Of Music and Brilliance, the Vision of Evan Parker

Lloyd N. Peterson Jr. By

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You have to accept that you're only partially in control of the result and you have to enjoy that, the risk and the risk sometimes means failing. Ok, not failing too badly but failing in an interesting way.
It may be almost impossible to be involved in free improvisational forms and not be influenced by the compositional genius of Evan Parker. As a saxophonist, he has created one of the most original voices in the history of the instrument and after several decades, remains one of music's most important pioneers.

Lloyd Peterson: Today our culture here in the U.S. appreciates art but seems to have difficulty with creativity that is not easily explained, understood, or identifiable. Is this happening in Europe and do you think this is a significant obstacle to overcome for creative music?

Evan Parker: I would say we probably benefit from those people who are looking outside the established culture, the officially provided stuff. The ones sick of the idea of being treated as consumers who want a more active part in the music or want more engagement from the music and want more of a challenge. Again, it's a minority but I think it's a minority that will, if anything, grow. I think the more homogenized and standardized the official culture becomes, the more people will seek information elsewhere and I think we're seeing that now. You can extrapolate from that the resistance to global capitalism with large demonstrations happening not just in Europe but also in America. These are mostly young people not happy with being told how and what to consume and maybe we have something that could be of interest for some of them.

LP: Are jazz purists in the U.S. having a difficult time accepting that a music form considered "American" now has more visible international and diverse aspects within it?

EP: I see a trend in American journalism and criticism that does provide that point of view. But I equally well know American writers who understand the European scene better than a lot of the European critics. I think it's pretty obvious that jazz has always been a music that has taken inputs from different cultures and different sources. This is not to take anything away from the great achievements of the classic phases of jazz in America, not at all. One of its successes was to become a world language that was then interpreted in different ways or responded to in different ways by non-American cultures all over the world. This is a tradition that Americans can be very pleased about and they can be proud of the fact that it traveled well. What can't be done is to make those same people feel any particular affection for the responses and interpretations that come back in slightly other languages, other dialects and other forms. We win some and we lose some.

For myself, I started to play because of classic modern jazz from Charlie Parker onward. But my understanding of that tradition was that it was a dynamic one and your creative imperative was to find something new. The idea that jazz is a classical music is something we associate with a younger generation of musicians and ok, that's the way they see it. The chief spokesman I suppose would be Wynton Marsalis. There were exponents of classic jazz who were resistant to the notions of freedom from Ornette Coleman onward and probably before that. It shouldn't be forgotten that many of the Swing Era musicians were hostile towards bebop so the whole thing is cycles of attitudes that are repeated. They are repeated generation upon generation and every so often you have a generation that revives some previous style. The traditional jazz revival here in the 50's included people who discovered Bunk Johnson and the original New Orleans style of playing and they wanted to go back to that. That gradually turned into something here that was called Trad Jazz that you probably called Dixieland more often. I was never very interested in that but I'm interested in the original stuff and I think that's the difference. Some people want the music to stay still, become classical and codified with all the rules and regulations neatly checked in boxes and other people want to add some new boxes and change a few rules.

LP: There is literally tons of information on the chronology and history of jazz but rarely on the history of free or improvised music outside of Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman. Since you started in improvised music, have you observed any shift in styles or is it still expanding upon the ideas that you first encountered when you first came into this music?

EP: Once you say anything goes then anything is quite a big category. So anything has been happening ever since in the name of anything goes. Anything can be any number of something's. I'm just responsible for some of those something's.

LP: So you don't want to be a spokes person for others?

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