Interview with William Parker 'Part II'

We actually don't know where this interview is from, nor where 'Part 1' is located; I copied it from Marc Minsker's old page on William Parker. Marc, you remember?

W: I think eveybody can be as magical as Charlie Parker in their own way. I think everybody is gifted -- they just have to find out what their gift is and develop it.

I'm going to condense my answer about composition. I think there is no difference between improvisation and composition. I think improvisation is composition, and not all composition contains improvisation. But all composition can be as strong as improvisation in theory.
Part of me really believes that I've got to say that for the record. Part of playing a composition is that you feel good. It's that you've technically been able to play a composition. When you play a complicated score, you just feel good that you've played a complicated score. It sort of fools you into thinking that its something. There is the idea of going past the composition, of saying "well this is on paper" and go past that into putting yourself into the music. A part of me feels that this is stronger, but I won't say a lot stronger because I haven't experienced playing a written composition every single night. I don't know if it comes to life. I was listening to Andre Watts the other night. He was playing the Moonlight Sonata. He had this look on his face....I can't believe that's all that was there.
You have a cultural problem with classical music in the sense that people who listen to it and play it don't seem to be effected by it. Menaing that people who sign bills say "well, we're gonna reinstate the death penalty. OK, goodbye. I'm going to the ballet, to the opera to listen to classical music." They say, "We're gonna start a war," and then they go and listen (clap, clap). Then they just go home. It doesn't affect them in any way because they look at it as if they spent forty million dollars for a painting and they think they deserve it. They think that's what they're supposed to listen to. So in a sense, classical music has been taken away from the people. It's put in halls. It's put in museums. It's put in this ellitist position. So, its very much less effective.
What if Andre Watts was playing in something comfortable. Suppose he wanted to change a note in the composition. There are all these stigmas that it's really not supposed to do anything. It's just supposed to be the way a lot of people approach art&emdash;as a museum piece. I think that if everybody in America began to think and began to listen to all kinds of music, they would say, "Wait a minute...you guys have all the money. Get out of there. We have to change things." I think that's basically the underpending reason why everything is the way it is. But any way...

S: How do you see the music you play in regards to how it affects your surroundings socially?

W: I think all art, when people experience it deep in their heart, changes and brings out the beauty inside people. it awakes them, or disturbs them. It gets them to think, to read poetry or listen to more music. I think its very positive--any kind, not just my music. Any kind of art is very stimulating to people if they let it. Lots of times people put up barriers. If people let it seep in, I think its very effective.

S: Do you have anything to say about what its like for you to live this life and how society responds to your music?

W: Well, its very difficult to be a musician in the underground because you don't get that much support. Personally I've been very lucky to be able to make a living playing this music. Of course, for every person that can make a living there are fifty that don't. I always hope underneath that more and more musicians can play and get their music heard, and don't go crazy and don't bug out. A lot of people start off but they don't make it till the end.

Its very difficult and I guess if I had to do it over again, I'd do it again. There's a great sense of freedom and joy after a concert, during a concert, or when you get to travel and your coming home from a gig. Its great, and I can't think of anything better to do with one's life than to be involved in this. I'm very happy and privileged to do this music and meet wonderful people.

S: What changes do you see in your music since you began?

W: Sound wise?

W: Well, last night I was playing and I developed a new fingering technique, which I have never used before. I can remember in 1974 or so, I was playing at this venue called Environ, which was run by John Fischer. In the first years that I was playing, I was trying to figure out a way to play within the history that had been laid out for me. Iim basically a traditional type bass player in the sense that what lies underneath what I do is like Wellman Brawn, Walter Page, and Wilbur Ware. That is a walk pulse which comes very natural to me. There are things that came very natural to me when I started playing the bass: the walk pulse, a tone, and the bow.

Usually when you pick up an instrument, there's something you can naturally do on it. What I could do is I could walkon it, and I could bow. In 1973, I remember there was a break-through in the way I was playing. I was able to get a horizontal and vertical motion at the same time. Meaning that horizontally, you are bowing and vertically you're fingering. To me this was a break through because I was able to use a continuous flow of playing with the left and right.

A lot of people who don't know think that if you've played with Ccecil Taylor, that's how your music developed. When I started playing with Cecil (I first played with him 1973) regularly in 1980, I had developed all of what I was doing. It just happened to coincide with what he was doing and what other things were happening. The more I played, the more extended techniques developed on the instrument.

S: Can you talk about that a little bit?

W: The idea of horizontal and vertical continuum or flow. The idea of the drone. I used to always practice one note. That's all I used to ever practice, one note all day. The idea of visualization. The idea of lakes of light, of cathedrals of light, of looking at the string as light. I developed a visualization concept that the string is a band of light. I didn't read this anywhere, I may have invented the idea. (I better patent this). The string is a band of light; the bow is a prism. When you put light--white light--through a prism, you get color. And that was the sound, that was the harmonics. These are the things that I love. The harmonics and the sound. I was never interested in the notes. I was only interested in the sound, the color, and the shapes of the colors.

Then somehow I ran into the concept of healing and music. Then trying to relate cetain sounds to certain ideas, and then projecting them out as I was playing to the audience. But this concept stagnated and fizzled out for now. It was too mental. So there was color, sound, healing. Then that developed into a no-note concept. You are not playing any notes on the bass. This is where the idea of the trap drum set came in--looking at the bass as a trap drum set. The G string is the ride cymbal: that's your pulse, that's your drone, that's your tamboura. I'm always playing in the key of G, I'm sorry, but that's the way it is. E, now that's your gong and your bass drum. The D string is your snare. The A string is your low tomtom and also can act as your additional cymbals. So that was the visualization, and then another concept was added. This concept was a cora: playing with no stops. I didn't even know about the cora till somebody gave me a record. You are playing a total sound concept, just sound; tones are there, notes maybe there, but your not thinking in terms of Bb, Eb, etc.

Then came another concept to get sound out of the bass. We had a loft on Waverly Place in the 70s, below Waverly Theater. Daniel Carter, Billy Bang, Earl Freeman, a drummer named Roger Baird, Dewey Johnson and myself. We played there all day long, and at night we'd go to Sam Rivers' place and play there and hang out. If you play seven or eight hours a day, it just comes about. You say, "I've been playing the same thing every doggone day." So then you play something different. Then you play that for a week and then you play something else different, and all of a sudden somebody else comes in and you develop a concept. Now whats happening is that a new technique or new sound just comes up. Its not like someone sits at home trying to find out new ways to do something different. They just come to you.