Patti Bown - Plays Big Piano

Patti Bown Big Piano (Columbia 1959)

Fallen through the cracks, the great pianist Patti Bown.

Patti Bown - Plays Big Piano


Patti Bown (piano), Joe Benjamin (bass), Ed Shaughnessy (drums)


on September 27 and October 27 & 28, 1959 in New York City


as CL 1379 in 1959

Track listing

Side A:
Nothin’ But The Truth
It Might As Well Be Spring
Waltz De Funk
I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair
Head Shakin’
Side B:
Gwon Train
Sunshine Cake
Give Me The Simple Life
I Didn’t Know What Time It Was
I Was Always True To You In My Fashion

HThat’s Bown, not Brown. Miss Bown to you. Slip of the tongue, is all. Understandable. At any rate, here’s an unknown pianist that could be described as the female counterpart of Ray Bryant.

Bown recorded only one album as a leader: Big Piano. But quite a few recordings as sidewoman reveal that Bown was well-respected and acclaimed among musicians and cognoscenti.

Born in Seattle in 1931, Bown aspired a future as concert pianist, an ambition that was thwarted by the simple and cruel fact that high-echelon cultural positions were generally denied to black citizens. She was raised on Ellington, Basie, Parker and Gillespie and while she worked as typist, stock clerk and window washer, Bown played blues, gospel and jazz. Her sister married Jerry Valente, who wrote arrangements for Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan and Art Blakey.

Bown was involved in Billy Eckstine sessions in New York City in 1956. Again, in 1959, Bown resided in New York City, when Seattle-born Quincy Jones took her on the road with his Free And Easy band, intermittently touring in Europe. At the same time, a test record of her music ended up at the headquarters of Columbia Records via George Painkin, which led to the production of Big Piano.

Big piano, indeed. As in: voluptuous, vivacious and downright vunky. Bown, together with bassist Joe Benjamin and drummer Ed Shaughnessy, who occasionally adds tambourine for a lively gospel effect, has a no holds barred-approach to standards and originals, adding blues-drenched originals for the icing on the buttery cake. She transforms Give Me The Simple Life into an up-tempo Saturday night fish fry romp. Bown reimagines It Might As Well Be Spring by setting of her four beat drive against bouncy triplets. Bown’s Nothing But The Truth tells it like it is in Baptist fashion. Her Sunshine Cake oozes Basie swing as economy of lines and development from lithe to heavy swing is concerned. G’won Train reveals not only that Bown was knee-deep in groove river but makes canny use of space and flow. Terribly exciting and organic stuff.

In the 1960’s, Bown recorded with various jazz artists, notably Gene Ammons (six records), Oliver Nelson (four records) and Quincy Jones (four records). Taking a dive into her session work, you will hear that she usually came up with something spicy and worthwhile. Check The Five ‘O Clock Whistle from Ammons’s Uptight and Hobo Flats from Oliver Nelson’s Fantabulous here.

Apparently, Bown recorded with Aretha Franklin and James Brown in the 1960’s. Where and when? No idea. Bown definitely suited their aesthetic to a T.

Bown had made New York her home and worked on Broadway and in the film and tv industry. She regularly performed at the Village Gate. Bown passed away in 2008.

2 thoughts on “Patti Bown Big Piano (Columbia 1959)

  1. Picked up a stereo copy of this based on your review. I think it might be one of my new favorites. Really great performances, and the recording is top notch too.

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