Jonathan Parker – Jonathan Parker Group (2010)

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by S. Victor Aaron

Many up and coming jazz artists we’ve covered here typically come from just about every corner of the U.S.A., attend a prestigious music school and, perhaps after some intermediate stop at a regional jazz hub, eventually end up in the intensely competitive but vibrant environs of New York City. After all, “if you can make it in NYC, you can make it anywhere,” so the saying goes. The story of the young alto saxophonist Jonathan Parker fits that template, too. A native of the Washington, D.C. area, Parker went on to music studies at The Oberlin Conservatory Of Music, where he got to learn under Robin Eubanks and Gary Bartz (a criminally underrated altoist who shone brightly playing for McCoy and Miles). Parker had also gotten to perform with jazz leading lights like Dave Brubeck, Slide Hampton and Jimmy Heath.

However, before landing in New York last fall, his career took him to another place not first thought of as a destination for American jazz musicians: Shanghai. Parker had nonetheless found a small but very accommodating scene playing with other American expatriates, mostly from Oberlin. The two year stint afforded him gigs about five or six days a week, and during his time there he sharpened his songwriting skills there to the point that he was ready to make his first record. The first session occurred in October of 2009 and the second one nearly a year later in September of 2010, just before departing China for New York, with much of the same personnel.

The resulting debut album, Jonathan Parker Group, was quickly mixed and mastered upon his return to the States and released last December 1. The term “Group,” instead of “Quintet,”Quintet,” “Sextet,” etc. alludes to the fact that there are different configurations across these seven originals. Parker’s base quartet consisted of him, Sean Higgins on piano and electric piano, Curtis Ostle on acoustic bass and Alex Ritz on drums. Some of the tracks were supplemented with Lawrence Ku on guitar, Andres Boiarsky on tenor sax, Theo Croker on trumpet and Mindy Ruskovich on trombone.

The varying size of the group gave Parker flexibility in how to present each of his tunes, and I think he exploited it well. The opening “Clearyisms” employs a septet that functions as a mini-big band, as Parker, Croker, Boiarsky, Higgins and Ritz all take turns expressing themselves in the swing format. The cool, RnB flavored sounds of “CO86” has deceptive crossover appeal with Higgins manning a Rhodes, but it’s actually a tune full of complexities with shifting rhythms and a slinky melodic construction.

“Lois,” a lively and sunny waltz, is Parker’s big performance highlight. His alto sax is quite unlike the light, nimble attack of a Cannonball Adderley or Jackie McLean. On his nearly three minute solo, Parker is honkin’ it like a tenor sax, pouring a lot of soul, passion and articulation into it. At the same time, Parker can play it feathery and whimsical as on the soft-toned “Jacqui.”

“Minimum Wage,” which closes out the album, shows just how highly developed Parker’s compositional skills already are: a bossa nova rhythm is used, but it’s harmonics seem to speak another language. The harmony is a descending and ascending progression of chords, as the melody is mostly expressed in Parker/Ku and sometimes Ostle unison runs, darting from one point to another in shifty, unexpected ways. The components fit together right to comprise of a song that throw off a little mysterious, dark but compelling vibe.

Right now, Jonathan Parker Group is available only as a download from Band Camp, but the great thing about Band Camp is that full streams from every track are available. Jonathan Parker Group may someday be available in physical form, but in whatever form it’s in, it presents a very strong introduction to the music and saxophone prowess of a talent who is poised to make his mark in that crowded NYC scene.

Visit Jonathan Parker’s website here.

Purchase: Jonathan Parker – Jonathan Parker Group

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on,, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at
S. Victor Aaron
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