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Like father, like son: Parkers join forces in jazz quartet

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    Gene Parker plays the saxophone.

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    Gene Parker

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    Gene Parker plays the saxophone.

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    Gene Parker plays the saxophone.

Expect a father-son show with a cool jazzy vibe when saxophonist Gene Parker and his son, bassist Ray Parker, perform as part of a quartet Thursday night inside the Old West End’s Collingwood Arts Center, 2413 Collingwood Blvd.

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Gene Parker

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Neither is a stranger to the Toledo music scene, although Ray, a Perrysburg native who has lived in New York City and performed in some of the Big Apple’s most iconic jazz clubs for years, is only available to perform in the Midwest a few times a year.

The concert, presented by the Art Tatum Jazz Society, is from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Cost is $35 for non-members, $25 for members, and $15 for students. They can be purchased via PayPal or from the society. Doors open at 6 p.m. For information, send an email to info@arttatumsociety.com, or call 419-241-5299.

Gene Parker, a 1980 National Endowment for the Arts recipient who was the University of Toledo’s jazz studies director from 1993 to 1995, teaches jazz at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio, and at Wayne State University in Detroit. A Perrysburg resident, he is a Maumee High School graduate.

For years, he was a fixture at the former Rusty’s Jazz Cafe, Murphy’s Place, Degage, and the Toledo area’s other well-known jazz clubs. At age 74, he still plays multiple instruments and performs with combos as many as six times a week. He can be heard at most Sunday brunches at the Holiday Inn French Quarter in Perrysburg and on various dates at Ye Olde Durty Bird in downtown Toledo, among many other venues.

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Gene Parker plays the saxophone.

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Now one of the deans on the local jazz scene, Gene Parker has a charming personality and optimistic view about the future of jazz, saying without hesitation that it’s an art form that will be around as long as people appreciate creativity and inspiration.

“Jazz isn’t something that’s an endangered species,” Gene Parker said. “Such a thing that includes the human spirit and creativity is not in danger of dying.”

He later adds: “It’s got this freedom in it. Jazz is ever-changing because it’s got this open door.”

Gene Parker is a former Toledo Jazz Orchestra musical director-composer-pianist and has been a guest artist for the Toledo Symphony and the Detroit Symphony.

He has taught and inspired hundreds of students, many of whom have gone on to professional careers. In addition to saxophone, he plays vibes, clarinet, flute, percussion, bass, cornet, piccolo, and piano, and has performed in the past with stars such as Tony Bennett, Dizzy Gillespie, Nancy Wilson, Mel Torme, Billy Eckstein, Lou Rawls, Gladys Knight, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Zoot Sims. He once toured with the Three Irish Tenors, playing flute, piccolo, cornet, and penny whistles.

He said he loves doing jam sessions with his students, especially when his son’s in the area with him.

“There’s no limit to what can happen,” Gene Parker said.

Ray Parker, 52, credits his father for helping him become an accomplished bassist.

“To me, it’s the most normal thing in the world,” he said of performing with his father, something he does about a half-dozen times a year and wants to do more often.

“I’m at an age and he’s at an age where it appears you’re running out of time,” Ray Parker said.

Recently, they’ve been performing under the banner of “Parkers Present,” a loosely knit series of shows in which they sometimes get a top-shelf musician or two from New York to venture out of the world-class club scene and join them in the Upper Midwest. Often, there’s also a Toledo-area musician or two thrown into the mix.

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Gene Parker plays the saxophone.

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Ray Parker said he’s planning more of those events in the Toledo-Detroit-Ann Arbor-Chicago region, with hopes of doing similar shows out West and in other parts of the country.

New York is “kind of a candy store for live jazz,” Ray Parker said. “A lot of musicians there either stay in New York or go to Europe. So it’s a chance for me to bring some people here and expose my tribe to them.”

“I’m bringing in the heaviest guns that can be brought in,” he added.

While here, Ray Parker participates in master jazz classes with his father, whom he said has “really dedicated his whole life to making jazz stay alive” in this area.

Gene Parker and his son, Ray Parker, perform 6:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday at the Old West End’s Collingwood Arts Center, 2413 Collingwood Blvd., in a concert presented by the Art Tatum Jazz Society. Tickets are $35 for non-members, $25 for members, and $15 for students. They can be purchased via PayPal or from the society. Doors open at 6 p.m. For information, send an email to info@arttatumsociety.com, or call 419-241-5299.

Contact Tom Henry at thenry@theblade.com, 419-724-6079, or via Twitter @ecowriterohio.

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