Thursday, August 11, 2011
PATTI BOWN, singer and pianist, died in 2008 at 76.
I interviewed Patti Bown in her apartment several years before she died. Ms. Bown had been crippled by several accidents and when I met her, she was bedridden and had a full-time home-care attendant who was coached to answer the phone, "Miss Bown's residence." The apartment was stuffed with boxes and Ms. Bown regaled me with a loop of stories from her bed, tooting her own achievements as a pianist and jazz singer and her battles with racism and sexism in the music world.
I met a second Patti Bown when I came back with the photographer to take her portrait for the exhibit. She was gleefully nasty, telling the same stories and keeping me basically hostage for three hours as she did her make up and moved at a glacial speed. She wanted the company.
Patti Bown was a native of Seattle and has been playing the piano since she was two years old. In her distinguished career as a pianist and singer, she had played with many of the greats, from Dinah Washington to Quincy Jones. Bown moved into Westbeth in 1973.
Here's an excerpt from our 2005 interview:
I was the youngest of six girls, We all had perfect pitch. My mother didn’t want me to be in nightclubs. I made my mind up that I couldn’t do it in Seattle, that I had to come to New York. I came here in 1955 or ‘56. I had these weird jobs. These guys would book me into nightclubs where old businessmen would try to grab me. I’d slug them and be out of a job.
Word spread fast that I could play and I could sing, and that I was a nut and could entertain people. When Quincy Jones found out that I was in New York, he called and I went to his house for dinner. He said, I’m forming a band and I want you to be the pianist. I was with Quincy’s band in Europe in ‘59 and ‘60. We had two hit records.
It was hard for a woman to get a job, A lot of men wouldn’t hire a woman. That was a serious, hard thing for me. I knew I could play. They said Benny Goodman was looking for a pianist. I went down there. The people auditioning me clapped like crazy, but he wouldn’t hire me. Goodman’s musical director said, “You sure can play, but he won’t hire you. He’s got some kind of complex about chicks. He thinks they draw too much attention.” Some wicky wacky prejudice.