Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Evan Parker started to play (alto) saxophone around the age of 14. At 16, he began 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) which, at that time, included Parker, John Stevens, Kenny Wheeler, Paul Rutherford, Trevor Watts and Derek Bailey.
Early in 1968, Parker left the SME, though he did play with them on occasions. 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.
While happy to operate in all manner of ad hoc situations, Evan 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. From about 1980 onwards, the duo became 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). The other long working association also stems from around the same time. In 1968 Parker was a member of the Peter Brotzmann Octet that recorded Machine Gun and, apart from other work with Brotzmann he also spent some time in a quartet with Irene 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." Partly as a result of these two long-standing associations, Evan Parker has been a consistent 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.
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 recognized. In particular, his use of circular breathing techniques to create extended, complex, overlapping, repetitive and beautiful soundscapes is generally seen as the apex of saxophone virtuosity.