Patrice Rushen’s Journey Through Jazz, Pop and Hollywood

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Patrice Rushen’s first appearance on Soul Train was not as a musical guest.

After Don Cornelius took the show from Chicago to Los Angeles in 1971, Rushen was one of the first high-school dancers recruited by producers. And today, she bursts into laughter recalling the Golden Bird chicken dinner and soda that Soul Train’s producers awarded the dancers for their funky, syncopated and sophisticated street moves.

“I was even one of the scramble-board contestants,” she said. “Soul Train became so popular because it was an extension of us as young black people being able to see ourselves and represent who and what we really were about.”

About a decade after those appearances—following the launch of a career as a jazz pianist, composer and accompanist for Sonny Rollins, Jean-Luc Ponty, Eddie Henderson and Benny Maupin—Rushen returned to Soul Train. This time, though, she was on stage leading a tight seven-piece band during a lip-synced performance of “Never Gonna Give You Up,” the infectious, uptempo r&b single from her 1980 LP, Posh.

That song and several other soul gems are included on Strut Records’ dynamic retrospective Remind Me (The Classic Elektra Recordings, 1978–1984). The compilation documents Rushen’s commercial peak with signature classics like “Forget Me Nots,” “Music Of The Earth” and “Number One,” and exudes an urbane ebullience that maximizes her expansive gifts as a multi-instrumentalist, producer, singer, arranger and songwriter.

Remind Me also illustrates the importance of dance in Rushen’s work, which she said always has been an essential element, regardless of genre.

“There is a certain connection between the organized movement of sound and one’s body,” she began, before explaining that as a prodigy in Los Angeles, she participated in a University of Southern California eurythmic class in which teachers observed how gifted children absorbed music and their reactions to it. “In that program, a lot of the activities were about movement to music, because we didn’t have verbal skills yet to really express our thoughts about the lyrical quality of songs or why they liked the melody, harmony or rhythm. But the teachers could hand us a little scarf or something, put the music on, then ask, ‘How does that feel?’ They would find out by just watching our bodies. So, the idea of songs, emotions and colors having some sort of fluidity within them that makes your body move is a big deal to me.”

Rushen’s deep appreciation for the soul and funk music of her youth, anchored by her understanding of classical and jazz, explains why many of the songs on Remind Me remain in heavy rotation on radio and still draw crowds to 21st-century dance floors.

“You can feel her spirit inside those records on Elektra,” said DJ Ron Trent, a Chicago deep-house producer. “There are great keyboardists out there, but not many that can take their feelings and translate them into little rocket ships that penetrate everybody’s hearts.”

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October 2019
Poncho Sanchez
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