Twelve Bar Blues :The 12-bar blues is (or blues changes are) one of the most popular chord progressions in popular music, including the blues. The blues progression has a distinctive form in lyrics and phrase and chord structure and duration. It is, at its most basic, based on the I-IV-V chords of a key.
I love them both.
And Patrick Neate’s Twelve Bar Blues is one such stupendous book that reads like great music.
It is a dazzling gem of a novel deftly moving through three centuries and exploring issues of identity, the quest of the black soul, family and sorrow amidst the background of the early days of jazz.
At the heart of the novel is Lick Holden “the greatest…horn man that was ever lost to history”. His life in Mount Marter Louisiana is recounted in the beginning of the novel as is his stint at the Correctional School for Negro Boys where he learns to play the cornet.We are also introduced to his family including his light skinned sister Sylvie(“who wasn’t no blood relation”).In telling Licks musical journey Neate insinuates lick into the history of jazz and blues in Africa interweaving legend and imagination. Buddy Bolden, Fate Marable, Louis “Dipper” Armstrong, Kid Ory, and King Oliver are all made a part of this stunning tale.
Lick’s search for Slyvie forms a main part of the novel and leads him on a journey to New Orleans. The love story between Lick and Sylvie meanders through tragedy, and lust and guilt , redemption, fate and choice and is interspersed with other equally mesmerizing magical tales. Neate’s genius is undoubtedly in his story telling. His unhurried style takes us on a tour of New Orleans, New York and Africa is a journey that is as realistic as is magical. It was not so much the plot( which was fantastic too) as was his style of writing that left me howling with laughter AND weeping tears of tragic loss..and in ONE page! Pure Genius!
Halfway into the book and almost eighty years later, we also meet Sylvia Di Napoli, a coffee-coloured British prostitute(“retired”) and singer(“unemployed”) who is on a quest to find her roots and the true meaning of her “blackness”….along for the ride is Jim, a white young scrawny big-hearted drifter, tagging along for a “drunken tour of America”.
We also travel back in time to the world of African legends and history and its present day continuation with the hilarious tale of Tongo, an African Chief and Musa his permanently stoned ,sex addict-ish witch doctor.
Neate tales are as fresh as new melody and yet each new story resonates with the older stories to create new meaning.
The brutal truths about the sufferings and violence of the black folk back then is so powerfully drawn up that it pulsates with the details and makes everything and everyone (prostitutes, pimps, thugs, jazz players, magic men) believable.
Reality and dreams, history and myth, physical and metaphysical, past and the future all combine in this fascinating book that has its soul in music.