Aaron Parks Crafts a New Context


Keyboardist Aaron Parks, bassist David “DJ” Ginyard, guitarist Greg Tuohey and drummer Tommy Crane collaborated on Little Big.

(Photo: Steve Sussman)

Parks parsed the respective thought processes that generated Little Big and Find The Way. “With Little Big, I had a clear vision and wanted to recruit people who are also interested in that vision, who can bring it into even clearer focus with their own elements,” he said. “With the trio, it’s the opposite—the idea was really about surrender—not to impose my will. I said as little as possible to Ben and Billy about how I conceived the music, because my interest was to get their pure and natural reactions to it after we’d done a six-gig tour in the U.K.

“Manfred was in the studio when we recorded [Find The Way], and the first tune was ‘Melquíades,’ which is one of my favorites and wound up being the next-to-last track. Manfred said, ‘Oh, this is nice.’ Then we recorded the second tune, which is ‘Adrift,’ and he said, right away, ‘That’s the first track on the album.’ A few tunes later, we did ‘Song For Sashou,’ and he said, ‘This is track 2.’ I was like, ‘Let Manfred make records the way he does, and see what happens.’ What’s interesting is that the beginning track feels on the verge of falling apart a couple of times, like three people who are starting to find each other. As the record continues, it comes into clearer focus, and by the last two tracks it feels like a breathing unit of one thing.”

Speaking of sequencing, Parks said that he followed pianist Micah Thomas’ suggestion to end Little Big with “Good Morning,” an ascendant rock-out anthem, followed by “Doors Open,” a ruminative miniature. “I was puzzled by how to place them, because they’re both B major and start with a repeated piano figure, and I thought they were too similar to go anywhere near each other,” Parks said. “Micah told me to double down on the similarity and make ‘Doors Open’ feel like a coda.”

This interaction highlights the fact that Parks—who joined Blanchard at 18—has adopted the role of mentor and avatar to more than a few of New York’s best-and-brightest up-and-comers. In this regard, he cited an end-of-September gig at Smalls when he’ll play new music in a quintet that includes tenor saxophonist Maria Grande, trumpeter Marquis Hill and drummer Savannah Harris. Several recent encounters with trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, a longtime associate, have sparked thoughts of a possible duo project.

“I’ve got a number of different irons in the fire,” Parks said. “I’m learning so much now as a leader. I’m creating contexts that challenge me to do different things—that put me in situations where I still have to grow. I feel more clear than ever about the different directions I’m interested in pursuing. They’re separate, but they’re all connected at the same time.” DB

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