Rushen Named 'Midnight' Music Director

Patrice Rushen, the pixie-sized jazz-oriented keyboardist has been named musical director of "The Midnight Hour." The CBS network show, which tapes in studio 42 of CBS' Television City in Los Angeles, is an eight-week summer fill-in late-night talk show that replaces "The Pat Sajak Show" and airs Mon.-Fri., 12:40-1:40 a.m. on KCBS. The show features a different host each week--tonight it's Peter Tilden, an occasional guest host on KABC radio, next week it's Steve Dahl and Gary Meier, a DJ/talk show pair from Chicago, and Mark McEwen, who does the weather on the "CBS Morning Show," follows the pair.

"It's an interesting idea, having a different host each week so each week the concept changes," said Rushen, who's played with Jean-Luc Ponty, Hubert Laws and Gerald Wilson's Orchestra, who's had some big pop hits like 1982's "Forget Me Nots" (which hit No. 23 on the Billboard Pop Charts) and who wrote the soundtracks for both Robert Townsend's "Hollywood Shuffle" and Sandra Bernhard's "Without You, I'm Nothing."

"Like Wednesday morning, I got a call from producer Steve Ober, who said he'd decided not to go with the band that evening, and would just use me at the keyboards," a last-minute decision that required Rushen to come up with some unusual musical approaches almost on the spot. "It's been an interesting week, but not without being fun," Rushen laughed.

That flexibility was exactly why she was hired, said the show's executive producer Michael Weisman. "I knew of Patrice's reputation as an artist who was bright, personable--she has to be able to interact and ad lib with a variety of hosts--and had a wide range of talents, a versatility that allows for sudden changes," he said. "It was really coup for us to get her."

Usually Rushen, 35, works with her hand-picked band of guitarist Paul Jackson Jr., saxman Kirk Whalum, bassist Sam Sims and drummer Ndugu Chancler--the latter and Rushen make up the duo One+1, and they also play together in The Meeting, a contemporary band which has a new release out on GRP and which plays the Hollywood Bowl, Aug. 26.

This is no slouch crew, Rushen will tell you. "This show is up against the best small ensemble--that's the Paul Shaffer band on the David Letterman show--so I didn't come in the 'B' team," she chuckled. "(The band) has to be able to hold its own. Even though music is not the emphasis on the show, this band won't be ignored. It's going to make some noise."

Weisman concurred: "With the hosts and concepts changing, Patrice's band is the one constant on the show."

Rushen, who is the first women to be a musical director in a late-night format, and her band performs in any format, she said. "(Songwriter) Sammy Cahn was on the other night, and we played a tune or two of his," she said. "And Mellow Man Ace, who raps in what he calls 'Spanglish,' which is Spanish and English, he did something impromptu and we backed him up and the audience went crazy, and the phones lit up like mad."

Needless to say, that's the kind of reaction that Rushen wants. "If the hosts are comfortable, the music fits their style and the audience, both in-studio and at home, is enjoying it, as long as long that's happening, I'm cool."

MORE LAJS WINNERS: Buddy Collette, the reed player/composer who been an integral part of the Los Angeles musical community since the late '40s, has been named to receive the Los Angeles Jazz Society's 8th annual lifetime achievement award, it was announced Sunday. Also named: Nat Pierce, who receives the Society's Composer/Arranger award and Lyle (Spud) Murphy, recipient of the Jazz Educator award. The three, plus previously announced winners Conte Candoli and Cecilia Coleman, will be feted at a celebration at the Los Angeles Hilton and Towers, Sept. 9. Information: (213) 469-6800.

CLUB BEAT: When pianist Cedar Walton drops in to Catalina Bar & Grill Thursday through Sunday, he'll be using his New York trio, with bassist Buster Williams--in for Angeleno regular Tony Dumas--and the always-on-hand drum ace Billy Higgins. Dumas, keeping busy, teams up with mercurial pianist Billy Childs and drummer Ralph Penland for a one-niter at Bon Appetit in Westwood, Saturday.

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