Patrick Brennan: Rhythms of Passion
AAJ: I believe you initially came on the scene as a leader of your own band, as opposed to having done an apprenticeship with other artists?
PB: : I suppose it was as a leader, although I was also playing with whomever I could. While there were musicians who definitely helped me as mentors and examples, I also found that if I wanted to grow at a certain level, I'd have to do that on my own. So, instead of waiting for somebody else to make that happen, I went and formed my own group, which I would have done eventually anyway.
AAJ: Are you suggesting that the musical and social environment for an avant-garde musician in New York was not very accommodating when you first arrived on the scene?
PB: No. It's hard for a musician to realistically expect accommodation. Money lives on Wall Street. Fame belongs to media. Music can only promise music. It's a real gift when any musician manages to live just through one's work. I found the scene very exciting when I arrived in New York City in 1975. Places like Studio Rivbea and the Tin Palace always let me inbroke or not. The level of creativity and musicianship I witnessed daily was both inspiring and admonishingly humbling. New York can certainly function to remind an artist just how much work one has yet to do.
AAJ: Even your website does not delve much into your Detroit beginnings; please talk about your youth in the Motor City?
PB: My father was a musical enthusiastplayed good six-string thumb position rhythm guitar in the late '30spicked up the bass in the '40s, which kept him out of combat in the military. It was at most a weekend thing when I arrived, but I heard plenty of Louis Armstrong and Count Basie recordings as a little kid.
I saw Eddie Harris on TV playing Exodus to Jazz (VeeJay, 1961) when I was six years old. That gave me saxophone fever, but I never got a horn till I was 17. I tried clarinet a couple of times in grade school, but just couldn't cover the holes enough when I was that young. A new school in 6th grade got me drafted into playing trombone. The school had a great teacher who taught me how to transpose, and they set aside daily practice time, which meant that I actually practiced and learned how to play. A couple of years after that, my father gave me his guitar, and a year later, his bass.
He lived elsewhere, so my listening sources had become primarily radio Motown, Rockstuff like that. I spent a whole summer listening to isolated tracks of a Beatles LP, which taught me how music was put together, and I began composing. One piece got played by my school band, and in 9th grade I wrote something for a brass quintet that went into state competition. Also, my buddy, Mickey MacKenzie, showed up with a huge collection of Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Dolphy. That became daily fare. Then I began to reach out to whatever different music I could findthe more different the better. And there was a lot of it in any genre or from any country at the timeall kinds of paradigm shifting surprises.
The years '68 to '72, after which I went to college, seem as important as Detroit itself. At that time I was no more than a big-eared, shy wallflower just discovering music and instruments. A contagious avant-garde ethic seemed to saturate the air, even if this was for sure, in retrospect, a minority attitude. "Avant-Garde," however, was more a way than the style the term seems to designate now. I was also exploring the literary, visual and theatrical arts, doing multimedia happenings, musique concrete. I was all over the place!
Detroit was very independent-minded while accepting second fiddle to none, and continues an important attitudinal and conceptual influence on me. People did their own things their own waytake it or leave it. Drummer Bud Spangler spread Coltrane's late music on WDET with news of local music. At the Ibo Cultural Center I got invited to play at bassist Ubadiah Bey Obay's house up on North Ardmore in Pontiac "Hey, European brother." I didn't understand what he was talking about, but we loved the music.
This was a weekly gathering of nearly all self taught musicians who were emulating the high energy collective improvisations of Coltrane and Albert Ayler. They adopted me like family and included me in whatever they did, and we've shared that connection ever since, wherever I've gone. There was a strong devotional quality to how they were playing. They also connected with another group of Muslims doing the same thing down in the Cass corridorequally welcoming and supportivebut more explicitly theistic, which was something I didn't fit in with quite so comfortably.
The musician-run Strata Concert Gallery had the deepest impact on me. I heard Archie Shepp there with Dan Spencer and Sadiq Abdushahid [Archie Taylor Jr.] together on traps. I've never recovered from that two drum sound. Ornette played there with [Ed] Blackwell and [Charlie] Hadenstill one of the most elevated listening experiences I've ever had. The CJQ, which included [pianist] Kenny Cox, [trumpeter] Charles Moore, [tenor saxophonist] Leon Henderson and [bassist] Ron Brooks, along with Spencer, sliced Detroit's cutting edge.
Detroit's genius seems to have been time. These cats were structuring blocks of differently inflected motion. Tempos would seem to speed up and slow down. Time would flow in recurrent arcs: backward, hovering, gushing forward. It wasn't all intuitive or free. It was a self-aware, deliberate application of structure. Spencer's drumming was exuberant and volcanic, and their interaction was seasoned enough to afford an elegant egalitarianism. Of course, I didn't understand what they were doing, but I could feel it, and from that I developed even stronger appetites for deep rhythm.