Universal Tonality

Since ascending onto the world stage in the 1990s as one of the premier bassists and composers of his generation, William Parker has perpetually toured around the world and released over forty albums as a leader. He is one of the most influential jazz artists alive today. In Universal Tonality historian and critic Cisco Bradley tells the story of Parker’s life and music. Drawing on interviews with Parker and his collaborators, Bradley traces Parker’s ancestral roots in West Africa via the Carolinas to his childhood in the South Bronx, and illustrates his rise from the 1970s jazz lofts and extended work with pianist Cecil Taylor to the present day. He outlines how Parker’s early influences—Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, and writers of the Black Arts Movement—grounded Parker’s aesthetic and musical practice in a commitment to community and the struggle for justice and freedom. Throughout, Bradley foregrounds Parker’s understanding of music, the role of the artist, and the relationship between art, politics, and social transformation. Intimate and capacious, Universal Tonality is the definitive work on Parker’s life and music.


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Praise for Universal Tonality

“We have precious few monographic works on creative musicians, fewer still on living ones, and none quite like Cisco Bradley’s fascinating biography of bassist, bandleader, organizer, and composer William Parker. Bradley situates Parker as part of a historical legacy, skillfully illuminating Parker’s career—including his crucial term with Cecil Taylor—as well as the entire underground scene, including the groundbreaking Sound Unity Festival, the enduring Vision Festival, and manifold developments in the New York creative music community. An essential entry in the critical culture reading list.” — John Corbett, author of Vinyl Freak: Love Letters to a Dying Medium

“Writing elegantly about the music as well as William Parker’s work as an activist and organizer, Cisco Bradley gives a full sense of Parker’s centrality to the development and maintenance of the free jazz scene in New York as well as his efforts in presenting the music across the globe. Universal Tonality is a book worthy of its object.” — Fred Moten, author of Black and Blur

“For decades, bassist William Parker has been at the center of the free improvisation world, appearing on hundreds of recordings with a deeply centered tone and incredible groove. Parker’s ability to unite almost any ensemble instantly has long qualified him as sui generis in that world. When he partnered with drummer Hamid Drake in 1993 to drive saxophonist Peter Brötzmann’s Die Like A Dog Quartet, a ‘dream team’ was born. Parker has become to free jazz what Ron Carter is to postbop and for those who hear that call, the publication of Universal Tonality by author, blogger and historian Cisco Bradley is both long overdue and richly appreciated.” — The New York City Jazz Record