From the stirring, gospel-flavored intro of her inspiring reading of Des’ree’s 1994 hit “You Gotta Be” to the final bars of a highly distinctive, ethereal and moody remake of the Depeche Mode staple,“Enjoy The Silence,” Patti Austin has created what is destined to be another musical gem in a catalog that, at last count, consists of seventeen albums and dozens of guest appearances.
Sound Advice, Patti’s eighteenth set, showcases this GRAMMY®-winning, internationally-popular entertainer doing what she does best, using her innate ability as a superb lyrical interpreter to touch, move, inspire and connect with music lovers globally. Whether it’s breathing new life into such classics as Frank Sinatra’s evergreen “My Way” (delivered in an intimate, almost understated and tender manner with piano accompaniment from the renowned Shelly Berg) and Bill Withers’ classic “Lean On Me” (with its rousing climatic build) or shining a new musical light on Brenda Russell’s “A Little Bit Of Love” and The Jacksons’ “Give It Up” (from the 1980 LP, Triumph which she notes is “my homage to my brother Michael Jackson), Patti Austin is at her brilliant vocal best… Read more
Speaking of her thematic approach to Sound Advice much of which she produced with longtime musical pal, musician extraordinaire Greg Phillinganes (known for his stellar work with Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones and dozens of others) – the ever-genial native New Yorker says, “ All the tunes are giving some sort of advice, whether introspectively or directly and I figure I’m old enough where I should be able to give advice of some sort!”
Sound Advice is, meant per Patti, particularly for the segment of her wide-ranging audience who first became aware of her in the ‘80s through songs like “Baby Come To Me,” her chart-topping duet with James Ingram. “For the last five years, I’ve been in the ‘classical’ jazz world,” she explains, referencing For Ella, her acclaimed 2002 tribute to the legendary Fitzgerald and her 2007 CD, Avant Gershwin, which garnered Patti a long-deserved first Grammy win for Best Jazz Vocal Album. “The GRAMMY®-Award did raise my profile and gave me a notch in my gun. I was on the road doing gigs with symphony orchestras and the Duke Ellington and Count Basie bands, and essentially began performing in an area that my biggest audience is not familiar with. I decided to do this record because of the pull and tug from the fans who know me from the ‘80s…it’s my ‘going back to my roots’ album!”
Intentionally designed to “keep the production and arrangements as simple as the material would allow,” Patti notes that a couple of the songs – notably Don McLean’s “Vincent” (his 1971 ode to painter Van Gogh), given a stark and poignant reading and “My Way” – had their genesis in a proposed piano/vocal album, which, she says, “I will ultimately do,” adding what she terms her “weird sideways choice!” of the McLean classic was motivated by her own musical journey: “If you are going to be an artist, you cannot expect to be understood…so be who you are and let the chips fall where they may.”
Exemplifying her approach, the goddaughter of Quincy Jones and Dinah Washington imbues Bob Dylan’s “You Gotta Serve Somebody” with some soul-plus while giving The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” a whole new vibe. “I didn’t remember “Serve Somebody” as a Dylan tune,” Patti notes. “But wow, he got everyone on the list in that song! As for the Stones’ song, I wanted to rock something out. I had never really understood what Mick Jagger was saying so I created my own interpretation. My generation grew up with this ‘you can have it all’ idea and it’s a crock and we were wishing out loud. The truth is, something has to be sacrificed and you always get what you need…even if it’s not always what you like…”
Never one to shy away from social and global issues – her own composition “By The Grace Of God” has been adopted as a musical theme by The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence while Patti sang “Lean On Me” on television’s Larry King Live to draw attention to the plight of people in Haiti affected by the devastating 2009 earthquake there – she chose Paul McCartney’s “Let ‘Em In” partly because “it represents an issue here in the US, the issue of immigration which is the basis of our country and is what has made the country as great as it is so it’s time to stop the nonsense, the isolationist mentality and embrace everybody…”
Patti Austin’s keen interest in being an inclusive entertainer likely started when she stepped onto the stage of the world-famous Apollo Theater in Harlem at the age of four at the urging of music legend Dinah Washington. The daughter of jazz trombonist Gordon Austin, Patti was a bonafide recording artist in her teens, achieving her first chart success in 1969 with “The Family Tree” (a Top 50 R&B single) after a string of 45s that would later become treasured collector’s items among Britain’s Northern soul community.
During the 70s Patti was the undisputed “queen” of the New York session scene, her voice was heard behind everyone from Paul Simon, Cat Stevens, James Brown and Joe Cocker to Bette Midler, Roberta Flack, Luther Vandross and Diana Ross and on countless memorable commercial jingles. After a series of much-acclaimed albums for CTI Records, she signed with her godfather Quincy Jones’ Qwest label and began achieving mainstream success on an international level thanks to the GRAMMY®-nominated hit “Baby Come To Me,” her now classic duet with James Ingram and the follow-up duet, the Oscar-nominated “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” as well as her appearance on albums with Jones on his best-selling Stuff Like That, his GRAMMY®–winning classic The Dude and later, his From Q With Love Vols. 1 & 2.
Patti’s appeal to R&B and dance music audiences was evidenced through the Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis-produced smash “The Heat of Heat” and tracks like “It’s Gonna Be Special” and “Rhythm Of The Street.” Her 1988 album The Real Me, one of the most popular items in her catalog, featured a powerful collection of pop and jazz standards including “Cry Me A River,” “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” and “Mood Indigo” while a stint at /GRP Records included 1991’s Carry On, Love is Gonna Getcha (featuring the across-the-board hit “Through the Test of Time”), That Secret Place and Patti Austin Live (recorded at New York’s Bottom Line), which showcased her amazing standup comedic skills and brilliant impersonations. Her 1998 album In and Out of Love spent almost two years on the contemporary jazz charts. In 1999 and in 2000, she recorded On The Way to Love, a superb Warner Brothers album produced by Paul Brown.
The GRAMMY®-nominated For Ella album opened up new doors for Patti as a performer and her embrace by the jazz world was further cemented with Avant Gershwin: both albums, recorded with Germany’s WDR Big Band, won Patti constant acclaim and expanded her audience significantly leading to numerous big band and jazz trio shows throughout the world; she considers being a judge (along with luminaries Al Jarreau, Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Kurt Elling) at a vocal competition at The Thelonious Monk Institute in 2009 a personal career highlight.
And, speaking personally, Patti doesn’t hide the fact that she had gastric bypass surgery after years of being overweight and suffering from diabetes and other health issues. Realizing how her choices impacted her health, she made a commitment to educate others. “That surgery saved my life,” she says.
Ever seeking new challenges for herself, Patti has also written and created her own one-woman show and co-created the musical extravaganza Beboperella, a modern-day, music-driven show that brings the sound and spirit of bebop to a new generation. She also is the co-creator of Oh Freedom, a show exploring the African-American quest for freedom and equality in America.
A dedicated humanitarian who has devoted considerable time to performing for AIDS-related organizations over the years, her “Blue Movement” is Patti’s personal crusade to bring awareness and new insights into the domestic violence crisis in the USA and around the world. It was a domestic violence-related episode of “Oprah” that inspired “By The Grace Of God,” one of the key cuts on Sound Advice. Patti was one of a host of artists on the 2010 single, “We Are The World: 25 For Haiti” and she has also co-created an organization dedicated to mentoring, the “Over My Shoulder” foundation (Overmyshoulderfoundation.org)
Patti’s lifelong commitment to inspiring others both personally and musically is evidenced by the material on Sound Advice, which includes a second Austin composition, the upbeat “Round And Round,” which began as a musical groove with Phillinganes when the two were with musical mentor Quincy Jones in Sardinia after the passing of Michael Jackson in 2008: “When we got in the studio to work on the album, we finished the melody and I wrote the lyrics that night and we cut it the next day. There are people who don’t know me as a songwriter and may be surprised,” says Austin, whose 1976 LP debut (End Of The Rainbow) consisted almost entirely of original compositions.
Expressing her appreciation and gratitude for working with Phillinganes – another graduate of what she calls “QU, Quincy’s University!” – Gregg Field and Shelly Berg as producers along with the level of musicianship with players like Trevor Lawrence (Eminem, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Alicia Keys), Ian Martin (Barry Manilow, David Foster) and Paul Jackson Jr. (Luther Vandross, Lionel Richie, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston), Patti concludes, “I wanted to accomplish a lot with Sound Advice – including original material, covers and focusing on vocal performances for certain tunes. I’m very happy with the record: I went through a lot of ups and downs about how it was going to flow, about the material, if it would be cohesive and if it was going to have any point of view musically, lyrically, thematically. Now I’m having a lot of fun performing the material live: I am really enjoying this record,” a sentiment that will no doubt be echoed by Patti Austin’s audience the world over.
00 – Johnny Gill Interview Promo
01 – Patti Austin – The Heat Of Heat (Gettin” Away With Murder, 1985)
02 – Patti Austin & James Ingram – Baby Come To Me (Every Home Should Have One, 1981)
03 – Patti Austin – Summer Is The Coldest Time Of Year (Gettin” Away With Murder, 1985)
04 – Patti Austin – Make It Right (On The Way To Love, 2001)
05 – Patti Austin – Grace Of God (Sound Advice, 2011)
06 – Gospel Soul Weeks Promo
Background music during the interview:
Patti Austin – Only A Breath Away, Johnny Gill – In The Mood (Radio Version), J.J. Johnson & Kai Winding – Georgia On My Mind, Patti Austin – In My Life, Patti Austin – Do You Love Me, Michael Jackson & Patti Austin – It”s The Falling In Love, Patti Austin – In & Out Of Love, Patti Austin – Too Close For Comfort, Patti Austin – You Gotta Be, Patti Austin – My Way, Patti Austin – A Little Bit Of Love