Cruising into a fulfilling life and GRAMMY-winning career
more than 50 years of making music, traveling extensively around
the world to perform concerts and finally winning a GRAMMY after
several nominations, R&B legend Patti Austin, who turns
59 this month, says she finally feels like she has her fingers
in every pie she’s interested in poking.
“Right now, I’m really doing everything
that I want to do at this point and that I’ve been working for a very
long time to get to,” Austin said. “I’m starting to do production
work on a film and on a radio show that ultimately will become a TV show. We
haven’t brought anything home yet, but we’re certainly on the journey.
After all that gets done, I’m going to a small island and try to figure
out what my favorite record is.”
The island plan is in response to the question, “Do
you have a particular song or record you performed or made that is your favorite?” The
answer was identical to what most parents say when asked if they have a favorite
“I love all my children (songs) equally,” Austin
said. “I’m afraid I would not have been any good in the ‘Sophie’s
Choice’ situation.” (Austin has never been married and has no children.)
Born in New York’s Harlem and raised in Long
Island, Austin was the daughter of a jazz trombonist father and homemaker mother
who became a psychotherapist. Although she had three stepbrothers while growing
up, Austin had no true siblings.
She said watching her father practice daily led her
to music. Among her other mentors were the late “Queen of Blues” Dinah
Washington and dance and song master Sammy Davis Jr. (Washington
was Austin’s godmother, and her godfather is Quincy Jones. Many of Austin’s
albums are on Jones’ Qwest label.)
In what must have been as phenomenal as some of the
vocal juvenile wonders seen on such contemporary TV talent shows as “Britain’s
Got Talent” and “America’s Got Talent,” Austin sang
at the Apollo Theater when she was 4 and had a recording contract with RCA
Records when she was 5.
During her adult career as a recording artist,
Austin has had such single hits as “Family Tree” (1969) and “Do
You Love Me?” (1980). Her duet sensations have been “Baby, Come
To Me” (1981) and “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” (1982),
both with James Ingram. “Baby, Come To Me” was immortalized by
TV’s “General Hospital” soap opera and “How Do You
Keep the Music Playing?” was from the movie “Best Friends” and
received an Academy Award nomination that Austin and Ingram performed on Oscars
Recently, Austin’s duet collaboration
in 1979 with Michael Jackson for his Off The Wall album
achieved renewed interest. The recording was a blend of funk, disco-pop,
soul, soft rock, jazz and pop ballads. For the album, Jackson also
collaborated with other writers and performers such as Paul McCartney,
Stevie Wonder and Rod Temperton.
In the wake of Jackson’s untimely death on June
25, Austin appeared on CNN’s “Larry King Live” to discuss
her experience with the King of Pop.
“I was friends with Michael for a short and
glorious period at a time that was his golden era,” Austin said. “Our
relationship was a very friendly one, but I certainly could not say I was his
regular hanging buddy. We did a lot of talking and working together.”
Over the past 33 years, Austin has cut nearly 20 hit
albums. Her 2007 Avant Gershwin won a GRAMMY in 2008 for
Best Jazz Vocal Album. It was the ninth time Austin had been nominated
in the category.
“I was very happy to have accomplished that,” Austin
said. “But I was much happier for my Avant Gershwin collaborators.
What the GRAMMY gave me, as it does other nominees and winners,
was about two weeks of name recognition and visibility.”
As for 2009, Austin isn’t ready to rate or judge
the year professionally.
“It’s hard to say,” she said. “It’s not over
yet. I will say it’s been fast moving. My friends and I often agree how
quick it (life) all keeps going by. When you’re a kid and in school and
you want to get out of the classroom, the day takes a thousand years to progress.
Then, when you want to savor something, it goes by like a rocket ship.”
Austin’s first half of the current year was
spent like many of her other years––traveling to either Asia, Europe
or places around the United States to perform, usually at jazz festivals.
She’s scheduled to appear with Norman Brown’s Summer
Storm at the 22nd annual Long Beach Jazz Festival on Aug. 7 and
perform in Tokyo and Osaka, Japan, for the Billboard Live
tour Aug. 21-24. Austin’s fall schedule begins Oct.10 with
the Capital Jazz SuperCruise III out of Baltimore. (The cruise
is featured in this month’s issue of Smooth Jazz News.)
Austin will be hosting a program during the weeklong sailing.
“All jazz cruises are great fun,” Austin
said. “They attract a great crowd, an enthusiastic, educated audience
that’s fun to spend time with and to perform for.”
Once upon a time in Austin’s career, Baltimore
would have been just a short jaunt from the singer’s native New York,
but since the 1970s Austin has lived off-and-on in Los Angeles or in New York.
Currently, she lives in Los Angeles, but for security reasons she declined
to pin point which community. She will only say she lives in an apartment that
has her personal touch. She said she does not collect anything anymore.
“Several years ago, a house I lived in burned
down because of an electrical fire,” Austin said. “Up until then,
I had been quite a collector, shopper and materialistic asshole, but the fire
ended all that for me. It was the best thing that ever happened to me, emotionally.
Before that, I was very obsessed with things and then I found out how unimportant
**The complete Patti Austin feature story can be found in the July
issue of Smooth Jazz News. Pick up your free copy at our
radio station affiliates (see radio station page for listings),
various concerts, festivals and select Southern California outlets.
Or you can subscribe and receive
11 editions of Smooth Jazz News per year, mailed monthly (except
January), for $35. Click here to subscribe online today.
For more information on Austin, including
her complete tour schedule, visit www.pattiaustin.com.