Patricia Nicholson Parker: Everyone Has a Vision

John Sharpe By

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All I have to do for the Vision Festival is keep on encouraging people to feel free to be their most creative and do their best work
Patricia Nicholson ParkerPatricia Nicholson Parker has been an indefatigable organizing spirit in New York City's artistic community centered on the Lower East Side since 1981, when she directed and helped to organize "A Thousand Cranes Peace Opera," for the opening of the UN Special Sessions on Disarmament. After working with bassists Peter Kowald and William Parker to help organize the ground-breaking artist-run Sound Unity Festivals in 1984 and 1988, Nicholson Parker successfully initiated and coordinated the Improvisers Collective, which ran from 1993 till 1995. The success of the Collective suggested the idea for the now globally famous Vision Festival. In 1995 she founded Arts for Art, which has successfully presented twelve Vision Festivals, and latterly a dance/music series, the Vision Collaboration Festival and a weekly Vision Club series.

Now upcoming fast is Vision Festival 13, to be held from June 10 to 16, 2008 at the Clemente Soto Velez Center. Featuring 32 bands on the main stage over the six days, the Festival brings together the cream of New York City's avant jazz artists to commune with fans from across the USA and further afield. Each year the Vision Festival honors the lifetime achievement of a particular artist, with recent honorees including Fred Anderson, Sam Rivers and Bill Dixon. This year is the turn of New Orleans saxophonist and educator Edward "Kidd" Jordan, with the whole of the second evening featuring Jordan or groupings related to him. Being the Vision Festival it is not just about the music, and so a second stage will present photo projections, films, dance and music, and spoken word over the course of the Festival.

All About Jazz: Where does the name Vision Festival come from?

Patricia Nicholson Parker: It is called the Vision because everyone has a vision, and we need to take our visions seriously. The idea is to give birth to your own vision, and make it a reality in this world. The Mayans have this idea of a shaman, and what the shaman does is: he hunts down visions in the other world. And he kills them so they can be born into this world. So when you have a brilliant and beautiful idea you should try to make it happen. You should take it out of the world of dreams and you should bring it into the world of reality because we need them. The Vision Festival is not my vision. Each artist has done that, every artist at the Vision Festival has caught his or her vision, given birth to it and presented it to you, sharing it with you.

AAJ: This is Vision 13 upcoming—does it get any easier to put on the festival over the years?

PNP: [laughs] Yes and no. You know what you are doing better as time goes on obviously, but if it's getting too easy that means that you're not doing a good job, because you have to reinvent it every year. It's important to keep it fresh. So in that sense, no. Also we up the ante every year, because if I was resting on my laurels, that's not me.

The ability to communicate to the world at large, through the media, varies from year to year, and it doesn't always get easier. We're having a real stuck issue in that regard because we are both a very large festival and we are grass roots. Because this is our thirteenth year the grass roots doesn't look interesting to people. We're not given the same credibility. We're compared in a kind of absurd way to the JVC Jazz Festival, although we have almost nothing in common with them, and then, we don't get the same treatment in the press at all. On top of this, we are doing so much. It is hard to communicate it all effectively.

There are other things happening that week in New York, but there won't be anything like the Vision Festival. The Vision Festival has four or five groups a night, all playing in this environment, which brings people together, within a visual art installation by Jo Wood Brown. And there's a wonderful photo exhibit, though it's more than that, almost like a film, that Luciano Rossetti did from last year's performances. There are all these different aspects. There are dancers and poets and panels. It's this coming together and this opportunity and there's nothing else like it. And I'm really proud of it.

In a sense the Vision Festival in the beginning was a response to a problem. The problem being that this whole genre of music was not being noticed. All these musicians were coming into their prime. They were at their best, David S. Ware, William Parker and so many others, who weren't getting any play. And so the Vision Festival addressed that issue, and I would say, very successfully, although too many in the press never got it.

The Vision Festival was very successful right from the beginning. It was evident that this music was indeed important to many people. Then the problem was that we had to keep the Vision Festival going year after year. Other problems became apparent as the simple awareness of this whole genre of music was being addressed. We still needed the Festival to keep a focus on this music. If we didn't there was no other infrastructure that would support it. There are organizations and infrastructures that support different genres of music and art through a whole range of things. It's partly funding, but it's also education, clubs, performance venues, radio, TV and all the things that go with it. So there wasn't that infrastructure for this music and there really still isn't.

align=center>Patricia Nicholson Parker / Cooper-Moore Cooper-Moore and Patricia Nicholson Parker

But at this point, this year, we are trying to address this lack of infrastructure for avant-jazz and the innovative music and arts. Hence we have an ongoing series that isn't only the Vision Festival music. It includes it somewhat but it scope is broader. At the Festival we will have three panel discussions: one called New Orleans: Culture, Crisis, and Community, another one on Jazz Factions and a third on Community and the Arts. This panel reflects our new initiative, the Rise Up Creative Music and Arts (RUCMA). The ideas behind all three panels are interconnected.

The role that art plays in the healing of New Orleans: New Orleans is very visible to the world; what enormous problem it exemplifies, problems that afflict all our societies. That's what's compelling about it. It's not just a problem down in New Orleans. New Orleans brought up, for all of us, issues of culture and community and economics and racism, and the world's disregard for these things and how the needs of people of color, and the needs of the poor are not being handled effectively by our government. How do we function to overcome this and form a positive perspective? Here art is helping. Art helps transform us in real substantive ways. It is transforms neighborhoods and gives people hope. That's an example for everywhere. Not that it's not keenly important in New Orleans, but it's also keenly important in New York and anywhere else

Then we have Jazz Factions, and that relates to how in New York we need to be building bridges. That is an important aspect of what I'm trying to do. In the Festival itself this year it is not entirely traditional Vision music. We have James Spaulding, Donald Harrison, they're great musicians, and we have Connie Crothers, who bridges different worlds. So there is the music itself, and the music we present at the Vision Festival is close to my heart. I do, however, respect other artists who don't play my favorites. Each artist has a different emphasis and I think it is important to hear the diversity of ideas and aesthetics. But what is not good, at any time, is name calling or disrespecting people who are of different genres or aesthetics or different in any way.


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