The Life of Pat Pace
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Pace was born as Pasquale to young immigrants Vincenzo and Josephine Pace from Sicily. They lived
on Charles Street, and Pat was the first of three sons. The Pace family's closest association with any
music other than that which came over the radio was through Uncle Tony, who played the accordian.
At 4, Pasquale, called Patsy, knew Uncle Tony played badly. Within a year, Patsy could play better.
"I just knew when the notes were wrong," Pace remembers. "I was told later I had perfect pitch. It
wasn't something I developed - I was just born with it. It was this talent, and I feel that it would be a
betrayal of this talent not to let it happen." The extraordinary talent of Patsy Pace was announced to
Akron in the Beacon Journal of March 3, 1937. The late Helen Waterhouse related it this way:
"A fairy must have touched the fingers of 6-year old Patsy Pace,
his music teacher says (Pace was actually 7 by three weeks). Like
the infant Beethoven who stole from his bed at night to compose
his immortal tunes on the piano, so black-eyed Patsy hums in his
sleep, his mother says, and keeps time unconsciously to the
creations which he sings. And two hours before breakfast each
morning he is hard at work on his practicing when the fingers of
dawn have scarcely touched the sky."
That same year Patsy appeared on the Major Bowes Radio Hour in New York. "I said my
prayers all day so now I'll play real good," he told the Major. And he did. Thousands of
Akron listeners used special phone lines to vote Patsy the overwhelming favorite of the week.
His nationwide radio appearance was important in at least two respects. Patsy not only gained
thousands of additional fans, but one, Major Bowes, suggested the boy was playing the wrong
instrument. When he returned to Akron, Patsy began studying piano. He would never be Petro
Deiro or even Dick Contina, and he would be forever grateful. Instead of practicing "Lady of
Spain" in doubletime, he started working on Bach.
Pace does not remember particular pressure from family or friends to become a great musician, but he
does remember always being different from his Bryan School playmates. "Things came out about me
in the paper, and although I loved to play baseball almost as much as I loved to play music, I was not
part of the Charles Street gang. I'm not sorry about it, but I was excluded. I think it toughened me up
emotionally. Pace did not have to be coaxed to practice - during the '40s, music was his duty and his
fun. He would sneak a radio into bed to listen to Stan Kenton, and during the day he began
experimenting with Jazz while studying the classics. His interest in jazz was not encouraged, however,
and he recalls his "musical life becoming confused because of non-acceptance of improvised music."
He attended North High School, where he formed several bands. Before his
senior year, his father, a carpenter at General Tire, moved the family to West
Akron. Pace was graduated from Buchtel in 1947. That summer Pace
received a scholarship for study at Julliard. Not only was the acceptance of a
17-year old an honor, but for those who had followed his career in the pages
of the newspapers and heard him before garden clubs at O'neil's, it was
confirmation of what they'd long believed. This boy had talent. "As long as I
can remember, it was the ambition of Rena Wills (his first piano teacher) that
I would go to Julliard," said Pace. I didn't know what it meant when I first
heard it, and, growing up with that idea, I took it for granted that I would go."
At night, after classes, Pace began hanging out at jazz clubs like the Three
Deuces to hear Dizzy Gillespie and the legendary Charlie "Bird" Parker.
Eventually asked to sit in as a performer, he was thrilled. "I was the white
kid", he says. It was at Julliard, amidst hundreds of other gifted musicians and
under the tutelage of noted pianist-composer Vincent Persichetti that Pace
said "my head opened up. I was getting turned on to contemporary music I
hadn't studied before, and I realized how much I had missed."
Portions of the following are excerpted from the August 5th 1974
Beacon Magazine article about Pat, written by Mike Clary. The article
can be seen in its entirety on the Kudos page.
After Julliard, Pat returned to his home in
Akron. He performed often, fulfilling the
promise of his prodigious youth, moving
effortlessly between the jazz and classical
worlds, equally at home in the concert hall
and the jazz club. In 1960, he met and
collaborated with noted singer/song-writer
Patricia Scot, and the duo quickly became
one of the most popular area attractions. In
1961, they married and had a son, Adam.
During these years, his life took many
tumultuous turns as he battled personal
problems arising from addiction. David
Giffels wrote "To Akronites of a certain age,
Pat Pace became a legend with everything
the word implies: genius, weakness, fame,
and redemption." A documentary, Feeling
Fine, tells the story (you can see the film in
its entirety on the Video page).
After recording his album "Pacific" in 1978, Pat lived quietly, devoting his life to teaching a
new generation of pianists from his home. One of his pupils, noted jazz pianist and
composer Chip Stevens, wrote:
"Like so many, I miss the legendary Pat Pace very much. Even after leaving the
University of Akron, Pat was part of my life. I've had the privilege of studying with
several great teachers in my career, but Pat Pace stands as a separate entity. He was
my second father and I loved and adored him very much. I'm proud to share that I've
performed around the world more times than I can count, and it's all because of Pat
Pace. He was voracious at the piano, yet, so broad and beautiful. An incredible teacher
with an astounding artistic spirit. I would share something I'd been working on with
him and as many experienced, he'd offer a perspective that often was better and always
fresh, deep and relevant. With my deepest respect and love to my hero and his family."
As the century turned, life was peaceful, predictable; a far cry from the turbulent days three decades before.
Then, amidst this tranquility, Pat fell in love, and suddenly he was transformed, his creative energy and
spirit reawakened. In 2004 he married Lisa Babb, a former student. Inspired, he began writing again. With
the help of Roland Paolucci, his longtime friend and musical collaborator, he recorded "The 20 Preludes"
(which you can hear in its entirety on the Music page). David Giffels of the Beacon Journal wrote:
Pace and Paolucci made some home
recordings last summer, with no idea
that Pat's life would soon end, no idea
of the value those sessions would hold.
This is how stories like this should go,
the stories that belong to the world, the
ones we will tell and retell.
They should begin with great promise
and overcome hardship and end with
an entirely new promise. That's the
opus of Pat Pace, one of the fortunate
few whose story will outlive him.
Pat & Lisa on their wedding day
Pat with his family, 1965
Pat with Major Bowes, circa 1936