William Parker is a musician, improviser, composer, educator, and author. He plays the bass, shakuhachi, double reeds, tuba, donso ngoni and gembri. Born in 1952 in the Bronx, New York, he studied bass with Richard Davis, Art Davis, Milt Hinton, Wilber Ware, Jimmy Garrison, and Paul West. During Parker’s prolific career, he has recorded over 150 albums, had countless celebrated stage appearances, and helped shaped the jazz scene for both his peers and the youth. In 2013, Parker received the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award in recognition of his influence and impact on the creative jazz scene over the last 40 years.
William entered the music scene in 1971, playing at Studio We, Studio Rivbea, Hilly’s on The Bowery, and The Baby Grand. By the age of 20, Parker quickly became a highly sought after bassist, playing with established musicians such as Ed Blackwell, Don Cherry, Bill Dixon, Milford Graves, Billy Higgins, and Sunny Murray. Early projects with dancer and choreographer Patricia Nicholson created a huge repertoire of composed music for multiple ensembles ranging from solo works to big band projects. In 1980, he became a member of the Cecil Taylor Unit, in which he played a prominent role for over a decade.
Since the beginning of his career, William Parker has commanded a unique degree of respect from his fellow musicians and critics alike. In 1995, the Village Voice characterized William Parker as "the most consistently brilliant free jazz bassist of all time." In addition to his work with artists in the United States, he has developed a strong relationship with musicians in the European Improvised Music scene such as Peter Kowald, Peter Brotzmann, Han Bennink, Tony Oxley, Derek Bailey, John Tchicai, Louis Sclavis, and Louis Moholo.
William Parker began recording in 1994 and founded the ensembles In Order To Survive and The Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra. In 2001, he released O’Neal’s Porch, which marked a turn toward a more universal sound working with drummer Hamid Drake. The Raining on the Moon Quintet followed, adding vocalist Leena Conquest and the Quartet from O’Neal’s Porch. Most notable among many recent projects is the Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield.
As Steve Greenlee of the Boston Globe stated in July 2002, “William Parker has emerged as the most important leader of the current avant-garde scene in jazz.” Parker has consistently worked in many of the most important groups within this genre, including his own. He currently leads The Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, In Order to Survive, Raining on the Moon, Stan’s Hat Flapping in the Wind, and The Cosmic Mountain Quartet with Hamid Drake, Kidd Jordan, and Cooper-Moore.
Parker has released over 20 albums under his leadership, most reaching #1 on the CMJ charts. In 1995, he debuted The Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra with the release of Flowers Grow In My Room on the Centering label. Recent years saw the release of several monumental box sets, including 2013’s Wood Flute Songs and 2015’s For Those Who Are, Still, highlighting the work of Parker’s many groups and large ensembles. His recordings appear on Aum Fidelity, Thirsty Ear and his own Centering Music, among others.
These releases and their success showcase William Parker as an outstanding composer and bandleader. From the beginning of his musical career, William Parker has been prolific; composing music for almost every group with whom he has performed. His compositions span the range of operas, oratorios, ballets, film scores, and soliloquies for solo instruments. He has also successfully explored diverse concepts in instrumentation for large and small ensembles.
A passionate educator, William Parker has taught at Bennington College, NYU, The New England Conservatory of Music, Cal Arts, New School University and Rotterdam Conservatory of Music. He has also taught music workshops throughout the world including Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, and the Lower East Side. Parker is a theorist and author of several books including Who Owns Music?, Conversations I & II, Voices in the First Person, Scrapbook: Notes and Blueprints, Sound Journal, and The Mayor of Punkville. Additionally, he has released three volumes of poetry and a theatre piece titled Music and the Shadow People.
“He (William Parker) is something of a father figure,” stated Larry Blumenfeld in the New York Times. He has looked for and encouraged young talent and has been a mentor to many younger musicians. Most importantly for Mr. Parker have been the workshops/performances for young people that he has conducted in both the USA and Europe. These have been for him among some of his most important projects and greatest successes.