I've been a big fan of Patti Austin since the '80s, when her pop repertoire gave us the classic duets "How Do You Keep The Music Playing?" and "Baby, Come To Me" - both sung with the soul-stirring James Ingram. They both came from the camp of Quincy Jones, who I knew was her godfather. Patti would go on to release a string of hits including "The Heat of Heat" (produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis); "Rhythm of the Street" (LOVED THAT VIDEO!); "All Behind Us Now"; and "It's Gonna Be Special". (And how can any of us forget her duet with Narada Michael Walden, "Gimme, Gimme, Gimme"??? Well, maybe you've forgotten it. But it was one of my favorites!!!!- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFwvMEdwXZg). But more than a pop hit or superstardom, Patti Austin is "a premier voice" that has checked its ego at the door. Given that, it sings "jingles" (from radio and TV commercials)... it sings background for icons like Diana Ross... it sings in the choir.... and it sings us lessons of American history, whether from the catalogue of Ella Fitzgerald or her latest (due March 6): "Avant-Gershwin", which pays homage to George Gershwin standads with new and adventurous arrangements to boot. I reached out to her for a feature I'm working on for UneQ Magazine (www.UneQmagazine.com) on Luther Vandross. Those tid-bits will be published in the Summer 2007 issue of that magazine. Meanwhile, "A Day in the Life of Riley: Pop Culture and Possibilities" is happy to share the rest with you. And even post-gastro-bypass and more than a hundred pounds lighter, Miss Austin is still "a voice" that reigns supreme.
Your 1976 debut "End of A Rainbow" is being re-released in Japan at least or re-issued in Japan. Did you know about that?
Yes, check into that. I just ordered it from the SoulMusic.com store. (http://www.soulmusic.com )
But also you're tackling the Gershwin catalog. So, where does your inspiration come from for this new project?
Oh boy, just my childhood. My life. I grew up in a house filled with music. My dad was a jazz musician. He played trombone with Lucky Millinder, Fletcher Henderson, and Father Hines. In addition to that, he was a tremendous music lover. When I was
about three-years-old, he bought me a record player a little victrola and a record collection that belonged to the same person that owned the victrola and it would happen to be a collection of 78s that were all Broadway show tunes. So, the first
music that I really attached myself to was Broadway music. That was when I was in my little play space. Now, when I left my play space and the music was being programmed by my dad, it ranged from Stravinsky's "Firebird" to Patsy Kline to Big Mama Thornton to Nat King Cole to Basie to Stan Kenton to Miles. It was pure...It was music....It was
all about music. Music...music...music...music all the time. So, that's like the foundation
of where I come from. And then, I get thrown into the entertainment business at four and
become a professional at five and worked with people like Dinah Washington who became my
godmother and Quincy who became my godfather and Sammy Davis Jr. who mentored me through
the earlier, earlier years of my career because he started out when he was at the same age and saw this kid kind of echoing whatever talent he felt he had. So he helped usher me in.....just amazing people Ray Bolger, Steve Laurence, Eydie Gorme, Patrice
Monsel...I mean just the list goes on and on and on of the people who said "Hey, kid come here let me help you up another notch." So, that's how I came to the business....And I turned 13 years old and I'm in the business and in the meantime, I have a godfather in the background who is saying to my parents "Don't let her get too big. Let her work at her craft in the summertime and on the weekends. But don't let encroach on who she is as a person. Let her be a person. Don't let her become a huge star. It will ruin her life. She wont have anything to look forward to as an adult. Let this just be her craft...not about her
being a star." My parents listened to that mantra and totally agreed. That's how my career was in
the business it was very much when there was free time, I got to do things that I loved to
do the most. So, my impression of being in the business was always a very joyous one.
all of that together. And the best music that accomplishes that is music that comes from
either film or originally/usually from theater. And a lot of jazz has come from music that was written for theater. It was about black musicians taking that music that was very sanctimonious and playing it down the first time exactly the way it was written and then saying "Okay, we have established your melody. Now here is mine." Since we have Charlie Parker you know just going crazy on some Cole Porter or Miles going crazy on some Gershwin. So, that's the idea of this project was to take the amalgamation of all that knowledge and wisdom... and being at a point in my life where I think I can tell a lot of these stories a lot better
than I told them 20 years ago. And get together with an arranger who understood all of that who I sat in a room with for two days with a piano going through each tune and describing what I wanted to hear with my ears but what I also wanted to see with my eyes if that makes any sense....When I walked into the studio the first time with the whole orchestra there and heard them play down the first arrangement, the first thing they played was "A Stairway to Paradise." I thought I was going to die because I knew what we had talked about. We picked the key and we picked the groove and I said you know just 'think ....Michael (Abene) think about all those great old Bugsy Berkeley movie numbers you've seen and make that but make it modern and put it on this groove...It's jazz..It's...It's we're trying to sell this to an audience that's heard it a million times done.' Like...I'll build "A Stairway to Paradise"....you know like an old Broadway bum ba ba bum-kinda of tune. We gotta get other people to hear this message. So, we want the people that have heard the message that have it fixed in their head how it is supposed to go not to be disgruntle by where we taking this...and we want this other generation that has never heard it before to go what the hell is that.
"A DAY IN THE LIFE OF RILEY":
So, you re-invented basically?
That's how we approached everything on this record. So, to hear that done the first time before I
got to sing on it...before I had the opportunity to sing on that was amazing. Then of course the
wave came over me...and I was like "What the hell am I going to sing over all of this amazing
stuff....Oh my God....Is there room for me in here?" That became the next challenge. But of course
you know the one thing that is marvelous about working with WDR because they're German. They're
anal retentive. It goes with the culture. (I'm not telling tales out of school.) So, they record
absolutely everything you do before you go and do this live concert which is broadcast.
The other thing is when we put this together we're not putting together a record, we're putting
together a live performance which is going to be broadcast - live over the radio....over WDR radio
all over Germany. So, we're not really thinking about how this is going to work as a record.... I'm thinking about is how this is going to work in front of an audience with 1500 people. So, then the question became at the end of the project "Do we put this record out so it's representational of that? Or do we remove the applause and make it like it's a studio album? Or do we take the takes that we got in the studio when we were rehearsing that were particularly good and make that the album?" And everybody looked at everybody else at the same time and said "No! It's gotta be live!" So, that's why the record is live. That's how it all came to be.
Yeah, Its gotta be live! Well, thank you for that. Well, are fans [of your '80s hits] to expect that we'll never hear you sing "It's Gonna Be Special", "Heat of Heat","It's All Behind Us Now", ["Gettin' Away With Murder"] again.
No, I do it all the time. I just did it in South Carolina and the show that I do that is the Patti Austin show is all of that and some Ella...and will be all of that and some Ella and some Gershwin.
What about "Gimme, Gimme, Gimme" with Narada Michael Walden?
That you will probably not see. I don't think that is coming anytime soon.
That's not coming back???
I don't think so. Unless Narada is in the audience and screams from the back row "Do "Gimme, Gimme, Gimme"!", then it might get done....He will have to come up on stage
and orchestrate it all impromptu. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFwvMEdwXZg
In the moment and organic. huh?
I'm a liner note fool....So, whenever I see that you're on the background vocal, whether it's Diana Ross's "Muscles" or whether it's "Take Me Higher" (also Diana Ross) or whether it's....
... I'm telling you....I'm telling you....I know it's going to be a quality production at least from the background vocals. But I also know that you were a part of the background vocals for "Brand New Day" for [the film] "The Wiz".
Oh yeah....boy was I ever...oh my God!
Is there a story of that?
I worked on "THE WIZ" and my job on "THE WIZ" was as the contractor for the vocalist. And I had to book 350 singers to sing "Can You Feel A Brand New Day" for "THE WIZ" (for the movie). 350 singers. That's 350 contracts...Hello.....Oh my God what a nightmare...what a nightmare because Quincy wanted it to be big....I said "Can't we get like 20...can we get 30 singers and quadruple it or something?"..."No, gotta have all 350". So, I booked them...and just trying to find 350 singers in New York, it was like.....we were...we started at the top of the rung. We went from celebrities to people hanging out in bars a couple hours before the session. "Can you get over to...get your ass over to A&R recording studio right now?" So, it was pretty insane. So,yeah when I hear "Can You Feel a Brand New Day", I get a tick.....So, we did it and it turned out fantastic. If you see the movie you will feel all the energy of all 350 voices:
Ah, my pleasure.
I hope so.
Take care....bye bye.
MAKE SURE YOU CHECK OUT THE SUMMER 2007 ISSUE OF "UneQ Magazine" (www.UneQmagazine.com) to find out what PATTI AUSTIN has to say about LUTHER VANDROSS.