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A solo performance by William Parker accompanies a conversation on “Universal Tonality” (Duke University Press, 2021), a new publication by Cisco Bradley on Parker’s life and music.

Since ascending onto the world stage in the 1990s as one of the premier bassists and composers of his generation, William Parker has perpetually toured around the world and released over forty albums as a leader. He is one of the most influential jazz artists alive today. In Universal Tonality historian and critic Cisco Bradley tells the story of Parker’s life and music. Drawing on interviews with Parker and his collaborators, Bradley traces Parker’s ancestral roots in West Africa via the Carolinas to his childhood in the South Bronx, and illustrates his rise from the 1970s jazz lofts and extended work with pianist Cecil Taylor to the present day. He outlines how Parker’s early influences—Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, and writers of the Black Arts Movement—grounded Parker’s aesthetic and musical practice in a commitment to community and the struggle for justice and freedom. Throughout, Bradley foregrounds Parker’s understanding of music, the role of the artist, and the relationship between art, politics, and social transformation. Intimate and capacious, Universal Tonality is the definitive work on Parker’s life and music.

New York Times – The Irreducible William Parker

William Parker by Peter Gannushkin

William Parker is a bassist, improviser, composer, writer, and educator from New York City. He has recorded over 150 albums, published six books, and taught and mentored hundreds of young musicians and artists.

He has been called “one of the most inventive bassists/leaders since [Charles] Mingus,” and “the creative heir to Jimmy Garrison and Paul Chambers…directly influenced by ‘60s avant-gardists like Sirone, Henry Grimes and Alan Silva.” The Village Voice called him, “the most consistently brilliant free jazz bassist of all time” and Time Out New York named him one of the “50 Greatest New York Musicians of All Time.”

Parker’s current active bands include the large-band Little Huey Creative Orchestra, the Raining on the Moon Sextet, the In Order to Survive Quartet, Stan’s Hat Flapping in the Wind, the Cosmic Mountain Quintet with Hamid Drake, Kidd Jordan, and Cooper-Moore, as well as a deep and ongoing solo bass study. His recordings have long been documented by the AUM Fidelity record label and on his own Centering Records, among others. He also has a duo project “Hope Cries For Justice” with Patricia Nicholson Parker which combines music, storytelling, poetry, and dance

He has been a key figure in the New York and European creative music scenes since the 1970s, and has worked all over the world.  He has performed with Cecil Taylor, Don Cherry, Peter Brotzmann, Milford Graves, Peter Kowald, and David S. Ware, among many others.

William Parker works all over the world but he always returns to New York’s Lower East Side, where he has lived since 1975.

Francis (Cisco) Bradley is a scholar of social and cultural history set in diverse contexts. Throughout his career, his interests have settled on the historical agency exhibited by people marginalized by global or local forces who face myriad challenges including dislocation, cultural destruction, social alienation, or structural or physical violence. This has led him to investigate histories in a variety of contexts including port cities, mobile intellectual or artist communities, and inhabitants of maritime settings, where people are stitched together through viable, if vulnerable social networks of their own making. He is Associate Professor of Social Science & Cultural Studies at the Pratt Institute.

Since settling in Brooklyn, Professor Bradley has added a new sub-field to his myriad interests, that of the history of avant garde jazz in Brooklyn. This project has led him to study the underbelly of New York City, gentrification, structural violence, and avant garde art forms and how they relate to a far-flung, diverse, globally-drawn community of artists and their social and cultural networks. His website www.jazzrightnow.com chronicles much of his work in this regard.

Black Mountain College Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center William Parker