William Parker

Doris Duke Artist Award, 2013

New York, NY

William Parker has been a central figure in creative music; committed to the art of improvisation and kinetic composition since the 1970s jazz loft scene. His bass playing is noted for his extended techniques in arco and pizzicato; he frequently plays shakuhachi, double reeds, the doson ngoni, and gimbre. He has been a key member of Arts for Art and the Vision Festival, which has in turn helped to promote improvised music forms. He has released about 40 recordings, recently Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield Box Set (AUM Fidelity, 2010); Essence of Ellington (Centering, 2012); and a six album set, William Parker Unreleased Early Recordings 1976–87 (NoBusiness, 2012). As an educator, he has taught at Bennington College, The New School, New England Conservatory of Music, Cal Arts, and Rotterdam Conservatory of Music. He is a theorist and author of several books including who owns music?, Sound Journal, and The Mayor of Punkville. Recently, he restaged his soundtrack to the 1965 Jean Luc Goddard Film, Alphaville Suite, at Roulette in Brooklyn, NY. Throughout 2013, he toured with the French-American Peace Ensemble—an all-star collaboration of master improvisers that received a French-American Jazz Exchange grant.

  • William Parker conducts “Fragrances of Compassion for Lawrence D. Butch Morris,” 2012
  • William Parker solo bass performance, 2009
  • William Parker solo bass performance, 2009

Suppose you just met someone who didn't know your work, what project from the past 10 years would you direct them to as an entry point to you and your work, and why?

A good example of my approach to composition is the suite Mass For The Healing Of The World, written for my large ensemble, The Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra. This composition touches on what interests me both in life and music.

Musically, Mass For The Healing of the World incorporates all the concepts I have been working on over the years. The piece employs the concept of self-conduction with multiple soloists playing at the same time. It utilizes spoken word and song; collective improvisation; and the use of space and silence and density; plus elements of world music. This suite is a multidimensional composition that also utilizes strong melodic strains and orchestral colorings.

However, this is not necessarily the easiest composition to listen to if you are unfamiliar with the style in which I compose. In the work that I have done with my smaller groups, the structures and melodies are more clearly visible. A good example is O’Neals Porch, which combines melodies and a broad range of rhythmic structures played within the greatest range, and with the greatest spirit, that a free approach to music can allow.

I compose and play music as it comes through me in order to uplift, encourage, and inspire the listener to enter the realm of their higher self. So they, in turn, may, in their own lives and work, act as a force for good. The ultimate goal of the music is that all who listen to it be filled with compassion.