Peven Everett and Jeff Parker both cut their teeth in Chicago jazz circles and have since become two of the most recognizable and respected figures in local independent music. Everett is a huge presence in Chicago’s hip-hop and soul scenes, and has released a stream of records since the early 2000s; he celebrates the new Medicine Man Thu 7/21 at the Shrine. Parker still regularly plays jazz guitar, both in Chicago and around the world, but he might be best known as a member of instrumental postrock act Tortoise. In this week’s Artist on Artist, Parker interviews Everett, digging into his roots, his inspirations, and his massive musical output. —Luca Cimarusti
You’re really prolific. I remember a few years back, it seemed like you were putting out records every month. Do you write every day? Yeah, it’s kind of one of those things that comes with the territory. Sometimes it turns into a whole other animal and gets out of control if you let it.
Back when I met you I had just moved to town, and you were probably 16. And you were a trumpet prodigy on the jazz scene. Do you still play trumpet? Oh yeah, man, I actually played just yesterday.
You moved to New York for a while; I remember running into you at Small’s around ’95, ’96? The great thing about that time period for me, man, was I was so young and I was exploring the geography of life, more so than actually absorbing what I was learning. That came later when my frontal lobe got itself together, and I started thinking with some kind of continuity.
Did you come up in the house music community of Chicago? My brother was in that community before he passed away. Every night he was going out. That was a way of me basically paying homage to him, and finding the fruit, if you will, in that community that had yet to been picked. There’s so much that has to be said about music, and dance music altogether. People have been dancing since the beginning of time, so I don’t know what this whole “dance music” [label] is about.
I didn’t hear anything from you for a while, then I remember Matt Lux telling me, “Yeah, I’ve been playing with Peven Everett these days, man.” I had no idea you were even writing songs. Was there a pivotal point that got you from jazz into production? You know, Jeff, in the end I was a lot more of a free spirit than jazz was allowing in the time that we were going down that road. I had a strong appetite for improvisation, but then I still had this extremely structured thought process about how I put my music together, based on the schooling I had earlier on. I couldn’t replace one with the other; they were both necessary in approaching music.
I saw you play somewhere in Wicker Park, and it was real free-form. I could tell it was bumping, you all were putting it down. It had a profound influence on a lot of the stuff I was dealing with at the time. Ever since I had started doing that style of show I had seen a huge change in the scene altogether. I did it that way because it allowed me to show where my heart was with respect to music and how I felt without having to say so much.
You could just go where the moment would take you. Yeah, and I would get as many people on stage that were available and as many as the budget would allow. It was really about using different cats all the time and making sure they had a place where they could come and really work on their skill level in a way they didn’t get anyplace else.
I was thinking about your trajectory, I mean, not your music, but just that fact that it seems like people know you, especially in London. Yeah, they talk about me here as much as they do in London, but the thing is, London is more outward about how they do things in terms of their media. But what I’m really getting at is that what’s said amongst the people is not going to be said in a publication, or on television, or on the radio.
Have you been performing abroad, you been touring at all? I do as much as I can. I’m going back to the UK supposedly in October. I’m glad that finally in the end I’m still able to work for a living and play music for a living, you know?
I know, man. I’m with you, dude. It gets harder by the year, but we still keep at it. Yeah.