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William Parker Joins the Party For 'Universal Tonality,' a Book About His Musical Quest

Multi-instrumentalist and composer William Parker
Dave Kaufman
Multi-instrumentalist and composer William Parker

Few musicians on the planet can convey a sense of physicality more effectively than William Parker — the multi-instrumentalist and composer best recognized as a titan on upright bass, especially in the flowing continuum of experimental jazz.

So it comes as welcome news that the Vision Festival, over which he always presides as a benevolent guide, will return in person this summer, beginning July 22 at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn. (He will it kick off himself, in an "Opening Healing Ceremony" that also includes his wife, Arts For Art founder / artistic director Patricia Nicholson Parker.) 

But well before that milestone, Parker will perform a special concert in celebration of Universal Tonality: The Life and Music of William Parker, a laudable new biography by Cisco Bradley, published by Duke University Press.

That event takes place this Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Howland Center in Beacon, N.Y., as a co-presentation of the independent presenter Elysium Furnace Works and Binnacle Books. Along with Parker and Bradley, it will feature the august free jazz saxophonist and trumpeter Joe McPhee.

Tickets for the livestream are $20. A small audience will be present in the room, imparting the event with a feeling that has been all too scarce over the last 15 months.

"I am looking forward to leave the void of Zoom and communicate with people," Parker wrote in an email. "Always a joy to get and play music talk and feel the presence of human beings." Last month, he performed in public with two longtime compatriots, Cooper-Moore and Hamid Drake, on the Walk with the Wind series in Central Park.

Bradley, an Associate Professor of Social Science & Cultural Studies at the Pratt Institute, has been gratified by the outpouring of interest in Universal Tonality. "Much of the book is, in many ways, an intellectual history of Mr. Parker, his thinking and the concepts he has developed and why the music continues to be the guiding light for him and many who have experienced his music," he says by email.

"I'm thrilled to have an opportunity to celebrate this long-overdue biography of such a significant figure in the history of creative music," says James Keepnews of Elysium Furnace Works. "I'm enormously grateful to the Howland Cultural Center both for opening their beautiful main space to live audiences again while also making this event available to a worldwide audience via their truly outstanding livestreaming expertise."

William Parker was the subject of a recent episode of Jazz United, sparked both by the arrival of his monumental boxed set, Migration of Silence Into and Out of The Tone World, and the publication of Bradley's new book. "I think the book gives the reader a view of who I am," says Parker. "It begins to tell the story."

He hastens to add: "Also I am still to continue telling the story." You needn't look far to verify that claim: Parker has two separate trio albums arriving on on AUM Fidelity on July 9: Mayan Space Station, with Ava Mendoza on electric guitar and Gerald Cleaver on drums; and Painters Winter, with Daniel Carter on reeds, trumpet and flute and Hamid Drake on drums.

Saturday's show is sold-out in a physical sense, but the livestream has no capacity. Tickets are available at howlandculturalcentertix.com.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.