Born on September 30, 1954, in Los Angeles, CA. Education: University of Southern California, bachelor's degree in music education and piano performance, 1976. Addresses: Management--The Kordek Agency, 211 W. Alameda Ave., Ste. 101, Burbank, CA 91502, website: http://www.kordekagency.com. Record company--AIX Records, 8455 Beverly Blvd., Ste. 500, West Hollywood, CA 90048. Website--Patrice Rushen Official Website: http://www.patricerushen.com.
Patrice Rushen has been recognized by her peers and the public for her numerous talents as a songwriter, session musician, producer, arranger, film composer, and musical director for various awards shows and other television programs over the course of her musical career. Her prodigious skills once earned her the nickname "Ms. All That."A musical marvel at a young age, she became a recording star in the 1970s and 1980s with a series of albums that mixed jazz, soul, and funk. After a disappointing period, she switched her emphasis to session playing and composition for both the large and small screens. She has never lost her enthusiasm for the recording process and ultimately returned to her own work, primarily performing in the jazz vein.
Rushen was born in Los Angeles in the early 1950s, and displayed an aptitude for music in early childhood. "I was enrolled in a special program at USC [University of Southern California] when I was three," she told Lorenz Rychner of Home & Studio Recording magazine. There she undertook an intensive regime of music training and began piano lessons by the time she was five. She continued studying, but despite her obvious talents Rushen harbored no dreams of studying at a conservatory. "In high school, when I already had been playing for some eight years," she told Rychner, "I realized that I didn't have the desire or discipline to become a concert pianist. All during junior high and high school I was the one who could beat out the tunes of the day on the piano, by ear, which was my way to have fun and be popular." She was still in high school when she began doing paid session work, which helped pay for her college education. In 1972 she won a competition at the Monterey Jazz Festival, which helped earn her a recording contract with the Prestige label.
When the time came, USC was the obvious choice for Rushen's higher education, and she earned a double major in music education and piano performance. She released her first record for Prestige, Preclusion, when she was a mere 19-years-old; her Prestige recordings--with the exception of the more R&B-flavored outtakes collection Let There Be Funk--predominantly featured earthy instrumental jazz. She also continued doing session work, albeit for an increasingly prestigious circle of musicians that included saxophonists Sonny Rollins and Stanley Turrentine, electric violin virtuoso Jean-Luc Ponty, and such leading jazz guitarists as John McLaughlin and Lee Ritenour.
Experimented With R&B Sound
After leaving Prestige for the Elektra label, Rushen began pursuing the R&B side of her sound and developing her chops as a singer-songwriter. While on Elektra, as Robin Tolleson of Mix observed, "her style continued to streamline into a pop-funk groove." This streamlining led to commercial success; among her hits were the singles "When I Found You," "Haven't You Heard," "Never Gonna Give You Up," "Number One," and "Forget Me Nots." The latter two tracks earned her Grammy nominations for Best R&B Instrumental Performance and Best R&B Vocal Performance, respectively, in 1982. She continued to do session work for a wide range of artists, including rock guitarist Carlos Santana and legendary soul vocal group the Temptations.
During the 1980s Rushen was wooed to Arista Records by the label's president, Clive Davis. The only fruit of this deal was the 1986 release Watch Out!, which yielded a number of successful singles but did not alter her growing disillusionment with the record industry. "The business aspect of things gradually led to a situation where for me, some of the fun was taken out of making albums," she explained in Keyboard magazine. "Before you even set foot in the studio, there's a committee that's concerned about what you're gonna do and how you're gonna do it. You're always proving yourself, and that's okay. But at some point you hope that a track record like I have, which means at the very least that I know how to make records, would count for something."
Cut Her Own Path Through Industry
Pop performers who depended on the good graces of the industry for their survival might have capitulated to the process, but Rushen's versatility and outstanding reputation as both player and composer stood her in good stead. Rather than defer to the recording-by-committee process, she proceeded to change direction, continuing her session playing and branching out into arranging, film scoring, production, music direction, and teaching. Rushen first served as Musical Director for the NAACP Image Awards Special in 1989, and continued in that capacity for 12 years. She took the same role for the 1991 and 1992 Emmy Awards. Rushen was the first woman to head up these broadcasts. "People aren't aware of the demands and the artistic and commercial elements that go into those shows," she told Mix. "If somebody's in there that doesn't know what they're doing, it doesn't happen."
Rushen's talents as a composer soon made her a name to be reckoned with in the television world, where she scored the series Brewster Place, Jack's Place, The Steve Harvey Show and Story of a People, and comedian Robert Townsend's series of comedy specials for HBO. She also branched out into film composing, providing music for Townsend's Hollywood Shuffle and comic Sandra Bernhard's one-woman feature Without You I'm Nothing. And though she also served as music director, conductor, and/or arranger on several other projects, Rushen also found time to conduct music clinics for Yamaha in the United States and Japan. As she told Home & Studio Recording, "there are so many young people who don't know where to take their talents to, and I like being in a position to give them some guidance. I have the advantage of a broad musical background to share, from pianist to synthesist to other activities."
She started a production company, Baby Fingers productions, with her partner Charles Mims Jr., and co-founded the jazz-fusion supergroup The Meeting, which released its debut in 1991. She took on further challenges by accepting the post of musical director for Janet Jackson's tour. Rushen's reputation as a producer, meanwhile, was assured by her collaboration with singer Sheena Easton. The pop diva was given a last-minute assignment to perform a jazz standard onscreen for the film Indecent Proposal and phoned Rushen for help. "It was kind of a happy accident," Rushen noted in Mix, adding that she brought the singer and a small acoustic combo into the studio and laid the track down live. "She was there. Hit it ... boom! Her record company was knocked out, because they hadn't heard her do this type of thing. And I think she kind of surprised herself, like, 'I can do this!'"
Collaborated With Sheena Easton
The label was so enthusiastic, in fact, that Easton and Rushen were sent back into the studio to do more. "So we said, 'let's hurry up and do it before they change their minds,'" Rushen recalled. Four more demos got them the green light to do an entire album of standards. The company's "only stipulation was they didn't want to spend a lot of money, so no strings. So there was the title of the album." Working on No Strings was especially challenging, she added, because "I wore three hats on the session. I don't know if I'd like to do that again soon. Since I was producer, the whole shootin' match became my responsibility. I was also the arranger, thinking of the sound of things and working with [Easton]. And then I played piano also." She praised the enthusiasm and skill of the other musicians, who helped "create an environment where Sheena would feel supported, since it was something new and different for her, and where I would feel supported because of the level of responsibility that I had in trying to help it happen." Rushen helped Easton take the material on the road in 1994, serving as musical director. The tour began in Canada with shows featuring the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra--strings included.
Rushen's solo career continued to flag, even after she signed with Hollywood Records in 1993. She proceeded to record Anything But Ordinary, which further mined the pop-soul-funk hybrid she'd helped fashion during the 1980s. Unfortunately, the label was unimpressed and decided not to release the album. "I handed in the tapes, and these people said `But we wanted a Patrice Rushen record,'" she recalled in Keyboard. "I'm like, 'Well, what are you talking about? What do you want me to do to change it? What can I do to make my record more me?' All they can do is give me the blank look because Patrice Rushen, to them, is just a buzzword. And I'm like, 'Great! I must have a hit on my hands, because the last time somebody at a label said, 'We don't like it,' they were talking about 'Forget Me Nots,' the biggest record of my career." Ultimately, Rushen took the recording to the jazz and fusion label Sin-Drome, which released it in 1994. Cash Box said it was "shameful that this woman has not had a solo contract for so many years."
The musician-composer's recording savvy derives in part from a great deal of experimentation in her home studio. She described her "two setups" in Home & Studio Recording: "One is totally acoustic, not a microphone or anything electronic in sight; it's my living room, with a hardwood floor and a grand piano, period. Then there is the MIDI studio, which is like a lab for me. I own Otari 8-track [recording] equipment, but I'm wired for 24 tracks, and now and then we bring in gear to do a real project right there." Because of the options offered by technology, producers--especially in R&B--have taken advantage of their ability to piece together entire recordings by themselves, from rhythm programming to synthesized horns and strings. While Rushen, too, has shown a fondness for such machinery, she admitted that "as a studio musician, I miss the camaraderie of musicians playing together, and the things that come out of that--things that the arranger can't predetermine."
Work Sampled by Popular Artists
Rushen continued working on a number of fronts, performing sporadically with some of the biggest names in jazz, recording a new album with The Meeting and performing with another group, One + 1, and contributing keyboard work to the soundtrack album for the hit film Waiting to Exhale. She also derived satisfaction that a wide range of recording artists, including Mary J. Blige, R. Kelly, and Shabba Ranks, had begun to sample her records. "It's flattering, because they know what's good," she insisted in Black Radio Exclusive, "even if some label executives don't."
Perhaps the most media attention she has gotten in recent years was a result of "Forget Me Nots" being sampled. The bass line served as the beat behind Will Smith's hit single for the motion picture Men in Black, which was released in 1997. The song won an ASCAP award in 1998 as the "Most Performed Song in Motion Pictures." That same year, she was being recognized for her outstanding work on the jazz album "Signature." The album was nominated for a Grammy and NAACP Image awards in 1998.
Rushen teamed with Sheree Brown, a singer-songwriter, for a one-off project in 2001 called Sisters Being Positively Real. The duo called the music urban folk and incorporated spoken-word by Nikki Giovanni and Juliana Jai into their music. They released Beautiful Woman, The Album in 2001. Rushen said in an interview with Billboard the project "gives us an opportunity to present new music and mesh our experiences and growth with that of the younger generation, especially women. Things have become so strict and formatted that it's sacrificing the hand that's feeding us: the music itself. And the music is what's important."
Rushen also became vocally involved in the debate regarding artists' rights to their own back catalogs of music. Many performers, predominantly black performers in the blues and R&B genres, have sought reparations and reforms to regain control of their master recordings. This was not an issue until the last decade, when the value of this material became more apparent and sampling became a wider practice.
Elektra still has control of Rushen's hit material including "Forget Me Nots," "Haven't You Heard," and "Feels So Real (Won't Let Go)." She told Billboard in a 2002 interview that she does not think the label "is going to give up any of my work. ... If you've had the good fortune to remain a viable selling commodity over a period of time, you do start to wonder about controlling your product. If the music holds up, you might want a shot at doing something with it yourself--especially if the label isn't doing anything with it."
She said her concern is making all her recordings available to interested consumers and fans. "[B]ecause I have a successful list of recordings elsewhere and my name continues to appear in different situations in regards to other projects," she said in this same interview, "it does prompt people to look at my other work."
In 2004, Rushen maintained an active presence in the industry as well as allied projects in a wide range of capacities. She continued working with Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, the Grammy In The Schools program, and other organizations interested in establishing music education and mentoring programs for inner-city youth. She was also honored as the 2004 Dr. Warrick L. Carter lecturer at the Berklee College of Music. This annual presentation celebrates Black History Month at the Boston-based music college.
Despite her many commitments, Rushen noted in the Los Angeles Times, "I love to play, I have to play. So even if I'm playing less in the clubs, I get together with musicians and play. I make time because it's fun and I want to stay sharp so that if someone calls, I'm ready." And despite the ups and downs of the music business, she has maintained her focus. As she told Mix, "the biggest thrill for me is the process. So as long as I'm able to be viable and active and doing what I love, which is the process of making music and the playing, then I'll feel okay."
by Simon Glickman and Linda Dailey Paulson
Patrice Rushen's Career
Won competition at Monterey Jazz Festival, 1972; signed with Prestige Records and released debut Preclusion, 1973; signed with Elektra Records and released Patrice, 1978; teacher of music at USC summer sessions and instructor at Yamaha Music Clinics in USA and Japan, c. 1980s; signed with Arista and released Watch Out!, 1986; musical director of NAACP Image Awards Special, 1989, 1990, and 1991, and of Emmy Awards broadcasts, 1991 and 1992; co-founder of group the Meeting, c. 1990s; musical director and composer, Comic Relief V Benefit Concert program, 1992; musical director, People's Choice Awards, 1993; signed with Hollywood Records, recording Anything But Ordinary, c. 1993; released album through Sin-Drome label, 1994; produced and arranged material for film Indecent Material, 1994; produced album No Strings for singer Sheena Easton, 1994; musical director for Janet Jackson's janet. tour, 1994; Composer in Residence, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, 2000-2001; formed urban folk group Sisters Being Positively Real, 2002; Piano, Bass and Drums, DVD-audio/video recording released 2002; recorded with numerous artists, including Prince, Jean-Luc Ponty, the Temptations, Lee Ritenour, Eddie Murphy, Vanessa Williams, Kenny Burrell, Wayne Shorter, and Sheena Easton.
Patrice Rushen's Awards
ASCAP Songwriter's Award, 1988; USC Black Student Assembly, Legacy of Excellence Award, 1992; Crystal Award, American Women in Film, 1994; ASCAP Award, Most Performed Song in Motion Pictures for 1997 for "Men in Black," 1998.
- Selected discography
- Solo albums
- Preclusion Prestige, 1973; re-released with Before the Dawn Prestige, 1998.
- Before the Dawn Prestige, 1974; re-released with Preclusion Prestige, 1998.
- Shout It Out Prestige, 1975.
- Let There Be Funk Prestige, 1976.
- Patrice Elektra, 1978.
- Pizzazz Elektra, 1979.
- Posh Elektra, 1980.
- Straight from the Heart Elektra, 1982.
- Now Elektra, 1984.
- Watch Out! Arista, 1986.
- Anything But Ordinary Sin-Drome, 1994.
- Haven't You Heard: The Best of Patrice Rushen Elektra/Rhino, 1996.
- Signature Discovery, 1997.
- Piano, Bass and Drums Aix, 2002.
- The Essential Patrice Rushen Warner, 2002.
- With others
- (With The Meeting) The Meeting 1991.
- (With The Meeting) Update Hip Bop, 1995.
- (With Sisters Being Positively Real) Beautiful Woman, The Album Brown Baby Entertainment Group, 2001.
- Billboard, October 7, 2000; March 2, 2002.
- Black Radio Exclusive, July 15, 1994; October 21, 1994.
- Calgary Sun, May 6, 1994, p. S5.
- Cash Box, November 19, 1994.
- Entertainment Weekly, December 1, 1995, p.73.
- Home & Studio Recording, January 1994, pp. 25-29.
- Jazziz, July 2001.
- Keyboard, February 1994.
- Los Angeles Times, January 28, 1994, p.11.
- Mix, June 1994.
- Pulse!, October 1995.
- United Press International, January 29, 2004.
- "Patrice Rushen," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (March 24, 2004).
- Patrice Rushen Official Website, http://www.patricerushen.com (March 25, 2004).