Oblique Portrait: William Parker

Legendary bassist William Parker is the common denominator for this mix that spans 40+ years and includes the biggest names of the jazz avant garde. If you would like to keep up on future episodes, subscribe to sndlgc podcasts in iTunes or copy this link to subscribe manually.

You don't know the name, William Parker, if you're just starting to dig into jazz, but if you've listen to any free jazz from the last 40 years, you're likely to have heard him. You'll may start to notice how he keeps popping up, over and over in different contexts. Parker is a advanced, modern jazz: a leader, mentor, organizer, writer and a tireless player who has appeared on hundreds of records.

How many artists have sat in with both Derek Bailey and Yo la Tengo? Or Peter Brötzmann and DJ Spooky?

In his now 40+ year career, Parker's not only played with an impressive list of avant garde luminaries, he's is a fixture among their working groups. He played with Cecil Taylor for decades. He and Matthew Shipp were the anchors of David S. Ware's long-running quartet. 

Yet William Parker remains under the radar for many listeners. Maybe it's his instrument. The bass doesn't hog the spotlight like any horn, or even a guitar. Or, perhaps he was just too late: all the biggest names in jazz made their mark in the heydays of the 50s and 60s. Parker came up in the 70s, frequenting the much-discussed-but-rarely-heard loft jazz scene.

It's why I wanted to weave this particular sonic portrait. If you gathered a broad swath of William Parker's work—as a leader, collaborator or sideman—was there a common thread, an overarching theme? Was his presence a defining factor?

To that end, I didn't want to present this mix chronologically. William Parker's palette has expanded with time, so later experiments with vocals, electronics are  interspersed throughout the mix (rather than piling up at the end). I also wanted to Parker's frequent collaborators, making multiple appearances here, from appearing clusters.

Sound-wise, this was a massive undertaking. The 20 tracks included here made up a 5-hour playlist. Despite making drastic cuts to each song, I tried to make each one flow organically, to feel like a complete unit within the mix (while still, of course, showcasing Parker's contributions). Rather than excerpts, these are like 7-inch edits; readers' digest versions.

Maybe, after listening to this mix, you'll see the narrative, the outline of William Parker in all these disparate paths. If so, I hope you check out more of his work. There is a mountain of it to climb, but I would hold out one record in particular. I didn't include it in this mix because, by rights, you ought to own I Plan to Stay a Believer: the Inside Music of Curits Mayfield. It's a raucous free jazz soul party of a double album that never forgets the political edge at the heart of Mayfield's tunes.

Ensemble Muntu: Flight
Billy Bang: Summer Night
William Parker & Hamid Drake: Faces
Wayne Horvitz: Psalm
Frank Lowe: In Trane's Name
William Parker / Raining on the Moon: James Baldwin to the Rescue
Cecil Taylor: Calling it the 8th
Matthew Shipp String Trio: Whole Movement
Bill Dixon: Brothers
Free Zen Society: Majestical
David S. Ware Quartet: Infi-Rhythms
Derek Bailey / John Zorn / William Parker: Noon Harras
Toxic: This Is Beautiful Because We Are Beautiful People
Charles Gayle: Touchin' on Trane
Brötzmann / Parker / Drake: Shake-a-Tear
DJ Spooky: Absentia, Absentia
Yo la Tengo: Let's Be Still
William Parker / In Order to Survive: The Square Sun
Anthony Braxton / William Parker / Milford Graves: Third Meeting
William Parker: Crumbling in the Shadows Is Fraulein Miller's Stale Cake