7 QUESTIONS WITH JEFF PARKER OF TORTOISE

by Ryan Collins with Ryan Meehan

Bio from DustedMagazine.com:  “There have been very few seamless collaborations between Chicago’s various “scenes” and ever fewer successful crossovers, however guitarist Jeff Parker bucks this trend entirely. Through primarily a jazz guitarist (Parker has released solo albums on Delmark, Atavistic, and, most recently, Thrill Jockey), he also licks his chops in Tortoise, and has been a session guitarist on some of the finest albums to emerge from Chicago in the past ten years. His sound is unmistakable, spastic and unpredictable, yet at the same time precise and refined. While the media of the present hasn’t quite figured out how to pigeonhole him just yet, history will certainly reflect that he is one of the more noteworthy guitarists of his generation. The Relatives, a jazz record featuring collaborations with a number of his local associates, is available on Thrill Jockey.”  Parker was so kind as to be our guest today in an extended version of 5 questions.  

RM:  What can you tell us a little bit about your work in the Chicago Underground Trio?  Was it that group’s performances that eventually led you be recruited for Tortoise or had you known the other musicians previously?

JP:  I met cornetist/composer Rob Mazurek and drummer Chad Taylor shortly after moving to Chicago from Boston – probably in 1992.  The Chicago Underground groups grew out of a loose collective of musicians that assembled around a Sunday afternoon workshop that Rob started at The Green Mill Jazz Club.  At the same time and completely unrelated, myself and many of my future bandmates in Tortoise (John McEntire, John Herndon and Douglas McCombs) were sharing a loftspace in one of Chicago’s many industrial corridors, and having informal recording and jam sessions.  It was around this time (1993-94) that I began sitting in with Tortoise when they would play shows in Chicago, and they asked me to formally join the band pretty early on, in around 1994 (I declined because of prior commitments). Tortoise and Chicago Underground didn’t really intersect until Rob Mazurek became a member of Isotope 217 in 1996, which is also the same year that I became an active member of Tortoise.  There was a lot of overlap between many bands at this time – I think everyone I knew was in at least a few different groups at any given time, and often with the same group of people.

RC:  Having relocated to Los Angeles after living in Chicago for a long time, could you compare and contrast those two places?

JP:  There’s no better place than Chicago for creative music.  There’s a long musical tradition of independent movement because it’s so disconnected from the mainstream industry, which is concentrated on the coasts in New York and Los Angeles.  In Los Angeles there are a lot more opportunities to compose and record in the commercial realm, which is almost non-existent in Chicago.

RM:  For those who may not be familiar with the organization, what is The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians?  What is/was your involvement with that particular collective and do you plan to work with them in the future?

JP:  The AACM is a musician’s collective that was started on the South Side of Chicago in 1965.  Its initial goal was to create performance opportunities for their immediate community of creative musicians, and also to foster further generations by putting resources back into the greater community of the South Side – via a music school and recurring concert series.  Many of the greatest innovators in creative music are products of the AACM: The Art Ensemble Of Chicago (Lester Bowie, Roscoe Mitchell, Joseph Jarman, Malachi Favors and Famoudou Don Moye), Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill, Fred Anderson, Muhal Richard Abrams, George Lewis, Wadada Leo Smith, Nicole Mitchell and Matana Roberts and many more.  I have been a member of the AACM since 1995.

RC:  What is the next thing you want to do musically…and/or is there anything musically you haven’t done that you want to do?  If so, what?

JP: I would like to make an album that further explores my relationship with sampling, electronics, production and arranging for larger ensembles.

RM:  What do you feel is your greatest musical achievement to date?  And what is it about that experience that made it so special?

JP: I’m pretty happy with the progress that I continue to make as a musician – it takes a lot of work and continued self-examination.  I’m always in awe of the many great musicians that I have the privilege of being surrounded by in my work and everyday life.  I’m surprised by and impressed with all my “Jeff Parker” albums (Like-Coping, The Relatives, and Bright Light In Winter).  I also take great pride in my contributions to the LP that Tortoise made with Will Oldham a/k/a Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, “The Brave And The Bold”.  I think it’s a really great album.

RC:  What aspects of living/playing/writing in Chicago do you miss, or wish were available in LA, if any?

JP: The Chicago music community is like nowhere else on Earth.  That being said, I probably miss it as much as I am happy to have distance from it.  It holds you back as much as it holds you up.

RM:  What’s up next for Jeff Parker in the remainder of 2013 and the beginning of 2014?  Anything big in the works that we should know about?

JP: For the past couple years I’ve been concentrating on solo and duo projects.  I’m finishing up a duo album with cornetist Rob Mazurek, and an album of solo guitar music is in the works.  A new Tortoise album has begun. There’s always more on the horizon – who knows?

Tortoise Official Website: www.trts.com

Tortoise on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/TRTS

Tortoise on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/TRTSband

Thrill Jockey Records:  www.thrilljockey.com

Once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content.

Meehan

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