Book Review: Bill Banfield

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Representing Black Music Culture: Then, Now and When Again? By William C. Banfield. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, Inc. 263 pp, illustrated.

Professor William Banfield, director of the Africana Studies Center at the prestigious Berklee College of Music, is what one might call a “Renaissance Man”; “Harlem Renaissance Man” is more like it. This book is, first and foremost, a book about William Banfield, and that’s a story well worth telling. Born in Detroit, 1961, his matriculation was shaped by his local music scene, which was then one of the world’s best. He was playing guitar in bands as a teenager, writing his own music in college, and released his first recordings in the early ‘80s. As such, he knows a lot of people, and he doesn’t mind dropping names; it’s pretty cool. The index runs ten pages, and includes many of the leading figures in Black Music over the past 40 years; odds are he knows anyone who’s living among them. In fact, there’s probably a picture.

While most of the narrative transpires in native haunts like Boston, New York and Minnesota, it was a pleasant surprise to see that pages 58-65 relate to events in Jacksonville, where William Brown died in October 1994. Banfield was a longtime friend and collaborator of Brown, who sang tenor at high-end spots around the country (ending with a run at Friday Musicale) while teaching at the University of North Florida and other places. Banfield’s only trip to the city was for the funeral; it was the second time in three days that he had to bury a close friend, which is the hard part of being a creative artist in any field. Life is short, and one is constantly reminded of that in that business.

The selections from Banfield’s journal entries offer slices in the vital life of a full-time academic and veteran musician. The rest of the book consists of Banfield’s essays on matters related to the art today, and they’re fine enough. The author’s prose modulates from pedantic to ponderous; the second half doesn’t read quite as breezily as the front. There are some splendid interviews that he conducted with artists like Don Byron, Wynton Marsalis, Nnenna Freelon, Maria Schneider and Dr. Billy Taylor, and an awesome section near the end with sketches of key colleagues and concepts built around photographs. The pictures are, in general, a real highlight here. Mr. Banfield is only 50 years old, but has already had a tremendous run in the business; this new book looks back on that past, while laying the groundwork for a prosperous future.

 

sheltonhull@gmail.com; May 10, 2012

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About Shelton Hull

I'm a writer/journalist with over 20 years experience covering all types of subject-matter, with a specialization in politics, music, food and dance. My work has been published in nearly 40 different magazines, newspapers, websites and zines, in addition to occasional forays into radio, TV and spoken-word. Former candidate for City Council District 14 in Jacksonville, FL (2011), and a proud member of Gator Nation.

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