PERFORMING ARTS

Universal Tonality: The Life and Music of William Parker

Duke Univ. Feb. 2021. 408p. ISBN 9781478010142. $109.95; pap. ISBN 9781478011194. $29.95. MUSIC
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In this glorious tribute, Bradley (history, Pratt Institute; editor, “Jazz Right Now” blog) explores bassist and composer William Parker’s background, influences, and contributions to free jazz. The author had unprecedented access to Parker and also interviewed family, friends, and collaborators. Born in 1952 in the Bronx, Parker recognized early the “tremendous power” of music and became passionate about the avant-garde’s rejection of restrictive chords. He spent nearly 50 years sacrificing material wealth in favor of developing his own style of music; pursuing “universal tonality,” or the theory that musicians all over the world should be able to meet and play together; and becoming active in the Black Power and Black Arts movements. As a bandleader, Parker unified dance, music, and voice and expanded the possibilities of jazz while recognizing those who came before him.
VERDICT This meticulously researched, affectionate biography analyzes Parker’s impact as a musician, a composer, and a political revolutionary. An important work that will appeal to jazz historians, scholars of Black history, and music lovers.

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