Doug Schulkind's
Sound Mind

A Different Drummer

Errol Parker, who died last week at the age of 72, marched to the beat of a different drummer. Unlike all those other people marching to their own special rhythm, Errol was his own different drummer.

Born Raph Schecroun in French colonized Algeria, Errol fought for France in World War II, then studied sculpture at the École des Beaux-Arts and spent his spare time teaching himself piano. In the early '50s, he began gigging around the Paris jazz scene, most notably with Django Reinhardt as well a host of American expatriates like Don Byas and Kenny Clarke. In 1967, a time when a new round of American jazz players were streaming into Paris, Errol curiously made the reverse journey and moved to the States.

Settling in New York City, Errol continued jamming with a wide variety of musicians all the while developing an idiosyncratic philosophy of composition and performance. He formed his own bands to work out these musical theories -- which emphasized polytonality and simultaneous improvisation -- and founded his own label (Sahara) to distribute the results. Eventually, Errol switched from piano to playing drums exclusively, displaying a style of jazz drumming heavily influenced by North African percussion. His compositions, too, reflected a deepening commitment to rhythmic innovation. Typically, strains of salsa, samba, funk and hard-driving swing, along with myriad other references, found their way into Errol's pieces. In the early '80s, he convened the Errol Parker Tentet an astonishingly versatile band which, over the years showcased a revolving cast of some of the best young improvisors in jazz. The Tentet occasionally played standards (many by Parker favorite, Billy Strayhorn), but for the most part, the band was a working laboratory for Errol's unorthodox compositions and arrangements.

Look up "Parker" in the index of almost any jazz tome and you'll certainly see Charlie and be lucky to get Evan, but short of his own autobiography (A Flat Tire on My Ass, published in 1995), chances are virtually nil that Errol will be anywhere in sight. To be sure, he chose to work out his own aesthetic calculus in lieu of cultivating popular approval. Nevertheless, Errol Parker deserves to be recognized as having made significant contributions to the world of jazz and improvisation.

Doug Schulkind
(Check out my Sound Mind)