Patrice Rushen is a remarkable musician whose career spans several decades, marked by her success in both jazz and dance music. While her name may not be as widely recognized as some of her contemporaries, her contributions to the music industry are significant and enduring. From her early days as a jazz bandleader to her foray into pop albums, Rushen’s versatility and skill have left an indelible mark on the industry. Today, her influence can be heard in the music of numerous artists, and her legacy remains strong.
In 1978, at the age of 23, Rushen embarked on a new chapter in her career by releasing a series of dance-pop albums for Elektra. Prior to this, she had already established herself as a jazz bandleader, recording three albums and gaining recognition as a talented session musician. Her extensive experience touring and playing on various albums had honed her skills, while earning her a music degree from the University of Southern California further solidified her musical prowess. The five albums she released on Elektra showcased her ability to create dance music that resonated with audiences while maintaining her jazz roots. Rushen shattered the notion that jazz musicians had to choose between pop success and jazz authenticity – she proved that both could coexist.
One of her most iconic hits, “Forget Me Nots” from 1982, exemplifies Rushen’s musical approach. It wasn’t about flashy solos or complex harmonies but rather the comfort she displayed in open spaces and the impeccable execution of her band. The simplicity and precision of her music made her a role model for contemporary crossover stars like Thundercat and Robert Glasper, who continue to reference her work. Even today, her classic recordings on Elektra serve as a valuable guide for aspiring musicians seeking to merge technical skill with songcraft.
Born in Los Angeles in 1954, Rushen’s musical journey began at a very young age. She started playing the piano at three and was already giving classical recitals by the age of six. Attending Locke High School, known for its prestigious music program, exposed her to a wide range of influences. Renowned figures like Herbie Hancock and members of Earth, Wind & Fire visited the school, offering invaluable insights into the music industry. Rushen never felt compelled to choose between jazz, pop, or film composition – she embraced them all as part of her musical journey. Winning a competition at the age of 17 led to her performing at the Monterey Jazz Festival and subsequently signing with Prestige Records. Over the next few years, she released three albums that showcased her fusion of jazz and funk-pop elements.
By the time she joined Elektra, Rushen had amassed a loyal following within the jazz community and had garnered attention from open-minded black radio stations. However, her mixed identity and unique musical style sometimes puzzled the label executives who signed her. Despite initial skepticism, her persistence paid off with the release of “Forget Me Nots,” which became a major radio hit. She attributed her success, in part, to her careful management of her publishing rights, ensuring that her catalog would hold value if her music caught on.
Today, as the chair of the Popular Music Program at the University of Southern California, Rushen emphasizes the importance of developing musical acumen and staying true to oneself. Her influence extends beyond her own music, as countless artists have sampled her dance beats in their own work. Rushen finds fulfillment in witnessing how her songs have been repurposed and continue to resonate with new generations.
In conclusion, Patrice Rushen’s life and career in music are a testament to her remarkable talent and versatility. From her early jazz recordings to her success in dance-pop, she navigated the boundaries of genres with ease, leaving an enduring impact on the industry. Her ability to blend complexity with simplicity and her dedication to sharing her jazz roots with a popular audience set her apart. As contemporary artists draw inspiration from the sounds of the past, it becomes evident that we are living in Patrice Rushen’s world, even if we have yet to fully recognize it. Her contributions to music continue to be celebrated, ensuring that she will never be forgotten.