Saturday, May 17, 2008

Billy Parker's Fourth World - "Freedom of Speech" - (1975)

'Dance of the Little Children' excerpt

'Get With It' excerpt

(with 15 album blog links)

Most of the musicians who gathered to record this lovely spiritual jazz record for the Strata-East label on May 24th, 1974 had crossed each other's paths in various musical pairings over the preceding few years.

Husband and wife team Dee Dee Bridgewater (vocals) and Cecil Bridgewater (trumpet) had been working together on albums like Frank Foster's "Loud Minority", and Roy Ayers' "Coffy" and "Virgo Red".

Dee Dee was a vocalist much in demand. In the year preceding this session,she'd appeared on Carlos Garnett's funky "Black Love", Norman Connors' beautiful "Love From the Sun" and had shared memorable duet vocals with Andy Bey on Stanley Clarke's "Children of Forever" - just to name a few absolute classics!

Ten weeks before the "Freedom Of Speech" session, the couple had been joined in Tokyo by Cecil's brother Ronald Bridgewater (tenor saxaphone) to record Dee Dee's debut album, the beautiful "Afro Blue", on which the brothers had added african percussion instruments to their arsenal.

Also in the studio on May 24th, 1974 was Donald Smith, (piano, vocals), fresh from recording on his older brother Lonnie Liston Smith's "Cosmic Funk" - on which Ronald Bridgewater had also played percussion.

Cecil McBee (bass) was also there - just two weeks before, he'd completed his own Strata East date "Mutima", and in February he'd played on Mtume's "Rebirth Cycle" - with both albums also featuring Dee Dee Bridgewater on vocals. He'd also played on Lonnie Liston Smith's "Astral Travelling".

So 1974 was a huge year for all five of these people (and, seemingly, for great jazz music). Within a month of this album, the Bridgewaters would be back in the studio to take part in Thad Jones & Mel Lewis' big-band "Potpourri", before working on two McCoy Tyner albums, two O'Donel Levy albums and a couple for Roy Ayers. Donald Smith and Cecil McBee were six months away from recording on Lonnie Liston Smith's massive "Expansions", with McBee fitting in a few Pharoah Sanders albums in between.

Billy Parker - from the cover of "Freedom Of Speech"


So with all this fervent activity, the question has to be asked ...

** Who was Billy Earl Parker Jr (drums), the leader of this session ??

Billy Parker remains unlisted as a musician on all major jazz sites. Hours of Google revealed little, and the only known photos are above. Even in the cover pic at the top of this post, his name seems to be fading into the ringwear ...

His only other recording appears to be as a percussionist on Charles Tolliver's "Impact" in 1975. Then there's nothing.

For a moment, I worried that he might be this killer, but then worked out that he would have been nine years old when he'd recorded this album.

Finally, by backtracking one of those Zoom info pages, I found a summary of a "SUNY Rockland Community College" 2002 press release that no longer exists :

"Billy Parker's Fourth World Legacy Concert 

The concert, Billy Parker's Fourth World Legacy, is the eighth annual tribute honoring the late percussionist and RCC educator, Billy Parker. A long-time Rockland County resident, Parker began his affiliation with RCC in 1987, building its jazz program and maintaining his life-long tradition of teaching and inspiring others. A lifelong student himself, Parker was near completion of his doctorate in music education at New York University when he died in 1996. Billy was among those rare individuals equally gifted as artist and educator and the concert series pays homage to his legacy."

Nothing on him at the actual Rockland Community College website, but a little more digging through back issues of their pdf newsletters revealed that the tenth annual "Fourth World Legacy Concert series" took place in 2005, as part of "Black History Awareness Month", but then it stopped.

So perhaps Parker was one of those musicians who shift their creative skills to teaching ? Whatever the case, his one date as leader was a special one, and he managed to bring together all these people at the peak of their powers. He's also a great drummer.


The standouts on this album are the two joyous vocal tracks that start each side.
Donald Smith and Ron Bridgewater's "Dance of the Little Children" begins with a call to children to embrace their ancestry and find peace and happiness in the everyday, in order to find a future (yes, it's 1974!). Smith's vocal and piano embrace a harder, faster swing than the mellower tones of his brother's band at that time. The Bridgewater brothers move in and out of a synchronised melody, adding improvised tones around the vocal, and McBee holds a walking beat while Parker is all shimmering cymbals and offbeat snare.

The other vocal track is Ron Bridgewater's "Get With It", featuring a killer vocal by Dee Dee Bridgewater. Cecil McBee's memorable bassline does call-and-answer with the Bridgewater brothers' sax and trumpet. Parker zooms around the kit with constantly changing patterns while Smith holds the fort with simple chord patterns.

Cecil McBee's "Home" allows all of the musicians to stretch out in considered solos, while "Gemini's Lullaby" is a more straight-ahead affair.

Finally, there's Parker's sixteen-minute "Freedom Of Speech". After a three-minute drum solo - which I have to admit I always skip over - we move into a complex series of interlocking rhythms, with the brass and sax heading off into fairly free territory. Now on Rhodes, Donald Smith seems in close communication with McBee's fast, arpeggiated basslines. The two of them would come together again the next year with drummer Jack dejohnette for the album "Luv", Smith's only date as leader.

Final words from Billy Parker, from the cover notes :

"The Fourth World was born out of the need to preserve and develop on a tradition brought to these shores from Africa centuries ago."


Strata-East, Catalogue #SES-19754.
Recorded May 24th, 1974. Released 1975


Arranged by - Cecil Bridgewater
Composed - Donald Smith
Lyrics By - Ronald Bridgewater

Composed By - Cecil Bridgewater

03 HOME (8:17)
Composed By, Arranged By - Cecil McBee

04 GET WITH IT (4:03)
Arranged By - Cecil Bridgewater
Composed By - Ronald Bridgewater

Composed By - Billy Parker


Piano, Vocals - Donald Smith
Bass - Cecil McBee
Drums, Producer - Billy Parker
Saxophone [Tenor] - Ronald Bridgewater
Trumpet - Cecil Bridgewater
Vocals - Dee Dee Bridgewater

Artwork By [Inside Cover Design] - Vernon Grant
Engineer [Recording] - Ron Carran
Mixed By - Randy Adler
Liner Notes - Billy Earl Parker Jr.
Photography - Darnell C. Mitchell


Thanks to all the bloggers who i've linked to in this post, hope you enjoy some traffic :)

BIG thanks to Reza for the nice new vinyl rip, replacing the crap one I've had up at Ish's wants list for a few months ..

also separate link for the COVERS

... and don't forget the Strata-East Fan Club for more albums from this great catalogue.


Simon666 said...


* vinyl rip, please thanks Reza for this!


* Don’t miss these covers – 2MB scans of front. Back, inner sleeves including lyrics and details, i.e. more than what’s displayed in the post.

Also, in case you didn’t notice – all albums mentioned in this post have links taking you to blogs where you can find them.

Finally, if anyone’s up for doing a bit more detective work on Billy Parker, please post your findings here.

Hope you enjoy, PLEASE leave comments

ish said...

Such thorough research, Simon. Great work. FYI Virgo Red is next up at Ile Oxumare...hopefully this weekend.

Simon666 said...

Cool, i'll link it in when it's up. Thanks ish!

soulbrotha said...

I am down with anything with Dee Dee B. on it. Love her!


Fd said...

Superb album, one of my favourites. You're doing a really good work in here. Keep going! Thanks so much

Lafayette said...

Hey, Simon...great post! :¬)

Regarding the Herbie request...go right ahead – use whatever you need! And thanks again for the Herbie contributions!

/Laf & The B's

alex said...

fantastic post simon
big thanks man!

Djalma said...

Another great one Simon! I'm sorry, I totally forgot to thank you for the Curtis Mayfield link... So, thanks! Peace...


gotz said...

fantastic record and storytelling

thanx very very much

Simon666 said...

Hi guys,

If any of you were following the album links in the first section of the post - i.e. blog links for albums the musicians had worked on together before - I've added TWO more there.

They are :

'Virgo Red' - Roy Ayers
(Dee Dee and Cecil Bridgewater)


'Rebirth Cycle' - Mtume
(Dee Dee Bridgewater, Cecil McBee)

If the links are hard to copy (as they are sometimes on these comments pages), click the "Freedom Of Speech" title at the top of this page and copy from the version of the comments that then appears.


Simon666 said...

... or, of course,you can click them in the post itself

Anonymous said...


nick said...

Incredibly useful and insightful info... but I couldn't get the link to the rip to work - can you post it again?

catacaldos said...

Thanx.I love your work,specially with all that excellent information.

Gianni said...

thanks simon!

chrisd said...

Simon, you are the man! Gorgeous album!

Wallofsound said...

Thanks for the great 'essay'. I've always loved this record. I purchased it at the time of its original release, I suspect because it featured Donald Smith, and I knew of his work with his brother Lonnie Liston Smith.

RG_one said...

should be interesting, thx

taro nombei said...

Hey Simon.
I dl'ed this a while back, so it's high time that I came back to comment...
just want to say it's a brilliant post, not just the music -- for which many thanks Reza -- but all the background info tying the musicians together.
Much appreciated! Keep up the great work!

Simon666 said...

Glad you enjoyed it taro (or is it nombei? - you never know with japanese names) :) More jazz coming soon here, actually working right now on a similar post - intertwining musicians' histories together etc ... ) ... anyway thanks for your comments.

Julian said...

i feel like I've come across this recently but don't know where. very cool to check this out. thx for the share. the Reza is the man of course :)

powerpool said...

As always: fabulous post. I am only after getting into this kind of music, coming from jazz myself - thanks to your posts which I stumbled upon by chance(?). I am in complete awe of your efforts and cannot thank you enough.

Simon666 said...

Thanks Powerpool, good to know someone's digging in the back posts, so that it's not just all ephemeral :)

Solomon said...

Thank you.

Simon666 said...

no problems solomon :)

These Things Will Never Fade said...

Amazing album ... thank you

JJ said...

Thanks for the music and the education...

trakbuv said...

Donald Smith (LL Smith's bro ?) and Dee Dee on vocals makes this a must. Many thanks for sharing Simon.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Simon & ish,

I have the Dee Dee vocal tracks on
CD comps but had never heard the rest of the album before.

Thanks as always for sharing the good stuff!

Jazz Obsessive

Anonymous said...

Apologies to Reza for the mistaken name drop above.

Thank you REZA.

Jazz Obsessive

Cosmo Vitelli said...

Thank you for this fine work.
I'd do anything to learn about a Strata East prodution I still do not known about

the_down_Low said...

one of my treasured records for sure, do you think the drummer looks a little like earl palmer?

Anonymous said...

Just been reissued on CD this month here in Japan by Think! Records (along with another very rare Strata-East recording, "Re:percussion" by M'Boom).

Both are beautiful, thick paper jacket gatefold...very sweet indeed.

Cosmo Vitelli said...

Hi. With the due thank you for all the music you made me discover, as 'anonimous' anticipated here's Billy Parker single masterpiece in pristine, beautiful and respectful Japan cd edition, MP3 128kbps:

Chas said...

Billy Parker was my uncle, married to my mom's sister. He was absolutely an amazing and humble musician and human being. There certainly is not enough about him on the internet, but he did devote his entire life to playing and educating others in the art of jazz music, as well as classical and rock. I wish I would've gotten to know him better, but they lived in NY and us in MI, and he passed away when I was only 13. Still I am very happy to see people showing appreciation for what he as a superb jazz musician did accomplish.

Aaron Fuller said...

Billy Parker was my uncle. He was an incredibly talented, smart, and kind man. I'm very happy to see that folks are still enjoying his masterpiece.

Just to give you a bit more information about him... He was born and raised in Buffalo, NY and then attended college at Michigan State University. He met my aunt in Lansing. They lived in NY and toured in Europe for quite a while. Some time later they relocated to Nyack, NY and he ended up on the faculty of the community college while he pursued advanced degrees from NYU. He was an Ellington scholar.

Although his name isn't well-known even among the most avid jazz fans, I think that if you were to talk to some of the great NY musicians that were around in the late 60s and 70s you would find that most knew him. He also had a huge impact as a music educator and I have no doubt that his former students are all over the place, continuing to put his love of the art into practice.

Let me know if you have any specific questions. I can always ask my aunt what she recalls about those times.

Simon666 said...

Thanks a lot for posting the information, Aaron! I'll add your information to the post ... for some reason Blogger isn't letting me edit posts today, so will get to it tomorrow .... I guess if you're talking to your aunt some time, maybe you could ask what she remembers about the time this album was recorded, any little stories from those days?
But anyway, thanks a lot for your post!

Aaron Fuller said...

Simon, I will try to get some more details for you when I talk to her next. I did mention this to my parents and they recalled to me the time that they met Cecil McBee at Billy's apartment in the city when they visited, probably in 1974 or 1975. They remember that he'd crocheted himself frames for his glasses that he was really proud of, so there's a weird little tidbit for you. Ha!

Simon666 said...

LOL that's an excellent piece of lost jazz history Aaron :)

Aaron Fuller said...


I spoke with my aunt a bit more about the recording of the album. She said that one of the reasons she thinks it turned out so well is that Billy made sure to pay all of the musicians really well and give them their pay up front. Billy had apparently gotten some sort of grant from the NEA around that time that probably really helped on the funding front. I asked how he knew this group of players and she thought that he'd probably met some of them when he was playing around Europe (Italy, Amersterdam, and Copenhagen, mostly). Often times bigger American acts would come around and need to pick up a drummer for their gigs and then be thrilled to find a New York guy at their disposal. He apparently made a lot of good long-term contacts.

She's been giving everyone in our family the records she still has. We told her she could probably make some good money selling them online, but she is more interested in making sure that we all have copies and keep listening to it.

Jazzman Records Blog Page said...

Hi Simon/Aaron, this is all very interesting! Aaron, would it be possible to get in touch with me at THANKS Gerald