians. Those are the two parts that this comes from and there is also a part dedicated to Marion Brown, who lives in a senior citizen's home, up in the Bronx. I visit Marion from time to time. He is actually another person that would be nice to get back on the music scene.

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