James Farm, which plays Jazz Alley July 17-20, includes jazz pianist Aaron Parks, saxophonist Joshua Redman, bassist Matt Penman and drummer Eric Harland.
When exactly the jazz pianist Aaron Parks became a prodigy is unclear, although he fit the description by the time he enrolled, at age 14, in the University of Washington to study music.
Now 26, what Parks remembers more clearly is the day, about four years later, that it seemed his time was up, when someone much younger than he sat in front of him and played the piano.
“I remember hearing Eldar (Djangirov) when he was 12 years old,” said Parks, who was then 16. “He came to the Lionel Hampton festival (in Moscow, Idaho) where I was playing. Here was this kid who could hear a solo and play it right back to you, Oscar Peterson stuff with both hands … I was never like that.
“The youth worship is such a funny thing, just in general, and in any type of music, but this type (jazz) in particular. I don’t know why people even care how young they are. I just want to hear some music that’s emotionally compelling.”
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Despite his early start and success in the business of jazz — he joined Terence Blanchard’s band at age 18, and two years ago recorded his own album, “Invisible Cinema,” with Blue Note Records — Parks has remained grounded and secure in his creative priorities, perhaps because he has had accommodating teachers, or perhaps because he was more concerned with what he could learn as a sideman than leading his own groups.
In a homecoming of sorts, Parks, who grew up on Whidbey Island, performs Thursday through Saturday night at Jazz Alley with James Farm, a band that intentionally calls itself a “collective,” founded on the equal talents of all four members.
The group is a year old and without a designated leader, even though there is plenty of star power to go around. In addition to Parks, James Farm includes the saxophonist Joshua Redman, bassist Matt Penman and drummer Eric Harland.
As modern jazz, James Farm is pared down. Riffs are easy to follow. The improvisation is melodic. Rhythms are complex but catchy. While much of modern jazz can sound like an exercise, James Farm sounds like songs.
The project suits Parks’ musical personality and his approach of letting his music unfold naturally like a story.
At the UW, Parks studied with pianist Marc Seales, taking computer-science classes at the same time because he did not imagine he could make a living as a musician.
Encouraged by pianist Joanne Brackeen, whom Parks met at a workshop, he moved with his family to New York and enrolled in the Manhattan School of Music to study with Kenny Barron.
“What was cool about all the teachers I had,” Parks said, “is that they didn’t come to me with an agenda trying to push anything down my throat. I didn’t learn any of the rules, and that left some enormous gaps, but that also allowed other things to be born.”
Hugo Kugiya: firstname.lastname@example.org