Multi-instrumentalist Rachella Parks is slowly regaining her strength after a 10-year battle with sarcoidosis, a rare and incurable disease that caused her fatigue, pain, joint degeneration, and memory loss. The symptoms began to subside about a year ago, perhaps as a result of steroid treatments begun years earlier, allowing the 53-year-old Fort Worth native to throw herself back into completing her first album.
Growing up on the South Side, Parks was always glued to her radio. “I’d find those old radio stations,” she said. “I was attracted to doo-wop. Many of those tunes had strings in them. I was really attracted to those arrangements.”
Parks is known primarily as a saxophonist, but she’s played pretty much everything. In 5th grade at Morningside Elementary School, she expressed her interest in joining the school band. Her mother bought her a clarinet from a pawn shop. Parks fell in love with the woodwind’s hauntingly beautiful, reedy sound. She moved to bass clarinet later that year, to fill an empty chair. She switched to baritone sax in 10th grade at Polytechnic High School before finally settling on her instrument of choice, tenor saxophone.
Not long after graduation, she got her first taste of jazz. The location was The Pink Lady on the South Side.
The music blew her away, she said.
She was also mesmerized by Maurice Bonner, a local gospel organist who often performed at the Lady. “I was already interested in gospel music,” Parks said. “Organ is a powerful and emotional instrument.”
Parks began taking lessons from Bonner. She also began playing in the praise band at Saintsville Baptist Church.
Encouraged by her parents, she earned her bachelor’s degree in music education from UNT in 1986.
Her career unfolded along two paths. She performed under her own name in local clubs and festivals, and she played for groups such as The Drifters and for artists such as James Carter, Hank Crawford, Rachelle Farrell, Kim Jordan Jimmy McGriff, Charnett Moffet, Billy Preston.
By far, her most influential collaboration was with avant-garde drummer/composer and Decoding Society bandleader Ronald Shannon Jackson, whom Parks met through a musician friend. One day, Parks took her horn to Jackson’s Fort Worth home and played for him. “He soon became my mentor,” Parks said.
He also became Parks’ bandleader. She toured the states and Europe with the late composer throughout the late 1990s, and she performed on his 1996 album, Shannon’s House.
Just as her opportunities seemed boundless, she began feeling ill. In 2005 she was diagnosed with the potentially fatal autoimmune disease. Her career nearly came to a halt, but, she said, her husband, fellow musicians, and her church, Inspiring Temple of Praise, never gave up on her.
Parks, who has taught music privately for years, feels that for any artist, living is part of the creative process. Every experience, good or bad, informs your output.
Part of the profits from the sale of Meditation Inspirational Suite will go toward the Sarcoidosis Foundation of Texas, a new nonprofit organization created by Parks to research treatments for and create awareness of the illness. For her album release concert, she will be joined by several longtime friends and collaborators, including bassist Jerome Allen, keyboardists Arlington Jones, Kermit Wells, and Nathan Young, and trumpeter Lawrence Robinson.
“I think this illness was supposed to happen, because everything has worked out,” Parks said. “I had to go through this process to really be a witness to somebody. Music is music. The spirit can touch anyone, whether you’re a Buddhist monk or nonbeliever. I hope my experience will uplift and inspire other people.”
Sat w/JWright & Promise, Drea Randle, Darrell Blair, and Melodie Nicole at Inspiring Temple of Praise, 2010 E Lancaster Av, FW. Free. 817-726-8426.[/box_info]