Most of the musicians who gathered to record this fantastic 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". 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". 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. 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.
AND THEN, THE MYSTERY ... 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. His only other recording appears to be as a percussionist on Charles Tolliver's "Impact" in 1975. Then there's nothing.
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 honouring 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.
But then people began to read this blog post, and in the comments, 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. Sometime 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."
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