From the halls of the Baptist church all the way to Carnegie Hall and beyond, JD Parran has lived an inspired life. As a young boy growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, inheriting an affinity for the city’s musical traditions seemed almost inevitable. It was no surprise then, that after spending years absorbing music most predominantly through his church, Parran knew by age 15 that he wanted to be a professional musician.For Parran, there was really no other option. “The path was clear for me,” he remarked; so, from that point forward he became a dedicated student of the craft. Building off his roots, Parran was already ahead of his time with a strong interest in world music, and then added to that a tradition of classical and American styles which set him on an accelerated track to becoming the virtuoso he is today.
Crucial for any professional musicians, Parran says, is a strong foundation. He was fortunate growing up around individuals who recognized his dedication and talents and put him on the fast track to success. After years with his high school choral director Kenneth Billups, who played a big influence in helping develop that foundation, he recommended Parran to an all-city music theory program at Washington University in St. Louis, where the intensive focus on music theory helped to elevate him to a level beyond his peers.
Parran completed his formal education in St. Louis up to the Masters level, before continuing to follow his path that led him to New York. His appreciation for jazz and world music had only grown with his more formal classical European training. It was in New York though, during a time of great cultural and stylistic exploration, that Parran really came into his own.
When you first meet JD Parran, his warm smile and welcoming demeanor reveals that, at his core, Parran is a people person. He relishes in the give-and-take and mutual growth that comes from interacting with people from all walks of life. New York then, seemed a natural step for him as a developing musician, and by building his connections in the music world there he grew as an artist. He found that even with his strong background in theory, jazz theory still proved troublesome, so he made it a point to study with the masters at his disposal in New York City.
George Coleman of the Miles Davis quintet was instrumental in his progression as well as Kirk Nurock, who teaches at the jazz program at New School and was a theory teacher adept at both styles: jazz and classical theory. A teacher who he has relied on continuously throughout the years is Mr. Les Scott, who Parran first met in St. Louis while he was playing with the St. Louis Symphony. As Parran remarks, you can always be improving your skills, and while now they may be considered peers musically, he still relies on him as a sounding board, for critiques as well as in-depth discussions about music today.
Now, Parran is widely known as an elite woodwind performer and his journey has led him to play with some of the world’s most esteemed performers, including Geri Allen, the Anthony Davis Clarinet Concerto with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Earle Howard, Howard Johnson and even Levon Helm, whom he recently visited with at the Ramble that takes place at The Barn in upstate New York.
Most recently, he has performed as part of The Particle Ensemble and Ensemble Helacious at Greenwich House Music. Parran was also featured in the North River Music concert series with his solo concert on clarinet, premiering Greenwich House Music Director Menon Dwarka’s latest composition, Leave to Remain. The pair first met when Dwarka served as the Chair of the Music Department at Harlem School of the Arts starting in 2008. He also forged new ground working with the painter Jeff Schlanger, whom he collaborated with to incorporate a live painting component into his performances. Parran will give two concerts this spring at Greenwich House Music School as part of the Clarinet Ensemble, which he began at Greenwich House when he joined the faculty in 2010 after Mr. Dwarka came on board.
As a teacher, Parran worked for 28 years at the Harlem School for the Arts before coming on board at Greenwich House , where he transitioned from his role working mostly with young beginners to now mostly teaching adults. While he welcomes this shift and enjoys the chance to teach the upper levels of his art, he hopes to build on his experience to further develop the woodwind department at the school, especially among young players he hopes will be inspired by his example.
“If students see a level of excellence that can be achieved, it encourages them to remain dedicated. I try to have each of my students stop and appreciate what they’ve accomplished, as I too try to do every day myself. If you can be proud of what you get done on a day-to-day basis instead of becoming discouraged with what you don’t, it keeps you striving to do more. Every day I get up and apply myself to my music, in some capacity.”
Given his contributions thus far, one can look forward to the great results that will yield in the future at Greenwich House Music.
Photo Credit: Norberto Vallé Jr.