• 1951


    Born in the Bronx

  • 1971


    Enters the music scene playing Studio We, Studio Rivbea, Hilly’s on The Bowery, Salt and Pepper, Club and The Baby Grand

  • 1973


    Forms the collective The Music Ensemble

    Performs with Cooper-Moore, Billy Bang, Billy Higgins, Frank Lowe, Sunny Murray, David S. Ware, and others at Ornette Coleman’s Artist House, Studio Rivbea, Studio WE, and the East

  • 1974


    Performs with Cecil Taylor’s big band at Carnegie Hall

    Co-founds Centering Music/Dance Ensemble with choreographer Patricia Nicholson

  • 1975


    Moves to LES

    Performs at the Five Spot with Don Cherry

  • 1976


    Composes and presents ballet, "Dawn Voice" and many dance/music concerts at St. Mark's on the Bowery and Environ

  • 1977


    Composes and presents ballets "Liberation Folk Suite" and "Sun Garden" for mixed ensemble with reeds, strings, and voice

  • 1978


    Participates in CETA Artist Program with Theatre for Forgotten

  • 1979


    Composes and presents "Light Slices My Heart," a ballet with string quartet, and music for voices and small ensemble, inspired by Aztec poetry

  • 1980


    Joins the Cecil Taylor Unit

    Composes and performs “Night Skies,” a modern ballet in collaboration with choreographer Patricia Nicholson

  • 1981


    Concerts for solo bass in Berlin

    Composes “Peace Suite,” a composition for large ensemble, voices, dance, and poetry

  • 1982


    Premieres “A Thousand Cranes,” an opera for orchestra, dance, and a chorus of 1000 school children, performed at opening of UN Second Special Session for Disarmament

  • 1983


    Premieres composition “Inheritance” for three voices, bassoon, alto flute, double bass, and dance in Downtown Music Series at Third Street Music School

  • 1984


    Co-organizes “Sound Unity,” a five-day international festival at CUANDO, New York City

  • 1985


    Composes music for documentary shown on PBS “Community Dig”

  • 1986


    Composes and presents “Vision Peace and Battle Cries,” a modern ballet for large orchestra with poetry and voice in collaboration with choreographer Patricia Nicholson at La MaMa

    Co-organizes Lower East Side Music Festival

  • 1988


    Receives New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) Artist Fellowship

    Co-organizes Second Sound Unity Festival, New York City

  • 1991


    Participates in Residency at the Rotterdam Conservatory and Residency at Bennington College, Bennington, VT

  • 1992


    Composes and presents song cycle for solo voice and music for piano and flute, solo piano, and piano and percussion

  • 1993


    Founds the In Order to Survive sextet

    Performs concerts and conducts workshops with Roscoe Mitchell at Cal Arts

  • 1994


    Founds The Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra

    Composes new music for Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theater, as well as arranging and re-orchestrating music from Dvorak’s opera “Rusalka”

  • 1995


    The Village Voice characterizes William Parker as “the most consistently brilliant free jazz bassist of all time”

    Premieres 10 compositions in an 8-week season with the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra at the Knitting Factory

    Composes music for the dance-drama “The Shadow People”

  • 1998


    The Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra and Dance performs “Mass for the Healing of the World” in Verona

  • 1999


    Performs with Peter Brotzmann’s Die Like a Dog Quartet

  • 2000


    “Kaleidoscope” premieres at the Fifth Annual Vision Festival

    Receives New York State Council on the Arts Commissioning Award

  • 2001


    Forms the William Parker Quartet with Hamid Drake

    Records O’Neal’s Porch, recognized by New York Times as one of the year’s Best Jazz Albums

  • 2002


    “Universal Tonality,” new orchestra piece commissioned by the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, premieres at Roulette in Brooklyn

    Steve Greenlee of the Boston Globe praises William “as the most important leader of the current avant-garde scene in jazz”

  • 2003


    Participates in residency at the Djerassi Foundation in Woodside, CA

    Other Minds Festival commissions William for “Spirit Catcher for Four Musicians and Tape,” in San Francisco, CA

  • 2004


    Participates in Visiting Artist Program at Haystack in Deer Isle, Maine

    Premiers Bass Quartet with Alan Silva, Sirone, Henry Grimes, and Charles Gayle at the Vision Festival

  • 2005


    Plays at Tel Aviv Jazz Festival with Roy Campbell’s Pyramid Trio

    Musica Jazz votes William Jazz Musician of the Year in Italy

    Teaches at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music

  • 2006


    Premieres “Lakota Chamber Music” for woodwinds and “Light In The Hall of Whispers” for string ensemble

    Performs with theatre, dance and music piece “Looking For Cookie Gilchrist” in collaboration with Patricia Nicholson

  • 2007


    Premieres “Double Sunrise Over Neptune” at Vision Festival XII

    Premieres multimedia piece, “Expanded Humanity” with students from Humanities Preparatory Academy (NYC) and the Amistad Academy (Hartford, CT)

    Receives "Musician of the Year" award in Italy

    Time Out New York names Parker one of the “50 Greatest New York Musicians of All Time”

    Receives Nameless Sound Resounding Vision Award, Houston, TX

  • 2008


    Performs in Milano with the Curtis Mayfield Project

    Tours Europe with Tony Malaby and Nasheet Waits

  • 2009


    Lectures at political/music conference at Sons d’hiver Festival in Paris

    Performs with Milford Graves in the Azore Islands

  • 2010


    Performs live soundtrack for Jean Luc Godard’s film Alphaville at Nuovo Cinema, Bologna

    Performs with The Art Ensemble of Chicago in Philadelphia

  • 2011


    Performs live soundtrack to film by Sylvain George Courtisane in Paris

    Records string quartet plus saxophone improvisations with Daniel Carter for film “On Being Native”

  • 2012


    Premiers The Essence of Ellington w/ 15 piece orchestra in Milano

  • 2013


    Receives the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award for influence and impact on the creative jazz scene over the last 40 years

    NY Premier of Alphaville Suite performed live to Jean Luc Godard’s film

    Premiers “Ceremonies,” written for Wroclaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus in Poland

  • 2014


    Receives the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award for influence and impact on the creative jazz scene over the last 40 years

    Premiers new composition dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr., "Flower in a Stain Glass Window," over four days in Philadelphia

Short bio

William Parker is a bassist, improviser, composer, writer, and educator from New York City. He has recorded over 150 albums, published six books, and taught and mentored hundreds of young musicians and artists.  

He has been called “one of the most inventive bassists/leaders since [Charles] Mingus,” and “the creative heir to Jimmy Garrison and Paul Chambers...directly influenced by ‘60s avant-gardists like Sirone, Henry Grimes and Alan Silva.” The Village Voice called him, “the most consistently brilliant free jazz bassist of all time” and Time Out New York named him one of the “50 Greatest New York Musicians of All Time.”

Parker’s current active bands include the large-band Little Huey Creative Orchestra, the Raining on the Moon Sextet, the In Order to Survive Quartet, Stan’s Hat Flapping in the Wind, the Cosmic Mountain Quintet with Hamid Drake, Kidd Jordan, and Cooper-Moore, as well as a deep and ongoing solo bass study. His recordings have long been documented by the AUM Fidelity record label and on his own Centering Records, among others.

Over the decades, Parker has developed a reputation as a connector and hub of information concerning the history of creative music, recently culminating in a two hefty volumes of interviews with over 60 avant-garde and creative musicians, Conversations I & II.  He is also the subject of an exhaustive 468-page “sessionography” that documents thousands of performances and recording sessions, a remarkable chronicle of his prolificness as an active artist.

He has been a key figure in the New York and European creative music scenes since the 1970s, and has worked all over the world.  He has performed with Cecil Taylor, Don Cherry, Peter Brotzmann, Milford Graves, Peter Kowald, and David S. Ware, among many others. 

William Parker works all over the world but he always returns to New York’s Lower East Side, where he has lived since 1975.


Long bio

William Parker is a musician, improviser, composer, educator, and author. He plays the bass, shakuhachi, double reeds, tuba, donso ngoni and gembri. Born in 1952 in the Bronx, New York, he studied bass with Richard Davis, Art Davis, Milt Hinton, Wilber Ware, Jimmy Garrison, and Paul West. During Parker’s prolific career, he has recorded over 150 albums, had countless celebrated stage appearances, and helped shaped the jazz scene for both his peers and the youth. In 2013, Parker received the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award in recognition of his influence and impact on the creative jazz scene over the last 40 years.

William entered the music scene in 1971, playing at Studio We, Studio Rivbea, Hilly’s on The Bowery, and The Baby Grand. By the age of 20, Parker quickly became a highly sought after bassist, playing with established musicians such as Ed Blackwell, Don Cherry, Bill Dixon, Milford Graves, Billy Higgins, and Sunny Murray.  Early projects with dancer and choreographer Patricia Nicholson created a huge repertoire of composed music for multiple ensembles ranging from solo works to big band projects. In 1980, he became a member of the Cecil Taylor Unit, in which he played a prominent role for over a decade. 

Since the beginning of his career, William Parker has commanded a unique degree of respect from his fellow musicians and critics alike. In 1995, the Village Voice characterized William Parker as "the most consistently brilliant free jazz bassist of all time." In addition to his work with artists in the United States, he has developed a strong relationship with musicians in the European Improvised Music scene such as Peter Kowald, Peter Brotzmann, Han Bennink, Tony Oxley, Derek Bailey, John Tchicai, Louis Sclavis, and Louis Moholo.  

William Parker began recording in 1994 and founded the ensembles In Order To Survive and The Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra. In 2001, he released O’Neal’s Porch, which marked a turn toward a more universal sound working with drummer Hamid Drake. The Raining on the Moon Quintet followed, adding vocalist Leena Conquest and the Quartet from O’Neal’s Porch. Most notable among many recent projects is the Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield. 

As Steve Greenlee of the Boston Globe stated in July 2002, “William Parker has emerged as the most important leader of the current avant-garde scene in jazz.” Parker has consistently worked in many of the most important groups within this genre, including his own. He currently leads The Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, In Order to Survive, Raining on the Moon, Stan’s Hat Flapping in the Wind, and The Cosmic Mountain Quartet with Hamid Drake, Kidd Jordan, and Cooper-Moore.

Parker has released over 20 albums under his leadership, most reaching #1 on the CMJ charts. In 1995, he debuted The Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra with the release of Flowers Grow In My Room on the Centering label.  Recent years saw the release of several monumental box sets, including 2013’s Wood Flute Songs and 2015’s For Those Who Are, Still, highlighting the work of Parker’s many groups and large ensembles.  His recordings appear on the Aum Fidelity label and his own Centering Music, among others.  

These releases and their success showcase William Parker as an outstanding composer and bandleader. From the beginning of his musical career, William Parker has been prolific; composing music for almost every group with whom he has performed. His compositions span the range of operas, oratorios, ballets, film scores, and soliloquies for solo instruments. He has also successfully explored diverse concepts in instrumentation for large and small ensembles. 

A passionate educator, William Parker has taught at Bennington College, NYU, The New England Conservatory of Music, Cal Arts, New School University and Rotterdam Conservatory of Music. He has also taught music workshops throughout the world including Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, and the Lower East Side. Parker is a theorist and author of several books including  Who Owns Music?, Conversations I & II, Voices in the First Person, Scrapbook: Notes and Blueprints, Sound Journal, and The Mayor of Punkville.  Additionally, he has released three volumes of poetry and a theatre piece titled Music and the Shadow People. 

“He (William Parker) is something of a father figure,” stated Larry Blumenfeld in the New York Times. He has looked for and encouraged young talent and has been a mentor to many younger musicians. Most importantly for Mr. Parker have been the workshops/performances for young people that he has conducted in both the USA and Europe. These have been for him among some of his most important projects and greatest successes.