Bassist William Parker has maintained a towering presence on New York’s free jazz scene for decades, a father figure who’s maintained close collaborations with some of the most protean improvisers of all time, including the legendary pianist Cecil Taylor, German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, New York tenor David S. Ware, and Chicago percussionist Hamid Drake. The Village Voice called him, “the most consistently brilliant free jazz bassist of all time,” and with more than 150 albums to his credit and a 468-page sessionography, he’s also the most prolific.
Born in New York in 1952, Parker emerged in the city’s Loft Jazz scene during the 1970s after studying with Wilbur Ware, Jimmy Garrison, and Richard Davis, but it was his long-term partnership with Taylor that established his global reputation as a ferocious yet accommodating improviser. Although he made a handful of albums during the 1970s and 1980s for his own Centering imprint, his work as a bandleader came into focus during the 1990s. In subsequent decades he’s organized a variety of long-running projects, whether his fiery In Order to Survive with Drake, alto saxophonist Rob Brown, and trumpeter Lewis “Flip” Barnes, or his sprawling Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra. Among his most ardent collaborators are pianist Matthew Shipp, saxophonists Charles Gayle, Frode Gjerstad, Jemeel Moondoc, and Ivo Perelman, trumpeters Roy Campbell, Bill Dixon, and Raphe Malik, bassist Peter Kowald, and drummer Milford Graves, and guitarist Joe Morris. In fact, it’s hard to think of an important improviser that hasn’t played with Parker.
Parker is also a crucial community leader in New York. Since 1996 he and his wife, the dancer Patricia Nicholson, have organized and presented the Vision Festival first in Manhattan and now in Brooklyn, one of the most celebrated showcases for improvised music and free jazz in the world.