Home Books & Miscellany Bill Banfield: Pat Patrick – American Musician and Cultural Visionary

Bill Banfield: Pat Patrick – American Musician and Cultural Visionary

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Bill Banfield: Pat Patrick - American Musician and Cultural Visionary
Gov. Deval Patrick (right) reviews his father’s archive with Professor Bill Banfield (left)

In the book, it is barely touched upon under the heading of “Developing as a Musician, 1949–1960” (Professional Clippings, p 28). Edward O. Bland’s important film 1959, The Cry of Jazz that featured Sun Ra is barely touched upon when it might have merited a whole chapter. The reason is that it lays the groundwork for the story of how Pat Patrick’s Black consciousness was shaped. We know this because at the very end of the brief review of the film we find that Pat Patrick wrote an essay (in 1973) decrying what he refers to as “this (race) situation” which he suggests can only be resolved by his people if they are engaged in the “monumental task that only true art and artists can accomplish”. Mr. Banfield’s commentary tells us that “The film makes the clear argument for the humanization of America through Black music experience (sic) and posits that America could learn and gain its value through the Negro, Negro expression, and its salvific experience.” Further, Mr. Banfield quotes one of the characters, who says “Without the existence of Jazz (capitalised of necessity) there would certainly be no Negro human soul, and if no Negro human soul presented, (sic) a very diminished America”. We wait for Mr. Banfield to tie this in with Pat Patrick’s thoughts but none is forthcoming. But instead he gives us a tantalizing snippet from the 1973 essay.

This leads to the second part of the proposed biography; one which purports to present Pat Patrick as a “Cultural Visionary”. Clearly this is no overstatement though. Mr. Patrick played, dreamed, and lived Jazz, which is the very extension of Black art and expression. It is clear that in addition to composing in the very idiom of this “Black art” Pat Patrick also thought deep thoughts about his role in creating the idiom and how others among his people ought to live the “Negro human soul” through his or her art. We know this because tit’s there in his writing. There are papers that contain deep, soul-searching prose that probes his own sense of who is in American society. This is the part that concerns Pat Patrick’s importance as a Cultural Visionary. And that part of the story is something we never really get to. There are glimpses of it in quotes from Mr. Patrick’s notes. In “Artistry, New York 1970-1979” (p 69) Mr. Banfield quotes Pat Patrick: “Seems that the music is often heard these days no matter how one thinks he, is not contributing enough toward the greater awareness of Black folks… Many benefits derived from his (the Black man’s) work has been diverted from him and his people by something or other. This is no accident but rather a carefully worked-out conspiracy.” But that remains just that: a quote without any attempt to tie it in with the impact that Mr. Patrick’s writing has on Black consciousness of the time, or of and in Black music today.

Pat Patrick with a very young Deval Patrick
Finally there are issues of style. The book is a sludge pile of hasty writing and is even more poorly edited. There are numerous spelling errors. These are particularly galling when you discover that the errors in question are no less the names of legendary Black artists. Surely this is unconscionable especially in these cases: Charlie Parker’s name appears in Mr. Banfield’s text as “Charley Parker”, Gene Ammons’ name appears as “Gene Ammonds” and Archie Shepp’s name appears as “Archie Sheep”, then “Archie Shep”. Worse still there are numerous instances where Mr. Patrick is referred to as “Pat” and in a following sentence as “Pat Patrick”. Making this uniform would not solve the problem because while seeking intimacy with the subject the element of respect for him is lost. We see this in interviews and elsewhere. Also relating to style, one finds the flow of the attempted narrative constantly disrupted by a sudden appearance of a bullet-pointed account of Mr. Patrick’s accomplishments under the title of “résumé”. The one appearing on page 85 and 86 is just one example. Interviews with musicians and family are frequent and often insightful, but appear to be placed in the text almost at random, so that the insights are often lost because they simply do not tie in with the narrative. For instance the one with Mr. Patrick’s school friend Jean McKinney is poignant but floats aimlessly because it appears just after the review of the film Cry of Jazz instead of in one based on the subject’s ‘early life’.

Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of the book is its end. The chapter is entitled “Postlude”, a musical term, no less. However, once again, it begins with a promise of “Reviewing these clippings”, which refers to Mr. Patrick’s “Matchbooks”. Again, we are left wondering what might have been because all we really have is a mysterious list that was meant to be a “walk through Patrick’s life, tracing the elements of his story” which, in fact, ends up being a mere list that includes stand-alone (for want of a better term) phrases such as “Aux4 Jeadis Café and Bar Quebec”. Banfield is a recognized scholar and Director of the center for Africana Studies, at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, a composer, guitarist and former Pulitzer prize-winning judge. Moreover he was clearly inspired to undertake this biography of Pat Patrick by the late great Black American scholar, poet and essayist Amiri Baraka, an early admirer and friend of Mr. Patrick. Unfortunately Mr. Baraka passed away “as we were finishing this book celebrating his dear friend Pat Patrick”. Here too is a missed opportunity that would have been a fascinating story as told to us by perhaps by Mr. Baraka. But alas this was not to be. Still Pat Patrick – American Musician and Cultural Visionary by Bill Banfield is the only book on the legendary musician. Moreover the publishers, Rowman & Littlefield, have a long and stellar record of productions in music including among other important subjects, many of which have been reviewed on these pages. As such therefore, the publication of this book will still remain an important one to add to any serious library of music.

Published by – Rowman & Littlefield, 2017
ISBN 978-1-4422-2973-0
Price – US$44:98

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