I’ll be honest-I can’t really judge instrumental proficiency. Hell, there are very few artists that I can identify by the tone of their instrument. The only ones I can think of off the top of my head are David Sanborn…and Patrice Rushen. Rushen’s piano playing (whether on the acoustic or electric) has a certain warmth to it that makes her singles completely recognizable before she even utters a word.

The cover of Patrice Rushen\'s 1982 smash \"Forget Me Nots\".

1982’s “Forget Me Nots” is an exercise in musical simplicity. Show me the keys and I could probably play the piano part. Rushen’s vocal is delightfully breezy and fairly plain-spoken. Even the standard Eighties sax solo sounds unfussy and relaxed. The song reminds me of summer, of backyard barbecues, and of roller skating-although I didn’t hit a skating rink for the first time until 1985, so I don’t know where that comes from. It also reminds me of Will Smith’s “Men in Black” and George Michael’s “Fastlove”, considering both songs heavily rely on “Forget Me Nots” as their musical base.

Rushen started off as a fairly standard jazz/fusion artist before being convinced to actually sing. Her wispy voice and her youthful good looks (now in her fifties, Rushen literally looks half her age) along with her musical proficiency helped her score a handful of R&B hits, with her peak period being 1979-1984. She also had an early musical association with Prince. I’m not sure if the piano solo on “Sexy Dancer” is her, but it certainly sounds like her. There’s also a rumor that 1979’s Prince song “I Feel for You” (later covered by Chaka Khan) was written both for and about Patrice.

After the hits died down towards the end of the Eighties, Patrice became one of the most sought after instrumentalists in the industry. She served as musical director for Janet Jackson’s 1993 “janet.” tour, and has also been the musical director for the NAACP Image Awards, the People’s Choice Awards, the Emmys and the Grammys. Pretty impressive to rise to the top in an area where you don’t see many women, much less women of color.

This is another one of those cheesy early Eighties videos. You have to laugh at the simplicity. I can’t find an embeddable version, folks, so you’re just gonna have to go here…