Kit Downes writes...about Aaron Parks


In the next couple of weeks LondonJazz will feature London Jazz Festival previews/choices from a number of musicians, fans and friends.

We're keen to capture, to bottle that musician buzz. It's where things start, there's nothing quite like it. So here's a VERY warm welcome to Kit Downes to the pages of LondonJazz. And a thank you.

Kit is looking forward to hearing Aaron Parks at 9pm on the opening night of the Festival, Friday November 13th in the Purcell Room on the South Bank.

Also, down there on the right of this page, under Links We Like you will find Kit's new blog.

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Aaron Parks (for my money) is the ticket of the festival - obviously I am slightly biased about this, as he is a piano player - but aside from this, he could be playing any instrument and I would still go and listen.

Aaron Parks is 24 years old and lives in Brooklyn (he's originally from Seattle) where he has already made a significant musical impact in the bands of leading artists such as Terence Blanchard and Kurt Rosenwinkel. It is, interestingly, these two musicians that seem to have had the biggest impact on the pianist in recent years.

Parks seems to be heavily influenced by the classical tradition (late Romantics/Impressionists in particular) in his composition, as well as the more contemporary influences of hip hop culture and electronic music. It is in combining the old with the new (through his writing) that he achieves an accessible but still interesting take on what he calls ‘Invisible Cinema’ – a use of imagery and sense of narrative (Parks is into ‘film music’, something that he explored with former employer Terence Blanchard).

His tunes are all focused on melody, with the harmonic and rhythmic aspects of the tune united and serving the common goal – strong and memorable phrasing. This is something on which Kurt Rosenwinkel has based his entire compositional approach (in my eyes) and also something that Parks must have enjoyed about Rosenwinkel’s music whilst touring with his band.

However, my fascination with Parks lies more in his playing than his writing. He has a compositional approach to improvising, always telling an interesting and clear story through his rich melodic lines. Even at very high speed, his lines always harness harmony and time together into one pure voice that can etch their way through any chord sequence with a sense of calm, precision and restraint that implies huge pianistic and musical ability.

This strong sense of melodic line is undoubtedly in part influenced by the masters of this particular art (in the jazz setting) – Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Brad Mehldau etc. but it becomes irrelevant who the influences are after a while – melodic playing at this level is it’s own – it comes from being at one with the instrument you are playing, no longer from who you have transcribed (though it’s fundamental to getting there).

In short, Parks’ playing is his own – something which I greatly respect. Hearing bootlegged recordings of Parks playing with Rosenwinkel’s band originally stunned me, and then heartened me, as I felt I was listening to something completely genuine. His melodic ability, coupled with a beautiful sense of compositional space and a great pocket feel, is what makes Parks so addictive to listen to.

Aaron Parks' website has soundclips. (TOP RIGHT)

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