With the release of her third Prestige album, Shout It Out, the multi-talented Patrice Rushen makes it abundantly clear that she is a contemporary musical force to be reckoned with. Her abilities as keyboardist, composer, and arranger have been increasingly in demand, but the fresh approach that sparks Shout It Out would seem to indicate that Patrice’s musical personality has a dynamic and a future all its own.
Rushen, who co-produced Shout It Out with longtime associate Reggie Andrews and engineer Tommy Vicari, composed six of the LP’s eight tunes and did most of the arranging. Of course she plays all keyboards on the album, and also sings lead and background vocals, and plays electric bass on a couple tracks! Sidemen include guitarist Al McKay (of Earth, Wind & Fire), Charles Meeks (bass), James Gadson (drums), and Bill Summers (percussion).
Born in Los Angeles on September 30, 1954, Patrice comes from a small and not particularly musical family. Her father is a computer analyst, and although her younger sister is also a pianist no one else in the family is a musician. "My parents had enrolled me in a progressive nursery school,” Rushen explains. "The teachers told them I had a strong inclination toward music, so they enrolled me in a class at USC called ‘eurhythmics’ in which little kids are made sensitive to musical sounds and intervals. I was there for two years before I actually began piano lessons. By then I was six.”
Patrice spent much of her youth studying piano under Dorothy Bishop, who was president of her prep school. By the time she hit junior high school, however, she had become bored with the piano. "Until that time I’d thought I wanted to be a concert pianist, but then I realized I didn’t have that kind of discipline; I liked to improvise my own little songs.” She took up the flute with her junior high hand, and when she entered L.A.’s Alain Locke High School, became involved in the Msingi Workshop, a jazz group taught by Reggie Andrews. It was through her association with Reggie that Patrice got into writing and arranging for the marching band and, eventually, for the Workshop ensemble. In 1972, her last year in high school, the ensemble won the Battle of the Bands at the Hollywood Bowl and appeared at the Monterey Jazz Festival, where Patrice’s own combo won first place in the All-Star High School competition.
During that same year Patrice worked with trombonist Melba Liston, and then for a couple years with singer Abbey Lincoln. She also worked on the road with top soul act The Sylvers.
Patrice signed with Prestige Records in 1974, and her first two albums were recorded at Fantasy/Prestige/Milestone’s Berkeley studios, with Reggie Andrews producing. Rushen composed and arranged all the material on both LPs. Joe Henderson was a guest artist on Prelusion, her recording debut, and Hubert Laws appeared on Before the Dawn, along with Harvey Mason, Lee Ritenour, Ndugu, and Charles Meeks.
At this point, Patrice is an experienced studio musician who has contributed to albums by Stanley Turrentine, Jean-Luc Ponty, Harvey Mason, Alphonso Johnson, Bennie Maupin, Lee Ritenour, Azar Lawrence, Eddie Henderson, Flora Purim, and Sonny Rollins. What makes Rushen’s professional achievements even more impressive is that during most of the time she has been on the music scene, she was also a full-time student at the University of Southern California. Now just about finished with her music education degree, she has taken a leave of absence in order to concentrate for the time being on her burgeoning career.
"When I became aware of the contemporary music scene,” Patrice recalls, "the first person who really, really struck me was Herbie Hancock. I admired his lush harmonies and pretty melodies. Then I got turned on to McCoy Tyner, and also to Thad Jones and Gil Evans, for the textures and colors in their writing.”
The one thing that her favorite musicians have in common, Patrice notes, "which I’m trying to cultivate, is an upbeat approach that makes their work seem like paintings, so full of light.” Her own ability to paint musical landscapes in a versatile yet distinctive style would seem to make her a natural for film scoring, and, in fact, she can’t wait to get a crack at it.
"Rushen displays a striking sense of personality on every instrument she touches,” Down Beat has commented, "whether it be acoustic or electronic. This sense, combined with a mature approach to dynamics, is what renders [her] such a refreshing force in the current jazz-rock amalgam muddle.”