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Aaron Parks: Projecting The 'Invisible Cinema'

In the constant race to find the next cure for jazz (hint: it ain't broken), pianist Aaron Parks seems perfectly content to set his own pace. Parks, a 24-year-old Seattle native, discovered music intuitively.

"I started trying to mimic the sounds of the Pacific Northwest thunderstorms," Parks says. "I was trying to create the sound of rain, of thunder, of wind — all sorts of different elements. I was just trying to create sound effects, basically, even though I didn't know what I was doing on the instrument."

Lessons followed, with Parks learning songs by ear. His early infatuation with Glenn Miller's "In the Mood" and subsequent performance of the song earned Parks a chance to advance. He took it.

By 19, Parks was touring with trumpeter Terence Blanchard. Blanchard's working band provided laboratory space for the young artist.

"He let everybody play the way they wanted to play," Parks says. "He didn't dictate too much to them. That sort of free rein to try things out and fall on your face is invaluable. I finished college at 18, but the real school started right after that in his band — the school of the road."

Parks visited the WBGO studio with the same quartet that appears on Invisible Cinema, his major-label debut. The group played three songs. "Peaceful Warrior" opens the session. "It was originally called 'Peaceful Warrior,'" Parks says, "and then I changed the title five times." He settled with "Illumination" at the studio, but he met resistance from the band. "They all had images in their mind of samurai rushing down a hill. They were so attached to that song title that they convinced me that I needed to keep it." These are peaceful warriors, yes? "Maybe the samurai are rushing down a hill to give hugs," Parks says.

"Nemesis" is the shocker. Parks wrote the song as a member of guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel's band with him in mind. "Whenever he plays that song, he digs into the melody like a dog that just got a big, juicy piece of meat, and he's growling and shaking his head back and forth," Parks says. "That's maybe a really disturbing image. That's a nasty little song." The piano introduction is virtually a standalone piece of music. Be sure to listen for the cell phone interfering with the guitar amp at the end, and add that image to a piece of music that begs for visuals.

Our studio session ends with "Harvesting Song," a sweeping drama with a rock anthem built on "Fratres I," from Estonian composer Arvo Part.

I would say that this is jazz that rocks, but it's neither of those things. They're just stories waiting for yours.

Originally recorded June 19, 2008.

Listen to the previous Favorite Session, or see our full archive.

Copyright 2008 WBGO

Josh Jackson is the associate general manager for content at WRTI in Philadelphia.