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Surveying the Grand Musical Sprawl of Bassist and Composer William Parker, on Jazz United

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Dave Kaufman
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Used with permission
William Parker performing at the Vision Festival in 2012.

William Parker, as the saying goes, contains multitudes.

A bassist celebrated for the robustness and gravity of his sound, he’s been a stalwart in the realm of improvised music for more than 40 years. And even for those who’ve kept a close eye on his output, he keeps dropping surprises. The latest of these is a 10-CD boxed set of all-new music, Migration of Silence Into and Out of The Tone World, released today on AUM Fidelity. Arriving close on its heels is a book by Cisco Bradley, Universal Tonality: The Live and Music of William Parker, due in February on Duke University Press.

On this episode of Jazz United, we take the occasion of this new intel as an excuse to dive into Parker’s sound world — looking back to his childhood in the Bronx, and his formative experience in the New York loft scene of the 1970s. His career successes are hard-earned, distinguishing him among his peers and those on either side of his musical generation.

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Credit Jonathan Chimene / WBGO
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WBGO
William Parker performing in 2014.

Whether as a partner to titans like the late saxophonist David S. Ware or as the leader of unstoppable bands like the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, Parker has found a way to embrace the tradition of Black American Music in a spiral-like pattern. He’s widening his conception around a pivot point of exploration, groove and soul. For both of us, as listeners and observers, his example has been deeply impactful.

And as the pandemic continues to unravel and restructure the music scene we once knew, Parker’s example of self-sufficiency — not only in his own career but also within the community best articulated by the Vision Festival — also points toward new modes of survival. We’ll consider that angle too, as we celebrate a hero of our music on this episode of Jazz United.

Migration of Silence Into and Out of The Tone World releases today on AUM Fidelity.

Universal Tonality: The Life and Music of William Parker is out in February on Duke University Press.

Jazz United is produced by Sarah Kerson. Our senior producer is Simon Rentner.

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Greg Bryant has been a longtime curator of improvisational music. At the age of 3 in his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, he was borrowing his father’s records and spinning them on his Fisher Price turntable. Taking in diverse sounds of artistry from Miles Davis, Les McCann, James Brown, Weather Report and Jimi Hendrix gave shape to Greg's musical foundation and started him on a path of nonstop exploration.
A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, Nate Chinen is editorial director at WBGO and a regular contributor to NPR Music.