Born: April 5, 1944 Primary Instrument: Sax, tenor
Born Bristol, 5 April 1944; Tenor and soprano saxophones. The sources for these notes have come from various places, but in particular from Martin Davidson's notes to recent Emanem releases and Evan Parker's notes to 50th birthday concert.
Evan Parker started to play (alto) saxophone around the age of 14, being particularly interested in the music of Paul Desmond. At 16 he started to play the soprano saxophone and there followed a period where he concentrated on soprano only, influenced by John Coltrane. Following his undergraduate studies at Birmingham University, he moved to London and, in late 1966/early 1967 began playing in the Spontaneous Music Ensemble (SME) who, at that time, along with Parker, comprised John Stevens, Kenny Wheeler, Paul Rutherford, Trevor Watts and Derek Bailey. The regular venue for these sessions was the Little Theatre Club in London. By summer 1967 the SME had shaken down to two principals (Stevens and Parker), though other musicians played with the duo on an ad hoc basis, e.g. Barre Phillips, Peter Kowald. It is from this period that the earliest recordings of Evan Parker have so far been released (Summer 1967).
Early in 1968, Parker left the SME, though he did play with them on occasions, for example, a 1974 session with Bailey, Watts, Stevens and Kent Carter at London's ICA Theatre (Quintessence 1 and Quintessence 2). He also worked in duo with John Stevens, the latest recording dating from 1993, just over a year before Stevens' death. From this time (after 1968) he started to work regularly with Derek Bailey, as a duo, documented on several recordings, and in the Music Improvisation Company with, in addition to Bailey, Hugh Davies, Jamie Muir and, for the last year of its life, Christine Jeffrey. The MIC lasted from 1968 to 1971. During this period Parker also worked in various of Tony Oxley's groups and it was in 1970 when he formed Incus Records with Bailey and Oxley, the hugely influential label that was one of the few ways of getting the music outside of the capital. Parker was also involved in many of Bailey's Company groupings but stopped working with Bailey in 1985 and left Incus at this time.
While happy to operate in all manner of ad hoc situations, Evan Parker has formed a number of long-term associations that have continued to allow him to grow musically. The first one of these began in 1969 when the Evan Parker/Paul Lytton duo was formed. The first public performance of the duo occured the following year and, particularly as a result of recent Emanem recordings, has been documented reasonably well. Martin Davidson (notes to Three other stories) points out that 'they immediately incurred the wrath of more conservative commentators thanks to their exploration and use of what had hitherto been considered noise.' At this time, Evan Parker was also supplementing his standard reed instruments (not, of course, played in an especially standard manner) by, for example, the shêng, a bullroarer, a poll drum, a voice tube and by playing cassette recordings of previous performances. 'Additionally, there were some home made items, notably the Lyttonophone (made by Lytton but played by Parker) best described as a slide contrabass clarinet and the Dopplerphone, a length of soft rubber tubing (activated by a saxophone mouthpiece and manipulated to alter the rate of airflow) attached to a longer length of clear plastic tubing (whirled around the head whilst being played) ending in a plastic funnel' (Davidson, op. cit.). As time passed, so the home-made instruments were dropped and the duo itself ceased to perform, being replaced, from around 1980 onwards by a trio with the addition of Barry Guy. Intermittently recorded in the early days of its existence, the 'Evan Parker Trio', or the 'Parker/Guy/Lytton' trio has achieved particular visibility and popularity among followers of improvised music since around 1994 (with the release of Imaginary values). The trio has included guests, either on an ad hoc basis or for specific projects and tours, and these have included Kenny Wheeler, Paul Rutherford, Mark Charig and George Lewis. The mid-1990s have also seen the emergence of the Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble formed by enlarging the trio with the sound processing capabilities of Philipp Wachsmann, Walter Prati and Mario Vecchi (see, for example, Toward the margins). In fact work with electronic projects has taken up more of Parker's time in the 1990s, beginning with a collaboration with Walter Prati in 1990 (Hall of mirrors) and finding a particularly satisfying focus (for this listener at least) in his work with Lawrence Casserley. Other (acoustic) trios have played on different occasions, featuring, for example, Mark Sanders on drums and Paul Rogers (and latterly John Edwards) on bass.
The other long working association also stems from around the same time as the Parker/Lytton duo. In 1968 Parker was a member of the Peter Brötzmann Octet that recorded Machine Gun and, apart from other work with Brötzmann he also spent some time in a quartet with Irène Schweizer, Peter Kowald and Pierre Favre. Then, around 1971/1972, the Alexander von Schlippenbach trio was formed with Evan Parker on reeds and Paul Lovens on percussion, Parker replacing Michel Pilz. Around the core of this trio, quartets have sprung from time to time, including, on bass, Alan Silva, Nobuyoshi Ino and Reggie Workman. 'I won't be leaving this group unless Alex decides to sack me. Since, as Alex says, free jazz keeps you young, I'll tempt fate and say, who knows how long we've got?' (Evan Parker, 50th birthday concert). Partly as a result of these two long-standing associations, Evan Parker has been a consistant member of the saxophone section of three of the major large scale groups in improvised music, groups that play a mix of compositions, arranged sections and free areas: Globe Unity Orchestra; London Jazz Composers Orchestra; and the Berlin Contemporary Jazz Orchestra. He has also continued for over 25 years his association with the 'Blue Note' musicians, who left South Africa to escape apartheid and settle in London in the late 1960s; a recent example is Bush fire from the Louis Moholo/Evan Parker Quintet. In addition he has continued to work with an extremely wide variety of musicians and groups from all musical areas, from Sainkho Namtchylak, Anthony Braxton, Paul Bley, Wolfgang Fuchs to :zoviet*france.
In spite of this major group activity, it is as the creator of a new solo saxophone language, extending the techniques and experiments started by John Coltrane and Albert Ayler, but taking them away from the rhythmically jazz-related areas and into the realm of abstraction, that Evan Parker is perhaps most recognised. In particular, his use of circular breathing techniques to create extended, complex, overlapping, repetative and beautiful soundscapes is generally seen as the apex of saxophone virtuosity.
In November 2001 Evan Parker started his own CD label: psi.