The English saxophonist Evan Parker turns 78 on Tuesday, April 5, and if artistic exploration and innovation were rewarded, he would be feted worldwide. Like Anthony Braxton, Parker has taken the jazz tradition to the outer limits of what constitutes jazz and even what constitutes music. In his prolific fifty-plus years of recording, Parker has established himself as one of the most original, most challenging, and indeed, most rewarding musicians on the contemporary scene. His music is never background music, and he has hardly ever even worked with conventional forms, preferring the rewards of artistic integrity to those of widespread popular acclaim. But after a lifetime of being on the avant-garde of the avant-garde and winning respect for his unflinching commitment to his art, Parker is getting heat even from those who have celebrated his work in the past. Evan Parker has committed wrongthink.
Even people who have never heard of Evan Parker and wouldn’t care for his music should note the ominous precedent that was embedded within the Washington Post’s review of his latest album, Descension (Out of Our Constrictions) with the Natural Information Society, a group of far-out jazzmen from Chicago. The Post’s popular music (a category in which the master saxophonist defiantly does not belong) critic, Chris Richards, was full of praise for “the tenacious British saxophonist Evan Parker,” and said that the album “felt responsive, propulsive and alive.” However: “Parker is 77, musically collegial, but a covid-19 denier.”
Richards went on to note with unconcealed lemming outrage that “in an interview published in April,” Parker “described the pandemic as ‘a sham’ designed to ‘harvest DNA and sell vaccines.’ Just like that, his remarks threatened to make his deeply empathetic new music make no sense at all.”
Wait a minute here. This is not vocal music. Neither Evan Parker nor anyone else says a word on the album, either about the COVID hysteria or anything else. Yet the Washington Post would have us believe that Parker’s COVID and vaccine skepticism “threatened” — threatened! — to render his new music meaningless.
This is pure Maoism: if your political views are not aligned with those of the elites, then everything you do is tainted and worthless. Like virtually all avant-garde artists, Parker has been reliably socialist up to now, but the Left doesn’t give out lifetime achievement awards. Chris Richards loves the music and waxes poetic about it: “this new album that Parker has made with Natural Information Society sounds like life, as if the band’s signature groove might be a growing, changing, living, breathing thing.” Parker’s astonishing technique is “inherently dazzling.” But Richards can’t let go of the fact that Parker is also a dissenter from everything he thinks is good and true: “So how could someone this attentive on the bandstand, this empathetic in song, this worldly in his playing come to the conclusion that a decimating global pandemic isn’t real? It baffles and burns.”
Richards also includes a veiled warning: “It’ll be a shame if Parker’s denialism ultimately fouls this band’s great art.” How could it, unless smarmy little fascists such as Chris Richards work to get Parker canceled and discredited because he has dared to enunciate politically unacceptable opinions? Parker’s music has nothing whatsoever to do with his politics: I myself have been entranced with it and fascinated by it for decades despite the fact that Parker has always been a man of the Left. The Left dominates the culture, and those who dissent from the Left’s agenda have grown accustomed to their heroes saying and doing things they dislike. Ultimately, I wasn’t voting for Evan Parker for any political office, and so his political views were not of paramount importance to me. I bought his recordings and loved his music, and that was all. I was also aware that in being a conservative who loved this innovative and challenging music, I was doubly a minority: conservatives usually hated the music, and those who loved the music were usually on the Left. I separated the music from the politics.
Chris Richards cannot do this. The Washington Post cannot do this. The Left cannot and will not do this. The review of Descension (Out of Our Constrictions) was a kind of warning: only those with acceptable opinions will be allowed to engage in artistic expression. Anyone else who dares to do so will find his work saddled with disclaimers and warnings, of course, presented more in sorrow than in anger, about his wrongthink.
This is a totalitarian mindset. It has no place whatsoever in a free society. If Richards likes Evan Parker’s music, that’s an entirely separate issue from whether or not he likes his opinions. But not anymore. Evan Parker is 78 as of Tuesday. He can look back on a long and productive career. If he were 28, however, he might be looking ahead at a career of rejection and ostracism, not from people who refused to try to understand what he was doing musically, but from those who refused to deal with an independent thinker. Groupthink is the spirit of the age.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of 23 books including many bestsellers, such as The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), The Truth About Muhammad and The History of Jihad. His latest book is The Critical Qur’an. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.