Recalling the Lessons of a Starry Childhood

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Singer Patti Austin grew up in what might best be described as a hallowed entertainment-world environment. Her godmother was Dinah Washington and her godfather was Quincy Jones.

"Sammy Davis Jr. taught me some hoofing," she says, "and Ray Bolger taught me time steps."

Her father, trombonist Gordon Austin, played with, among others, Fletcher Henderson, Lucky Millinder and Billy Eckstine--thus the growing years in which she was constantly surrounded by the shooting-star world of show business. And that experience, she feels, is the reason she has chosen versatility and regularity in her career. It's also why she has worked hard to stay free of the seductive blandishments of stardom.

"I watched the people who passed through our lives function and dysfunction all over the place as I was growing up," she recalls, "and I think I just decided that the payoff for having that kind of notoriety really wasn't worth the price."

Nonetheless, Austin hasn't exactly had an anonymous history in the business. On Sunday night she performs at the Hollywood Bowl in the JVC Jazz Festival's "A Twist of Marley." Along with guitarist Lee Ritenour, saxophonist Gerald Albright and others, she will re-create tunes from the new Verve tribute to the legendary Bob Marley.

But, typically, she will also shift gears into a performance of material from her new album, "On the Way to Love." Those songs will be part of a one-woman show about her life--bearing the same title as the album--that will premiere in Sacramento early next year.

This sort of easy movement from one interest to another has been characteristic. A recording artist in her teens, she then moved into backup singing and studio recording, at one time the unquestioned queen of the advertising jingle business in New York City.

"It was an era that I describe as 'Let's sell a bunch of stuff to people that they don't really need and make them believe that they need it,"' she says. "I'm not cynical, that's just what happens to you after you've worked for 15 years in the ad business singing and writing jingles. You just learn what the real motivation is--money!"

Austin, who has no hesitation about expressing her opinions, is equally sardonic about developments in smooth jazz. The style, she points out, evolved from the late-night, soulful balladry associated with jazz and the blues--with her duos with James Ingram on "Baby Come to Me" and "How Do You Keep the Music Playing" as classic examples.

"But now it has become, for everyone but Sade, an instrumental wasteland," she says. "Because the mentality behind it is that this music serves as underscoring for one's life. And the 'one' is the one who drives the Volvo and the Saab and the Mercedes and gets stock reports from Barron's--a whole demographic that the smooth-jazz business is going for."

But she sees an upside to the process as well.

"The good news is that a live-performance audience has developed out of all this," she says. "And it's an interesting audience, because it's all the discontents from the ages of 35 to 55 and older, who grew up with everybody from Louis Armstrong and Jimi Hendrix to Motown--an amazing array of musical tastes. They're used to seeing people who are really good performers, and they want to hear good music.

"Now if we can just get the radio stations to realize that there's an audience out there that wants to hear music that hasn't been pre-processed through listening committees, we may really be onto something."

Patti Austin performs in "A Twist of Marley" on Sunday at the Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. 6 p.m. (323) 850-2000.

*

Celebrating a Life: Trombonist Thurman Green never received the recognition from the jazz audience that he did from his fellow players. His steady trombone work made significant contributions to bands led by, among others, Benny Carter, Gerald Wilson and Mercer Ellington. He also contributed--until his death in 1997 at the age of 56--to the Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra. But Green, for all his skills as a bop-oriented player, was fully capable of working in more contemporary settings. And his work with Horace Tapscott, Hamiet Bluiett and his own quintet on the stunning "Dance of the Night Creatures" revealed a talent that was continually expanding into new areas of expression.

On Sunday afternoon, for the fifth year in a row, Green's life will be celebrated by many of the artists who knew him best--among them, trombonists Buster Cooper and Phil Ranelin, baritone saxophonist Bluiett, alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe, singer Carmen Bradford and Jerry Rusch & Zing, a string quartet group.

Proceeds from the performance will provide financial assistance via the Thurman Green Scholarship Program (in association with the Los Angeles Jazz Society) to trombonists pursuing college-level studies. The first recipient of the award was the now highly regarded Isaac Smith. The program also supports students in the L.A. Jazz Society's Bill Green Mentorship Program, and younger students studying trombone at the World Stage.

The fifth annual Thurman Green Scholarship Jazz Festival. Sunday at the Musicians Union, Local 47, 817 N. Vine St., Hollywood. From noon. $25 minimum donation includes complimentary brunch. Information: (310) 636-7571 or (323) 993-3171.

*

Symphonic Jazz: Efforts to blend elements of jazz and classical music have persisted virtually since the start of the 20th century. The Paul Whiteman premiere of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" at Manhattan's Aeolian Hall in 1924 was the first major effort. Numerous other combinations continued, ranging from Igor Stravinsky's composition "Ebony Concerto" for the Woody Herman band in the mid-'40s through the numerous Third Stream works of the '50s and '60s and into Wynton Marsalis' recent works for various ensembles (his "All Stand" will be performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and chorus at the Hollywood Bowl on Sept. 13).

That's just a quick list, of course, with Jack Elliott's American Jazz Philharmonic (which seems to have morphed into the Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra) the most important Southland advocate of cross-genre music-making.

An important new jazz and classical entity will arrive Sept. 23 with the debut performance of the Symphonic Jazz Orchestra at Royce Hall. The 72-member professional group was started by Mitchell Glickman (former director of the Henry Mancini Institute) and musician-composer Tom Scott. The mission, Glickman says, will be "to carry on the symphonic jazz history, commissioning new works and resurrecting classic pieces from the rich repertoire."

The Sept. 23 concert, conducted by Glickman and Scott, will feature vocalist Phil Perry and the Yellowjackets jazz quartet. The program includes a newly commissioned work by Scott, the U.S. premiere of Russell Ferrante and Jimmy Haslip's "Greenhouse" (with the orchestra and the Yellowjackets) and the reconstruction of Don Sebesky's 1979 symphonic jazz composition, "Bela & Bird in B Flat."

Tickets for the Sept. 23 Symphonic Jazz Orchestra concert at UCLA's Royce Hall are available through the Royce Hall box office, (310) 825-2101. A limited number of VIP tickets can be purchased by calling (310) 876-8130 or logging on to the organization's Web site at http://www.SymphonicJazzOrchestra.org.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
60°