Chris Parks Interview with Jazz Guitar Life

“It changed my life. I knew I didn’t have any concept of how Bird put those phrases together or even where any of those notes were on my instrument. From the first lesson with Roni he told me if I really wanted to learn how to play this music I needed to go to Barry Harris’ class.”

Chris Parks

I have been a big Barry Harris fan for many years since first hearing him on the Joshua Breakstone debut album Wonderful. Since then I’ve watched whatever I could on YouTube and loved the Barry Harris teaching videos whenever I came across one. One day a new video popped up and it was this Jazz Guitar Player out of New Jersey who was teaching the Barry Harris method, I was hooked! In this interview Chris gives us a glimpse into his personal and professional life while also sharing his love for Barry Harris’ teachings. A great read and be sure to check out Chris’ YouTube channel for over 80 FREE “Things I’ve Learned From Barry Harris” videos. Enjoy.

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JGL: Hi Chris and thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to talk with Jazz Guitar Life. It is truly appreciated. First off, how old are you and what geographical area do you live in?

CP: Thank you. I’ll be 48 in May. I was born and raised in Queens NY and now reside in New Jersey.

JGL: For those who are not aware of you, could you give a quick elevator pitch about who you are?

CP:  I’m a Husband and a Dad. I’m also a student of Barry Harris since 1993.

JGL: How long have you been playing guitar for and at what age did you first get into guitar playing?

CP: I fell in love with the guitar at about 12 or 13. I started taking lessons at 15. 

JGL: Were you interested in jazz from the beginning or were there other musical interests before jazz?

CP: I wasn’t really aware of Jazz at that time. My Dad was a big Jazz fan and as a younger man saw most of the giants live (Kenny Burrell, Sonny Rollins, Miles etc..). I was actually into rock music and loved Van Halen, AC/DC, Kiss etc…

JGL: Can you recall that particular moment that first excited you about jazz guitar or jazz in general? The one that made you say “that’s what I want to do”!

CP: I remember taking an introduction to jazz course in a community college I was attending. Part of the course was listening to Jazz in class. I remember the professor putting on Charlie Parker’s “Embraceable You”. The feeling I got was unbelievable. It was the most beautiful solo I’d ever heard. The thing that really got me was right after it ended the teacher played the alternate take which was totally different but equally beautiful. It changed my life. I knew I didn’t have any concept of how Bird put those phrases together or even where any of those notes were on my instrument. Soon after I found a guitar player named Roni Ben Hur who was teaching at The Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. From the first lesson with Roni he told me if I really wanted to learn how to play this music I needed to go to Barry Harris’ class.

JGL: Similarly, was there a defining moment when you decided that Jazz Guitar would/could be your career path?

CP: The idea of a career at playing Jazz never really crossed my mind. I just wanted to become better. The teaching gigs and the restaurant gigs were keeping me afloat.

JGL: How difficult do you/did you find it making a living as a jazz guitar player, or have you found it to be relatively easy? I realize that with COVID this question may not have any relevance now, but think of the “before times”…or…what have you done to readjust your career path to butt heads with the pandemic.

CP: I wouldn’t consider myself in the same category as a lot of gigging Jazz guitar players. I teach and have been playing restaurant gigs and Weddings for more than 20 years.

JGL: What was your first guitar and what are you playing now?

CP: My first Jazz guitar was an Ibanez Joe Pass model. I’m currently playing a G&L custom shop ASAT made from Wenge wood.

JGL: What other gear are you using?

CP: A Princeton Reverb Amp.

JGL: Who were your influences on jazz guitar when you were beginning and have they stayed the same or have they changed over the years?

CP: My biggest influences were never guitar players but the 3 B’s: Barry Harris, Bud Powell, and Bird. As far as guitar players go though I’ve always loved Jimmy Raney and Kenny Burrell.

JGL: Who are you listening to today (guitarists or non-guitarists)? 

CP: I like listening to Bird, Bud Powell, Barry, Sonny Rollins, Coleman Hawkins etc…

JGL: Although I think we now know the answer to this question, I’ll ask anyway in case there is a surprise or two in your response 🙂 Who has been most influential in your life as a Jazz Guitarist?

CP: Barry!

JGL: Before we start talking about your relationship with Barry Harris and his teaching, congratulations on getting to the 12,700 subscriber mark on your YouTube channel (as of this writing). That is quite the accomplishment in the two years you’ve had the channel. It speaks not only to the pedagogy of Barry’s teaching but to your ability to showcase his thoughts in a clear, concise and fun manner.

CP: Thank You.

JGL: I’m sure you have shared this countless times, but would you mind talking about how you first became aware of Barry Harris. What was it that attracted you to him and how long did it take you to become a “disciple” of his teaching?

CP: Roni Ben Hur was my first Jazz guitar teacher. From the very first lesson he said I needed to study with Barry. Roni was playing with Barry in a sextet at the time with Lisle Atkinson, Leroy Williams, John Mosca and David Glasser and I saw that group a few times.

The first class I attended of Barry’s was at Rod Baltimore’s woodwinds and Brass store on 48th street. He was teaching there on Monday’s and Tuesday’s. I was completely lost in the first two minutes but I stayed because of what Barry was talking about. The sound I was hearing was exactly what made me love that Bird “Embraceable You” recording. It was the same feeling. I was hooked. Still am!

JGL: With all the variety of improvisational methodologies out there, what is it about Barry’s teaching that differs from all the rest?

CP: Since I’ve only studied with Barry, I’m ignorant of the other methods. I just know I’ve never felt the need to search elsewhere.

JGL: For the interested student looking to get into Barry’s “school” where should they start?

CP: I would take his Saturday Zoom class that you can register for on Barryharris.com I would also check out all of the wonderful videos of Barry teaching and playing on YouTube

JGL: Similarly, are the teachings of Barry Harris for everyone or is there a learning curve to get “acclimated” to his way?

CP: Like with anything, there is a learning curve but if I can do it, anyone can. It just takes some time.

JGL: From watching Barry Harris videos it’s quite apparent how passionate he is about this music and his approach to teaching which obviously has rubbed off on you for the betterment of others. What do you hope viewers of your channel get out of your lessons?

CP: I just hope they see how beautiful Barry’s method is and how lucky we all are that he is so willing to share it.

JGL: You’ve been around Barry since the mid 90’s I believe and are there any Barry Harris stories you’d like to share with Jazz Guitar Life readers? From what I’ve seen on his videos, he comes across caring and fun but stern as well.

CP: I never found him to be stern, just serious about excellence. He’s trying to get the best out of all of us, any instrument, any level.

JGL: Has Barry seen your YouTube channel and if so, what did he think?

CP: I don’t think he’s seen it. I’m sure there would be a lot of corrections if he had.

JGL: Apart from your YouTube videos do you teach privately as well and if so, how does one go about studying with you? Is there a particular level of student you are looking for?

CP: I teach all levels and interested students can email me at chrisparksjazz22@gmail.com

JGL: Given Barry’s curriculum how do you approach improvisation? Is it based on the usual scale/chord relationships or are you coming at it from a different angle?

CP: The only way I know how, Barry’s method.

JGL: For the student of Jazz Guitar what would you say is the most important thing to do when learning to improvise and play over changes?

CP: You have to know everything about a scale. You have to practice it in every way your imagination will let you see it. Running up and down fast is nothing. That’s just the beginning.

JGL: Do you consider yourself more of a teacher than a gig performer, or have you been able to do both? Any thoughts of recording your own music as a leader?

CP: Definitely more of a teacher at the moment but who knows about the future.

JGL: How do you go about marketing yourself? Are there any tools that you have come across that you have found to be effective?

CP: My YouTube channel is my whole marketing approach. That and word of mouth.

JGL: If you could only pick one individual or group to play with (alive or dead), who would that be and why?

CP: That’s a tough one. I’ve played with Barry a couple times. Once on a gig I had where he came and played two tunes. Another was at one of his birthday parties. Both experiences were wonderful and I learned a lot about how music is supposed to be executed in those scenarios. 

JGL: How would you like to see your life unfold in the coming years and what do you think would be needed to get you there?

CP: I’d like to continue being a good husband and a good Dad and to keep on sharing Barry’s brilliance.

JGL: If you could do one thing over again what would that one thing be?

CP: I wish I had found Barry sooner. I was 20 when I found him.

JGL: What else do you like to do apart from guitar playing?

CP: Spending time with family. 

JGL: Have you ever had second thoughts about your choice to have music as a career and if so, what other career path do you think you would have followed had you not been a guitar player.

CP: Never!

JGL: Apart from music, what else do you like to do for fun?

CP: I enjoy sports. I’m a Mets and Jets fan and I also watch the UFC.

JGL: This may seem like a weird question but as this is jazz guitar LIFE I wonder if the lessons imparted by Barry have a broader impact on your daily life as an individual and father?

CP: To achieve excellence at something, you have to focus on it every day. I’m still trying. In music and with Family.

JGL: Thank you once again Chris for taking the time to speak with Jazz Guitar Life. It is most appreciated and I wish you great success – however you measure it – in your career and life.

CP: Thank you very much. I appreciate the interest in me and in Barry.

Please consider spreading the word about Chris and Jazz Guitar Life by sharing this interview amongst your social media pals and please feel free to leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you 🙂

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