William Parker: Conversations

Steve Dalachinsky BY

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William Parker, Jacques Bisceglia, Ed Hazell
Hardcover; 445 pages
Rogueart 2011

Not since drummer Art Taylor's Notes and Tones (Da Capo, 1993)—the book which bassist William Parker says inspired him to undertake this project—has there been a book of interviews so vital, so down to earth and so personal. What we have here are 34 interviews conducted by Parker over approximately the last decade, 30 of which are with so-called free jazz/improvisers, two with new music composers, one with Patricia Nicholson Parker, his wife, a dancer and an organizer of such events as the ongoing Vision Festival, and one with photographer Jacques Bisceglia, who also contributed a beautiful black and white and color centerfold (27 photos) of most of the artists being interviewed. Bisecglia also contributed to Rogueart's second book, Reaching Into the Unknown (2009).

Though primarily known as an independent record label out of Paris, France, Rogueart has thus far published three books, the two just mentioned and another, Logos and Language (2008), a dialogue with and writings by pianist Matthew Shipp.

As Parker points out, these talks represent "oral histories" by artists who have dealt with the creative process and all its joys, hardships, knowledge and discoveries. He states that one necessity for this collection is to bring these artists out of the realms of myth and more into the realms of reality. Their range runs the gamut of the known to the lesser known to the almost obscure, and hopefully one thing this book will do is familiarize people with their lives and make them want to go out and hear their recorded art.

We are also fortunate enough to have interviews with musicians who only just recently left us, such as violinist Billy Bang and saxophonist Fred Anderson, and those such as saxophonist Frank Lowe, who departed a few years back and who Parker got to interview at his hospital bed while he was dying. Lowe, quoting multi-instrumentalist Don Cherry, says, "You got to be in tune no matter whether it's going outside, inside, crossways or down." He then goes on to say when you are "doing a solo you're the only one...but at the same time there's power in numbers... a group situation helps to sustain you," and that if "you felt it, you played what you felt. You don't ask about the feelings you just play [them.]" Lowe again..."We are always copying someone...when you see that you have to change up fast." This is so true for all the arts.

The book encompasses many of the first wave of the avante garde players: pianist Dave Burrell, drummer Sonny Murray, multi-instrumentalist Alan Silva and drummer Milford Graves—who states that it's about what we smell, taste and hear, the sound spectrum, the frequency spectrum. Not to recall the same note...to adjust to the vibration and that a musician's job is to be the receptor of the vibrations of the planet. What we continually learn from these masters, sometimes quite poignantly, are their intense struggles, their complete devotion to their art and why they do what they do. Pianist and composer Cooper Moore puts it this way. "Music gives people great relief...that's why I do it." What we constantly see is how these artists grew up, thrived, learned about and got into their crafts, their fundamental ideas about the music, and how they came to play it and/or arrived at their process or, as with Patricia N. Parker and Bisceglia, how they came to play an active role in the "scene."

Billy Bang, a Vietnam veteran, talks about growing up in Harlem and how his time in Vietnam affected both himself and his music (later in life Bang made two albums based on his experiences there and used musicians who had also served there). "Vietnam has been such a big influence on me...that's why I dedicated myself to music." Parker at one point says, after hearing the horrific stuff Bang went through, "Those people who sent anybody there should be locked up." To which Bang readily agrees. When Bang talks about why/how he plays the violin he states that besides the human voice the violin is an early instrument, and that rather than try to become a unique voice on it he decided to dedicate and commit himself to investigate this area and the instrument's range and tradition.

Each interview is prefaced with a beautiful take by Parker on the musician he will speak to, always asking the question, why do you do this. The reply from Chinese composer Ge Gan-ru is simply, "I don't know... but this I do know: I cannot live without the music." They are of varying lengths, as short as eight pages and as long as 20, and as editor Ed Hazell points out..."were edited for clarity...but the goal was to maintain the character of the musicians' voices."

The accompanying CD comprises 45 short tracks containing snippets of the interviewees interspersed with short solo bass pieces by Parker.

This is both a learning and survival manual, or as Parker puts it "everyone has a story that is part of the continuum...a small piece of the puzzle that is creativity." So if you want to educate yourself a bit more, pick up this book, listen to these 34 songs from cover to cover, then turn the pages and listen some more to the "sound, movement and color" that comes deep out of the well of creativity. And each time you'll hear (read) something fresh and different. Sound is a very personal thing; there is a wealth of knowledge to be absorbed and learned from all these unique individuals, their unrestrained voices and the candid music of their language, emotions and thoughts.

Photo Credit

Courtesy of William Parker

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