I Try To Remember Where I Come From //

Album label: 
Release date: 
07/07/2017
Recording location: 
The Bunker
Recording date: 
Saturday, January 1, 2000
Thanks: 
I’m deeply grateful for my day to day. The act of creating and performing music gives my life a sense of motion, and I step into each day knowing that I have somewhere I want to go. But as I go about entertaining myself with my own creative process, I try to remember that music exists to communicate truth. I am a product of Chicago, and although I spent my most formative years in many incredible programs starting or ending with the word Jazz, it was the term Creative Music, a concept first introduced to me in my high school band room and explained over years of mentoring by South Side musicians, that formed my musical spark. As I derive my livelihood, and my life’s creative fulfillment from these musicians’ example, I have to remember that their tradition is not mine to claim. Black American music exists in an environment of exclusion, oppression, and institutional silencing that I (a white American man) have not, and will never experience. The tradition of my heroes is linked to a powerful, communal, ambitious, and profoundly graceful grappling with a painful history filled with racism in all of its forms. Despite all of this, throughout my teenage years, Black musicians in Chicago shared their traditions, their gatherings, their bandstands, their living rooms, and their musical incites with me in a generous, and enduring way. I think a lot about how special it is that there are people in this world who have responded to the “radical physical and even mental silencing” that is inextricably linked to the American story by creating something that has, at one time or another, warmly embraced nearly every person on earth. That’s what I was thinking about when I wrote these songs.
Artwork design: 
Travassos
Artwork design: 
Jonah Parzen-Johnson & Lívia Miyadaira Ito
Executive producer: 
Jonah Parzen-Johnson
Executive producer: 
Pedro Costa
Mastering engineer: 
Alex DeTurk
Recording engineer: 
Aaron Nevezie
  • 1. Cabin Pressure (04:38)
  • 2. These Shoulders, Those Shoulders (04:59)
  • 3. Guns Make us Murderers (04:56)
  • 4. Too Many Dreams (05:18)
  • 5. What Do I Do With Sorry (06:07)
  • 6. I Have Questions (04:45)
  • 7. I Try To Remember Where I Come From (04:48)

Jonah Parzen-Johnson - baritone saxophone & analog synthesizer

I think it’s worthwhile for those of us who devote our lives to making stuff, to be sure we ask ourselves why we’re spending our time this way. Each of us is a collection of gravitations. In my first saxophone lesson with Mwata Bowden, my baritone saxophone hero, and one of Chicago’s creative leaders, he told me, “we call it Creative Music, because…”. All I heard was “we”. Community. An important reminder that Creative Music was about more than a style, or a skill. It is part of a movement that exists in concert with American history, and a tradition of explosive creativity in response to deep hardship. That “we” is important to me. Something to respect, and place above other things.Community is a funny thing to think about when standing on a stage by myself getting ready to play a solo saxophone set. Experimental music can feel very isolating, but it doesn’t have to be. I think a lot about sound as I build each piece of music using extended saxophone techniques, and carefully assembled analog synthesizer components that breath and pulse with my wiry saxophone melodies. I find joy in the craft, but beyond that, I aim to make something that if placed in the right context, can tell a story that each person in the room can connect with. Something simple, and honest enough, that although it might be painful, it can resonate with anyone.I’ve lived in Brooklyn NY since 2006, but I was very lucky to grow up on the Southside of Chicago, surrounded by incredible musicians that I met at Jazz clubs, studied with, and saw around my neighborhood. They defined my musical world, were receptive to my curiosity, and deeply supportive as I honed my musical voice. The title of this album, I Try To Remember Where I Come From, is a direct expression of my gratitude, but, on a deeper level, it is a reminder that I have taken inspiration from a tradition that isn’t rooted in my own experience. It is a pattern repeated regularly in American music history. Something that I think about a lot.In many ways, Black American music is a response to an environment of exclusion, oppression, and institutional silencing that I, a white American man, have not, and will never experience. Despite this fact, throughout my teenage years, Black musicians in Chicago shared their traditions, their gatherings, their bandstands, their living rooms, and their musical incites with me in a generous, and enduring way. I find it deeply humbling that a community that formed, in part, to protect its members from an environment where everything could be taken from them, is also one of the most generous sources of creativity and inspiration in American art. I think this generosity deserves music that is loyal to the truth behind the tradition. I wrote these songs because I care about the people who own that tradition, and who forged it as a tool of inclusion. I seek to honor their battle for institutional recognition, and racial equality, with every show I play, and everything that I make. Their fight continues today, and deserves all of our attention.