Soul veteran channels Ella Fitzgerald and Bette Midler
By James L. Stroud, Jr.
Anyone who follows music knows that there is a big difference between a career singer with signature-hit songs and a singer classified as a one-hit wonder.
Patti Austin’s performance at the Dakota Jazz Club on Tuesday, March 8, thoroughly entertained and captivated the crowd. So much so that — besides having the crowd in her palm at hello — she didn’t have to sing songs from her 2007 Grammy Awardwinning jazz CD, Avant Gershwin, or any of her R&B hits, such as “How Do You Keep the Music Playing” or “Baby Come to Me”
(R&B duets with James Ingram), to win them over.
Speaking of career singers, Austin made her singing debut at four years old, 56 years ago at the historic Apollo Theater. At age five, with a little help from Austin’s proclaimed godparents — Quincy Jones and Dinah Washington— she had a recording contract with RCA Records.
Imagine that: a veteran singer consciously leaving out hit songs from their repertoire at the risk of turning off fans who for one or all of those hit songs purchased a ticket in the first place. This might be the litmus test for where any career singer ranks amongst their contemporaries and with fans. In Austin’s case, she was number one with the Dakota crowd from hello to good night.
Austin’s performance was a delightful combination of music,comedy, theater and tribute to Ella Fitzgerald with herself as narrator. In fact, most of the songs Austin performed were ones with Ella Fitzgerald in mind. The Dakota audience should know more about Ella Fitzgerald now than before Patti Austin came to town.
Between songs, Austin shared her thoughts and observations in what turned out to be one of the best unannounced stand-up comedy shows — with great singing and live music — that has ever hit this town. One fellowMinneapolis writer said, “I came to see Patti Austin and I got Bette Midler…wow.”
Austin had the crowd in stitches when talking about her favorite television shows like Celebrity Apprentice and Dancing with the Stars, or as Austin humorously describes it, “Dancing with People You Heard of Once Before.”
Austin received Grammy nominations more than a handful of times before finally winning in 2007. She shared with the crowd her original frustration with not winning a Grammy before that year. However, Austin told the crowd that she was later educated on how songs are selected and then learned to live with the fact that songs like “It’s Hard Out There for a Pimp” won Grammies.
She then shocked the crowd into laughter when she said, “I agree, it is hard out there for a pimp.” Austin then stopped to take a moment to laugh with the audience.
Austin was on fire; the audience let her take as much as five minutes to tell them another story in the life and times of Ella Fitzgerald before the next song, and she did not lose their attention. In a curious search after the show to find anyone who showed up to hear one of Patti Austin’s hit songs and was upset because it did not happen, this writer didn’t find anyone with that problem. After the encore, Austin seemed to leave them wanting more.
Austin has a new CD that came out entitled Sound Advice,but another singer’s CD was inadvertently placed in the case and distributed. It was recalled and rescheduled for a May 2011 release.
If you want learn more about Patti Austin, her official website address is www.pattiaustin.com.
James L. Stroud, Jr. welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.