When PATRICE RUSHEN issued her first major label album, ‘Patrice,’ for Elektra in 1978 there was nobody around who was quite like her: not only did she sing but she also played some mean funked-up jazz piano, and if that wasn’t enough, she also composed, arranged and produced her own music too. So, to describe her merely as talented was nothing less than a major understatement.
Successive Elektra albums – ‘Pizzazz’ (1979) and ‘Posh’ (1980) – steadily helped to accrue Patrice an army of devotees while at the same time building up a creative momentum that culminated with 1982’s global breakthrough LP, ‘Straight To The Heart,’ whose success was hastened by an infectious and much sampled – dance floor hit, ‘Forget Me Nots.’ It was a Top 10 smash in the UK, a place where the Californian singer and pianist has long enjoyed a faithful following. That faith is being repaid by a rare UK visit by Patrice, who appears at the Southport Weekender on May 12th in a gig billed as ‘Patrice Rushen & Friends‘ – the ‘friends’ being bassist ‘Ready’ Freddie Washington, guitarist Doc Powell, saxophonist Everette Harp and drummer Leon ‘Ndugu’ Chancler. Two days later, on May 14th Patrice can also be heard at Ronnie Scott’s playing in a duo configuration entitled ‘1+ One’ alongside drummer/vibraphonist Ndugu Chancler for a two-night stint at the legendary London jazz venue.
In preparation for her short English sojourn, Patrice – who more recently has been scoring soundtracks for movies and TV shows – talked exclusively and at length to SJF’s Charles Waring. In the first part of what will be a three-part interview feature, she talks about her imminent UK visit as well as discussing her role in music education (she’s a college professor no less). In addition, she provides keenly anticipated news of her current studio activities…
What can you tell us about your upcoming UK gigs?
‘Patrice Rushen & Friends’ features a performance platform that I’ve been doing now for the last three years – the ‘friends’ are a collective and you’ll see four of them though there are more than 40 musicians in all that I work with. They are at all at various levels of being leaders in their own right. They’ve appeared on so many different recordings and worked with some of the top artists over the years. We’ve worked together a lot on each other’s records and certainly on some film and television projects and things like this.
One of the things that I wanted to try to do was re-enter the performance area under my own name. It’s hard to imagine how difficult it is these days to try to put together an ensemble and rehearse and then get out on the road. When I’m working on film and TV I call my friends, they know what to do, they are highly skilled; we talk about it and we do it. I though: cannot we apply this same level of professionalism to a performance platform? And as I talked to them about it, they said “this will be a better band than any of us would ever be able to get and to afford to take out on our own.” It allows us to play for each other and under my leadership we’ll probably do the majority of songs that are mine. It also allows us to accompany each other on the tunes that we may have recorded with each other anyway. And it gives the audience an added benefit and treat of being able to see us interacting with one another. Hopefully it allows another important aspect that I hope I can influence and this as a conduit to this level of musicianship. I’m able to give people a great time but also help them see all of the camaraderie that exists. We are so inundated with all those TV show talent competitions today and that is so not healthy for the music business and for our younger people. I want young people to have an opportunity to see people enjoying making music together and which allows for that kind of high-level collaboration. With that in mind we’re going to have a great time at the weekender. Certainly, people will hear songs from me that they want to hear and they’ll hear some of the best of what my friends have to offer as well.
You’ll be playing tracks from your Elektra period then?
Absolutely. I’ll do ‘Forget Me Nots,’ and ‘Remind Me,’ and ‘Number One’ and go back and do some stuff from the ‘Shout It Out’ album, that was recently reissued in the UK. So we’ll reach back a little bit and do a few things and have some fun. Our bass player is Freddie Washington. he’s my original bass player. He’s on most of my albums. To hear us separately is one thing but to see us playing together is to be able to understand why those records are the way they are.
So what about the Ronnie Scott’s dates then? That seems to me on paper at least to be a different kind of concert to the Southport one.
It is. ‘1 plus One’ is a duo. It is myself and my long-time high school buddy, Ndugu Chancler. Some of the fans will recall that name from everything from being the drummer on Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’ to George Duke’s ‘Reach For It’ and he played and worked as a producer with Santana for many years.
And Weather Report, I seem to remember.
Yes, Weather Report, absolutely, and Miles Davis. He and I grew up together and had some of the same musical moments and heroes and goals; to be versatile contributors to the contemporary music scene in all aspects. And he’s one of the most versatile players and a great friend and a great entertainer. A lot of people also don’t know that he also plays vibraphone.
So we run around the stage playing different instruments. The music that we will be presenting will again include some of my hits but played in a more intimate setting and we’ll be able to do a bit of jazz and incorporate different elements and have a great show. It’s a lot of fun. And he is hysterical, he’s really funny, so it is also an opportunity to have that kind of intimate interaction because the chemistry and the feeling from the audience will translate right away to what we’re doing on stage. So we’ll have a good time in a more intimate setting.
So when you guys get together, do you interact musically on a telepathic level because you know each other so well?
I think so. I think that’s a part of what happens when you share a similar vocabulary and similar goals for yourself and a level of excellence – and shared philosophies about music. I think that there’s certain stuff that is unspoken, which is why it’s really a thrill for me to be able to work with my colleagues because that’s something that usually has to be developed over a long period of time. This is not to say that it wouldn’t happen if I was working with maybe a group of young kids but it’s not as much fun for me. I teach kids and I love that but when I want to go play, I want to be challenged too. And my friends can challenge me.
And I expect you challenge them as well, don’t you?
(laughs). There’s mutual challenging going on!