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A biography of Evan Parker with a foreword by Stewart Lee
In 1962, while David Bailey was photographing Jean Shrimpton in New York against the backdrop of everyday life in Manhattan, Evan Parker – aged just 18 – was there too, making his first trip to witness the intense, radical new music of the Cecil Taylor, Sunny Murray and Jimmy Lyons trio in one of Manhattan’s small jazz venues. Just months later, the same trio came to Paris in November 1962 and shook up European jazz for good.
The New York experience changed Evan’s life and music forever. Over the next forty years, he would cut a path as the ultimate virtuoso of the jazz saxophone, changing conceptions of what the instrument could do – especially on solo soprano saxophone – and would be a major part of the development of a new and challenging 'free' music that rewrote the rules of jazz.
In so doing Evan Parker has become an icon of alternative music, influencing a new generation of explorative musicians and those who enjoy the sheer physical thrill of free jazz and improvisation.
So this biography is a life story that begins in the middle of a WWII air raid in Bristol and breaks off its trajectory 68 years later with two men sitting in a pub in Dalston, east London; one drinking mineral water, the other, coffee.
But, of course, it’s the bit in between that’s really interesting: the bit that explains why a writer would be talking to one of the most influential and gifted instrumentalists in jazz music over the last fifty years, and why they’ve just made a short film together for a publisher to promote a biography by the writer of the musician.
Why this book and why now?
Because new things don’t happen outside of history or in hermetic isolation.
The aim of this book, as Evan Parker approaches his 70th birthday, is to not only record the fascinating life and musical history of the saxophonist – and to provide an accessible point of entry to the history of free jazz and improvised music in the UK and beyond – but to establish Evan Parker’s place at the very forefront of the radical and alternative new art that flourished in the UK and Europe in the 60s and beyond, and in the context of Parker’s life, connections and influences, the contemporary world of culture and social and political events.
From the 1950s onwards, when Evan was hanging out in the jazz clubs of Soho and listening to the records of Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Paul Desmond and Booker Little, his awareness of jazz was profound, and his own music can, with all justification, be seen as the natural inheritor of the developmental progression that stretches from Charlie Bird Parker to John Coltrane and beyond.
Through a wealth of original interviews and research, this biography details the events and contexts of the life and music of Evan Parker, and takes the reader close-in to the events and the creative process.
If you haven’t heard of Evan Parker or his music, this book might just change your perceptions of what was happening in music from the 1960s to the present day, and will certainly provide new insights for those with an interest in the new and alternative arts scene in Europe and America - and just how closely linked ‘popular’ and alternative music were in that period.
I first heard Evan Parker’s music at a gig in the London Musicians Collective, London, in about 1978.
Peter Urpeth is a writer and improvising musician born in Romford, Essex. His first novel, Far Inland, was published by Polygon in 2006. As a music journalist Peter has written for Time Out, The Wire, Jazz Hot, Jazz UK, Folk Roots, Living Tradition, The Herald (Glasgow) and many other publications. His poetry and short stories have been published in leading literary journals and anthologized in Rip Tide (Two Ravens Press) and elsewhere. He received a Scottish Arts Council New Writers Bursary in 2002.
He was the editor of the Stornoway Gazette and founder editor of The Hebridean newspaper, and was once described by the Daily Express in a leader comment as 'the self-appointed guardian of political correctness in the Western Isles'.
As an improvising pianist, Peter has played across Europe in various groupings and in the UK with Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, Maggie Nicols, John Russell, Phil Wachsmann, Jon Impett and many other leading improvisers. He is pianist in the long-standing improvising group Makeshift. A duet EP with singer Maggie Nicols is due out in 2012. Peter has a collaborated over a number of years with the poet and artist Ian Stephen, and recently completed a new commission and performance for music for Murnau’s classic silent movie Nosferatu.
He lives in the Outer Hebrides and runs the writing development programme in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland for arts development agency HI-Arts.
By Peter Urpeth
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