Friday, March 26, 2010

The Chicago link between Sun Ra and the Governor of Massachusetts (March 24, Chicago Jazz Music Examiner, Neil Tesser)

The Chicago link between Sun Ra and the Governor of Massachusetts
March 24, 1:19 AM, Chicago Jazz Music Examiner, Neil Tesser

Later today, the Governor of Massachusetts will officially present a collection of memorabilia – hundreds of musical scores, photos, recordings, and other items – to the Berklee College of Music’s Africana Studies Archive. They’re making a full day of it, too, with performances by students and faculty at Berklee (the leading jazz school in America), along with speeches by the Governor, school officials, and the celebrated poet and activist Amiri Baraka.
What follows is a simple little tale of how that collection of memorabilia made its way to Boston via New York, Chicago -- and the planet Saturn.

It starts, however, in East Moline, 150 miles west of Chicago – the birthplace of Laurdine Kenneth Patrick in 1929. Along the way to becoming a jazz saxophonist, Laurdine (quite understandably) acquired the more manageable nickname “Pat." And that's the name you find on all of the early recordings by the cosmo-musical explorer Sun Ra.

In fact, as award-winning author John Szwed points out in his much admired biography of Sun Ra, Patrick played an extremely important role in the career of the young bandleader, back when Ra was the Chicago pianist still known as Herman “Sonny” Blount. This was before he created his personal philosophy, a mystic hodgepodge hybridized from science fiction and Egyptian mythology, which became one of Sun Ra’s trademarks -- along with the visionary, rollicking music that accompanied it.

Patrick, who specialized in baritone sax but also excelled at alto (and occasionally played electric bass), had moved to Chicago primarily to study at DuSable High School with the legendary bandleader Walter Dyett. Even then, Dyett enjoyed a reputation for developing disciplined and motivated musicians. And Patrick stands out among the most impressive DuSable alumni, who have included saxophone great Von Freeman, bass icon Wilbur Ware, and the peerless vocalist Dinah Washington).

In 1952, Patrick joined Blount/Ra in a new trio on Chicago's south side; it would eventually blossom into one of the most unusual and influential orchestras in jazz, the Sun Ra Arkestra (as it was most often called). The band was known as much for their metallic capes and headgear -- trust me, Gene Simmons had nothing on these guys -- as for their innovative, other-worldly music. Over the decades, Patrick would come and go, a testament to the high regard in which Sun Ra held him: other key members of the Arkestra lived communally under the watchful eye of the leader (in part so that “Sunny” could ensure their abstinence from vices of all kinds).

In 1963, the versatile Patrick hired on as musical director of Mongo Santamaria’s Latin-jazz group – the one that had the giant hit “Watermelon Man.” Everyone knows that tune. Not so many recall another Santamaria hit called “Yeh! Yeh!” Patrick wrote that one; eventually it gained lyrics and climbed the pop charts, thanks to British rock-&-roller Georgie Fame’s hit recording of 1965.

Patrick also recorded with John Coltrane and performed in Duke Ellington’s band. He worked with Thelonious Monk and Clark Terry and co-founded a group called Baritone Retinue. All along the way, he was collecting musical experiences – and memorabilia. And he often returned to Sun Ra, as he did for the 1970 performance in Berlin documented below.

By then, his son Deval Patrick– born in 1956, but estranged from his father for years – had turned 14. Having moved with his mother to Massachusetts, he graduated from the prestigious Milton Academy in 1974. Then he went to Harvard. Then Harvard Law, in 1979. Fifteen years later, he was named Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights under President Clinton. And in 2006, Deval Patrick became the first African-American Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

It is in that capacity that he dedicates to Berklee the collection of his father’s memorabilia and writings. He also does this in the capacity of a respectful son: Pat Patrick died in 1991, but not before he and Deval could reconcile. Although the father did not approve of his son’s entry into mainstream politics, they nonetheless found common ground in the music.

On Tuesday, the Governor told the Boston Herald: “What’s satisfying is having his material appreciated. Frankly, even for my sisters and me, we weren’t quite sure what we were sitting on . . . It seemed to have value because my father had paid attention to accumulating and preserving it during his life. So it’s great to have the folks at Berklee, who seem so excited about this material, take custody of it and share it with students.”

Today, the son of a man who played with the Sun of Saturn honors his father with a trove of history – and at least a bit of stardust, emanating from his Chicago roots.

Caption: Saxophonist Pat Patrick with his son, circa 1959.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Berklee lands Patrick jazz treasure trove [Boston Globe March 17, 2010]

Berklee lands Patrick jazz treasure trove

Governor donates father’s legendary memorabilia

By David Abel
Globe Staff / March 17, 2010

The mischievous baritone saxophonist, known as much for accompanying jazz legends as for the deep, soulful bellow of his own compositions, left a trove of recordings, scores, photographs, and assorted personal artifacts.

The cultural legacy of Laurdine “Pat’’ Patrick, who died of leukemia in 1991, is like gold for music historians, said officials at the Berklee College of Music, who announced yesterday that they have received a vast collection of the musician’s archives as a gift from his son, Governor Deval Patrick.

“It was a lot of stuff, and we weren’t quite sure what to do with it, so we made contact with some cousins by marriage at Berklee,’’ the governor said in an interview yesterday. “Berklee is here in Massachusetts. We wanted to have access to it here as a family.’’

He added: “The material offers real insights into my father’s life and times, even for me.’’

Pat Patrick was best known for his 40-year association with band leader and composer Sun Ra, whom he accompanied on overseas tours and collaborated with on albums. Patrick also played with jazz greats such as Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, and Thelonious Monk.

“The story of Pat Patrick and the Sun Ra Arkestra is an important one for our students to know,’’ Berklee president Roger Brown said in a statement. “The band was dedicated to their own artistry and creativity and not commercial pursuits. They thrived by creating and populating their own community, which became a parallel universe to the mainstream music industry.’’

The Patrick Patrick collection includes original scores and arrangements by Patrick and Ellington; hundreds of photographs and negatives of Patrick on tour, in the studio, with his family, and with associates such as Monk and trumpeter Clark Terry; a ledger book from El Saturn Records, Ra’s label, in which Patrick tracked album sales from 1957-1959; a scrapbook of his music jobs in Chicago during the 1950s; and a recording of him playing trumpet at 10.

The collection will officially become part of the college’s Africana studies archive after a dedication ceremony and celebration of Patrick’s life March 24. The governor plans to speak at the event, and Berklee students and faculty will perform music written or recorded by his father.

Professor Bill Banfield, director of Africana studies, said Patrick’s career should serve as an example for students on how to become a complete artist, someone well-versed in a variety of disciplines, more interested in perfecting his skills than becoming famous.

“We want to teach musicians to be broader-based, deeper musicians and not just seeking to be on ‘American Idol,’ ’’ Banfield said. “Pat Patrick was a total artist. He wasn’t just interested in playing. His work expanded the traditional definition of a musician: He wrote, arranged, composed, orchestrated, and documented the culture.’’

Ed Hazell, a jazz historian from Somerville, said he was eager to spend time studying the collection, which he said includes “really stunning stuff that provides a unique window into African-American music.’’

He described Patrick as the rare musician whose skills allowed him to span many styles of jazz, from bebop to hard bop.

“Because he was so broad-based in his abilities, the collection reaches in all kinds of directions,’’ Hazell said.

Patick’s domestic life was more complicated, and the governor had a distant relationship with his father, who largely abandoned his family. In 1984, in one of the instances he reappeared, Pat Patrick showed up at his son’s wedding with a band. The music was his gift.

Pat Patrick was the son of a trumpet player and a native of East Moline, Ill., where he learned to play the baritone, alto saxophone flute, and clarinet.

In the early 1950s, he made a name for himself in Chicago, where he played with Sammy Davis Jr. and Eartha Kitt. He later signed on with the Sun Ra Arkestra, an African-American group known for its avant-garde compositions. In the 1960s, he accompanied Ellington and Coltrane, and served as musical director for Mongo Santamaria, the Cuban drummer. Later, he traveled around the country with several Broadway shows.

Patrick wrote more than half a dozen songs, including a fast-paced bebop tune called “Yeh, Yeh,’’ which became a hit after it was released in 1963 on Santamaria’s album “Watermelon Man.’’ It was featured in commercials for Chrysler and AT&T.

The governor said he learned about his father’s trove shortly after he was inaugurated.

“I got a call from a guy in East Moline who said he owned a storage facility,’’ the governor said. “He said the storage facility had been emptied out except for his papers and stuff and that he had on a couple of occasions thrown them away but then gone back to the Dumpster and got them out, because he just couldn’t bring himself to get rid of it.’’

The governor said the man drove to Massachusetts with the collection, which included boxes full of photos, journals, and original musical manuscripts in his father’s handwriting.

Patrick gave most of the collection to Berklee several years ago, and he said they have been cataloguing it ever since.

“Berklee students have dazzled [my wife] Diane and me on countless occasions,’’ the governor said. “I love the idea of giving such talented students something they might really make something of.’’

John Guilfoil of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. David Abel can be reached at