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Patti Bown

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(1931-2008)
In the mid-fifties, jazz pianist Patti Bown made her way from Seattle to New York City. Several years later, she recorded Patti Bown Plays Big Piano, with four of her own compositions, including G’won Train. When Quincy Jones was forming a big band in the late fifties for a European premiere of Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s show Free and Easy, he hired Patti as his pianist. She was “a child prodigy back in Seattle,”1 Jones recounted in his autobiography. Patti was one of two women in the band. The other was trombonist Melba Liston. The show failed, but the big band, which also featured such artists as Phil Woods, Jimmy Cleveland, and Clark Terry, continued to tour Europe for some ten months.2 In a music-filled career, Patti played and recorded with Gene Ammons, Oliver Nelson, and Jimmy Rushing, among many others. She served as music director for Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughn. In a review of Patti’s club appearance in the early eighties, New York Times reviewer John S. Wilson wrote, “Patti Bown is known primarily as a pianist, a jazz pianist with a strong, adventurous approach, a melodic instinct, an unusual harmonic imagination and an intense sense of rhythm.”3

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Patti Bown moved to Westbeth in the early 1970s. In her later years, she suffered from ill health. Patti’s son, Anthony, had predeceased her. Artist Sherry Lane recalls her friend: “Patti had a great big warm heart! She was always loving and took my son Lawrence under her wing like a second mom. Thanks to Patti, he learned to love jazz at an early age. She would sit at her piano and play for the two of us.”4 Another neighbor remembers seeing Patti play at various venues: “Her music was complicated, strong. She shook the stage like a diva.”5 And drummer Nasheet Waits, who grew up at Westbeth, says, “I first and foremost have memories of Patti as a joyful and caring mother with a flamboyant personality and fashion sense. Very carefree, at least this was my impression as a child barreling through the halls of Westbeth. When I later had the opportunity to work with Patti, it became clear that she was all business when it came to the bandstand. She was a task master. She ensured that you played her shit right!!”6

Notes:

1. Quoted in Quincy Jones, Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones (Doubleday, 2001), page 135-6.
2. Ibid., page 138.
3. John S. Wilson, “Jazz Pianist: Patti Brown [sic] at Hanratti’s [sic],” New York Times, Jul. 12, 1981.
4. Sherry Lane, email to Terry Stoller, Nov. 15, 2017.
5. Christina Maile, email to Terry Stoller, Nov. 16, 2017.
6. Nasheet Waits, email to Terry Stoller, Dec. 5, 2017.

Photo credits: (from top) Jazz Icons, Quincy Jones, Live in ’60 video; photo by Bill May.

Patti Bown’s papers are held at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

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