BY PETER DORFMAN
When the City of Bloomington Volunteer Network gave its 2017 Be More Creative Award to Fred Parker for his decade-long work promoting jazz in Bloomington, they intended to spring it on him as a surprise. They almost succeeded.
Parker felt something was up when his son, Chris, an Indiana University music student, invited him to attend the March 28 Be More Awards ceremony at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater where he was scheduled to play. Although Parker knew he was a nominee, he started to see the light when he learned that WFIU’s Soul Kitchen host “Brother” William Morris would announce the winner. “I had no speech prepared,” he says. “When he started talking about jazz, I started thinking real hard.”
Parker, 61, was raised on a farm west of Indianapolis. “I’m FBI—Farm Boy from Indiana,” he says. He moved to Bloomington in the late 1970s, where he eventually went to work in research and development at Cook Medical. Now in a management position, Parker has been at Cook for 34 years and has multiple medical device patents to his name.
He has taken an interest in the vitality of Bloomington’s downtown since the 1990s, when he helped run the downtown Square go-kart races sponsored by Bill Cook. But his involvement in jazz was kindled when his sons started playing the music at an early age and got serious about it at Bloomington High School North. Chris, 20, and his younger brother, Jeffrey, 16, played in jam sessions at Jazz at the Station, a now-closed North Walnut Street venue, and later at BuffaLouie’s on South Indiana Avenue.
Parker’s intense involvement in his sons’ gigs got the attention of Monika Herzig, jazz pianist and cofounder of Jazz from Bloomington, an organization that promotes jazz in the city. She convinced him to come on board as president of the organization, which in 2014 was renamed B’Town Jazz.
Parker worked with Tom Walsh, professor of saxophone and chair of the IU Department of Jazz Studies, to foster collaboration between B’Town Jazz and the jazz faculty at the IU Jacobs School of Music. He has helped promote the organization’s annual B’Town Jazzfest, which showcases the city’s best and brightest jazz artists. But Parker feels his main contribution has been to grow and foster an active board of directors.
“What I learned from Bill Cook,” Parker recalls, “is if you’re going to get involved in something, make it sustainable. I hope I’ve done that.”