CHAT WITH JEFF PARKER
is not always necessary to classify things. Sure, it makes it easy for
the consumer in all of us to be able to find or relate to something if
it is referred to as a four letter word, "jazz," "blues,"
or "rock," but does that mean Elvis, the proposed "king"
of rock, has anything remotely to do with the Velvet Underground, also
found under the "rock" section? And following such logic, does
The Godfather (found under dramas) have anything to do with The Pianist,
also a drama? So to say that Jeff Parker plays "prog-rock" or
is "avant-garde" because he did sessions with Isotope 217 or
Guillermo Gregorio is silly and quite the narrow-minded view of what music
and subsequently life is. So allow Jeff Parker himself to educate, as
always, unedited and in his own words.
FRED JUNG: Let's start from the beginning.
PARKER: I guess the only simple way I can put it is just loving music.
I picked up an old guitar that was lying around the house and started
learning bass lines off of funk songs that were on the radio, Earth, Wind
& Fire and Parliament/Funkadelic. I just started playing that way
and my folks saw that I was into it and signed me up for lessons. That's
when I started playing when I was nine. Before that, I actually started
on the piano when I was eight. That was more just my parents signing me
up for music lessons. I wasn't really too interested in it at that point.
FJ: Do you consider what you do improvisation?
PARKER: I feel that I play both jazz and improvised music. To me, there
are specific perimeters that inform the genre of jazz improvisation. To
me, it is having a certain harmonic conception, rhythmic conception, in
order for you to deal with the most obvious characteristics of that music.
But as far as improvisation, that is a very broad term that applies to
many genres, inside and around art and music.
FJ: Do Jeff Parker and the AACM have any correlation? After all, the AACM
never featured a guitarist, so it is difficult to understand where those
comparisons come from.
PARKER: Yeah, I don't know. AACM music has definitely been influential
to me. Honestly, Fred, I had been exposed to very little of it before
I moved to Chicago and I actually started immersing myself in the local
scene around here and of course, playing with a lot of musicians who are
in the AACM. I am influenced more by the musical spirit of this organization
and where the angle that they come at jazz and black music from.
FJ: Are you still involved with the Chicago Underground?
PARKER: The Underground started back when Rob Mazurek, who I had known
from a long time from playing more straight ahead jazz, pick up gigs playing
standards and things and I had played on some of his old demo tapes when
he first started his own group. I hadn't seen him for a while and he knew
that I was involved in some more creative music around Chicago. He decided
that he wanted to do something a little bit different than what he was
normally doing, which was pretty straight ahead, Fifties Blue Note style
jazz. He wanted to do something different. He talked to Dave Jemilo, who
owns the Green Mill and asked him if we could go in and play on Sunday
afternoons. It was kind of a workshop and we would come in there and experiment
with forms and work out ideas and fully improvise and we would work them
out as a group. Eventually, a band came out of it that was the Chicago
Underground Orchestra. It had various names before that, but it kind of
settled on the Chicago Underground Orchestra. With myself being busy and
Sara P. Smith, who was the trombonist, moving away, as well as Chris Lopes,
who plays bass and I was busy with Tortoise. That left just Rob and Chad
and so that is how the duo started, when I couldn't play with the Chicago
Underground, so they just decided to keep going and play with the two
FJ: And Tortoise?
PARKER: I still play with Tortoise. I wasn't in the band in the beginning.
I'm the most recent member. I know that they formed just to get away.
A lot of them have more of a punk rock, experimental, indie rock background.
They wanted to do something different from what they were normally doing
which was playing music that had different rhythmic sensibilities, but
also explored different timbres. Loud guitar and vocals weren't the main
thing that stood out in the music.
FJ: How about Tricolor?
PARKER: Not really. We were kind of recording a new album a while back,
but I am not really sure what is coming of it. I know Dave Pavkovic is
the organizational force behind that group and I know he is busy with
other things. We haven't been doing too much lately.
FJ: Let's touch on your Delmark debut as a leader, Like-Coping.
PARKER: They had asked me a long time ago, probably six or seven years
ago, if I ever wanted to do a record for them. I just felt like it wasn't
in my reality to do at all at that time. Just now, I was feeling kind
of stagnant musically. There were a lot of older projects that I was involved
in that seemed as though they had run their course. I was looking for
something new, a different trajectory to be propelled into, so I took
them up on their offer.
FJ: And the future?
PARKER: I was just in France touring with a trio, Michael Zerang and a
French bassist named Bernard Santacruz. We have a few compositions, but
it is free improvisation for the most part. We also have some Tortoise
gigs coming up and we have been working on a new album for a long time.
I have been playing, just beginning a musical relationship with Nels Cline
and drummer, Scott Amendola. I am going out to play with them. I will
be there from May 25 till June 1.
Fred Jung is the Editor-In-Chief and is Wang Chunging tonight. Comments?