Evan Shaw Parker is a British saxophone player pivotal in the development of European free jazz and free improvisation.
Born in Bristol in 1944, Evan Parker pioneered and expanded an array of extended free jazz techniques. He originally learnt to play the alto saxophone at the age of 14 inspired by Paul Desmond. In 1960 he switched to tenor and soprano sax, following the example of John Coltrane, a major influence who determined much of his direction. A trip to New York where he heard the Cecil Taylor trio changed the course of his life, and he gave up botany for dreams of playing free, improvisational jazz.
In 1966 he moved to London and joined the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, which was experimenting with new kinds of group improvisation. He remained in the group through various personnel changes before forming the Music Improvisation Company with guitarist Derek Bailey, and co-founding Incus Records.
Throughout the 70’s he participated in a variety of large ensembles including Barry Guy’s London Jazz Composers Orchestra (LJCO). In 1980 he formed his own trio with Barry Guy and percussionist Paul Lytton which, together with the Schlippenbach trio, remain one of Parker’s top musical priorities. Their recordings include Tracks, Atlanta, Imaginary Values, Breaths and Heartbeats, The Redwood Sessions and At the Vortex.
Evan Parker has worked extensively in both large and small ensembles, but he is best known for his solo work that in recent years has centred around his continuing exploration of techniques such as circular breathing, split tonguing, overblowing and cross-pattern fingering. The resulting music is a hypnotic, uninterrupted flow of snaky, densely textured sound with the illusion of polyphony.
Parker has become interested in electronics, usually collaborating with other musicians such as Phil Wachsmann, Walter Prati, Joel Ryan, Lawrence Casserley or Matthew Wright to process his playing electronically, creating a feedback loop and shifting soundscape.
His work can also be found in pop-music contexts such as Scott Walker’s Climate of Hunter, and on dubesque albums with Jah Wobble, the adventurous drum n bass duo Spring Heel Jack and rock group Spiritualized.
He appeared on the b-side to Vic Reeves and The Wonderstuff’s UK 1991 number one hit “Dizzy”, performing saxophone on “Oh, Mr Songwriter” (based around “Vic Reeves Big Night Out” TV show end theme song). At one point during a sax solo, Vic can be heard shouting “Pack it in, Parker!”
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