Show up at The Press Room most any Sunday night, and you’re likely to see Ryan Parker at the piano, occupying the space originally filled by Tommy Gallant, who launched the Sunday night jazz tradition at The Press Room back in the late ’70s.
And what a tradition it is. Week after week, some of the most outstanding jazz musicians in the region, and in fact in the country, appear on The Press Room’s bandstand, where they deliver consistently world-class performances. If you agree that we're lucky to have such a home for jazz on the Seacoast, you can thank Ryan Parker for helping make it happen.
After Tommy Gallant died, bassist Jim Howe took leadership of the trio that hosted the Sunday night jazz scene. And it was Jim who brought Ryan in as the trio’s pianist in 2003. When Jim himself died in 2007, the torch was passed once again, this time to Ryan.
Ryan is a remarkably talented pianist, whose chops are matched with his creativity. Ryan is also a manager, with responsibility for booking the great musicians who grace The Press Room’s stage each week. The rhythm section, not so much a permanent fixture as it used to be, now rotates a number of different players. On bass, it might be Keala Kaumeheiwa, or Marty Ballou, for instance. On drums, it's often Les Harris, Jr., but it might be Austin McMahon, or Brooke Sofferman. Ryan occasionally even replaces himself—with Mark Shilansky, for example. Visiting horn men come in from all over the region: saxophonists like Fred Haas, Ted Casher, Bill Pierce, Tucker Antell; trumpeters like Greg Hopkins, Jeff Stout, Trent Austin. They also come in from outside the region, as did saxophonists Harry Allen and Noah Preminger in January. And this month, world-class vocalist Sheila Jordan will be in the house. And it’s Ryan Parker who makes all this happen.
Ryan took his first piano lessons at the age of 12—a late start, by some standards! He certainly made up fast for any lost time, though, and graduated cum laude from University of New Hampshire with a degree in Music Education. From UNH, he went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Jazz Studies at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. It was at NEC that Ryan went more deeply into jazz, loving its freedom, mining its history. His teachers included such global jazz masters as Michael Cain, Jerry Bergonzi, George Garzone, and Danilo Perez.
Like most jazz musicians today, Ryan combines a number of activities in his career. In addition to playing at and booking Sunday night jazz at The Press Room, he plays regularly at other jazz venues on the Seacoast and throughout New England; in 1996, he served as Director of the Celebrity Concert Series at UNH Manchester; in 2007, he formed the New England Jazz Initiative—along with drummer Les Harris Jr., bassist Keala Kaumeheiwa, and vocalist Chris Humphrey—with the goal of educating and energizing the jazz community. Of course, he teaches. And, over the past 10 years, Ryan has emerged as an in-demand DJ and Master of Ceremonies for weddings and events in New Hampshire and Maine.
Right now, Ryan has a number of recordings on his radar. One will feature the Ryan Parker Trio plus guests. Working title: Jazz, Please! Another will be a holiday album, to be released in time for the holiday season of 2015. He's planning an album with trumpeter/vocalist Christine Fawson, this one to be a mix of studio and live-on-location recording. And Press Room fans can look forward to a compilation album representing “The Best of...” the year’s Sunday night performances.
And if that isn’t enough, he’s also preparing to launch a music non-profit to help underprivileged kids afford music lessons and instruments.
Ryan Parker lives on the Seacoast with his young son Zachary and a Chihuahua named Lola.