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Multitalented musician Patrice Rushen takes the stage with Interlochen students

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"Cowboy" Ben Alman www.benalman.com
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Patrice Rushen performs in 2010

Patrice Rushen is best known for her Grammy-nominated music such as the singles "Forget Me Nots" and "Number One" and the album "Signature."

Rushen has recorded with dozens of other artists including Prince, Carlos Santana, Paul McCartney and Chaka Khan.

She's also a composer, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, songwriter, music director and professor.

Rushen served as the music director for the Grammy Awards three times, the first woman ever to do so.

She's also been the music director of the Emmy Awards and has composed music scores for film and television.

She is in residence at Interlochen Center for the Arts this week, working with the students in the contemporary music program.

Rushen spoke with IPR about her multifaceted career and what it's like introducing a new generation of students to her music.

Patrice Rushen will perform with Interlochen's singer-songwriter and jazz students Friday, Sept. 23 at 7:30 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium. For tickets and more information, click here.

Listen to the full interview or read the transcript below.

Listeners probably know you best for your Grammy-nominated singles like Number One and Forget Me Nots. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. You're a composer, you're a record producer, you're a pianist, you're a professor, you're a music director. When you wear so many hats, is there one that feels the most comfortable to you?

Well, ironically I didn't start wearing them all at the same time. So I had a chance to see how each one actually helped the other ones.

As a player, let's say, what I wanted to do was, at one point, be a studio musician. I was really interested in composition. And I wanted specifically to do composition that was related to film and television. But I didn't know the path to get there. But I did love all kinds of music and wanted to learn all kinds of music. So learning to play, learning to embrace the different styles of music, which is part of being a composer, especially in that medium, actually allowed me to get better and better at playing, which I still love, and performing, which I still love.

The teaching thing came much, much later. But a lot of the skills that I learned as a college student who was a music education major and classical piano minor - with the intention of doing neither - actually taught me a lot about what it was about in terms of music direction, organizing big concepts and breaking those concepts down into smaller bites.

So you can see there was this intersection of the different things, all creative, and all music making, even though they were slightly nuanced in terms of the lens through which I was functioning or the hat that I was wearing at the time.

You’ve been the music director for the Grammy Awards a few times. How on earth do you organize such a thing?

It's a big deal. Because you have so many acts, but they're dependent on you. There depending on having somebody who understands and has been in their shoes as a performer, in a situation where in an instant they're going to be broadcasted to millions.

There’s a certain amount of trust, hopefully, that they would have in you to help navigate that slightly different world of organizing a television broadcast. So I'm sort of that go-between, in terms of being able to translate what the TV people need to see and what the artists need to do.

I've worked with some wonderful people, and I think it's because of that element of trust in my ability and also the proof in the body of work that I have done. It always works out for me in a very positive way. So it’s been awesome.

You've recorded with everybody from Carlos Santana to Prince to Wayne Shorter - it's a huge list. Is there a particular collaboration that stands out to you?

I learn something from all of them. Every time I work with, especially, you know, a master like Wayne Shorter, I learn so much. Not only things that are musical, but things that are kind of life lesson moments. Carlos Santana, as you mentioned, loves all different kinds of music. He may play the music that he plays outwardly in front of people. But this guy has probably the largest jazz record collection I think I've ever seen. He has a t-shirt that has everybody on it. And to find that kind of thing out about him is to also get inside of his music a little bit differently.

I met Prince at the very beginning of his career. And then as his career ascended to the heights that it did, there were moments when we came in contact over and over again and had a very close and mutual respect for each other's art and abilities. But that translates into all the different kinds of artists and music that that I do. It translates into what I've done in the symphonic area and in the motion picture arena and even in my teaching.

You’re here at Interlochen this week working with students. You'll be performing some of your own songs with them as well. What’s it like playing your music with these teenagers who are maybe experiencing it for the first time?

It's very cool. First of all, the students at Interlochen, of course, are some of the most talented. And I think, at a very young age, dedicated to what it is that they are trying to find in their means of artistic expression. That's a lot. Because when you're a teenager, you're all over the place. So for them to at least have that part of it kind of worked out is really fantastic to be able to capitalize on that moment of clarity and see how it informs other aspects of their lives.

We’ve had a lot of good discussions and things to talk about, and the commonality that gives us something to discuss is the music. And they're finding the music, some of them, like you mentioned, for the first time. And they’re able to dive into it because I'm here to be able to talk about it. And that's a different experience than just hearing it on a turntable or hearing it at a little dance or a club and enjoying it but not having the person to be able to talk to.

I mean, if I had had composers to sit down and talk with - if I could have sat down with Mozart or Beethoven or something like that, it probably would have been crazy great. And not to put myself on that level, but to just say that the whole idea of being able to know that there's a particular song that's been now a part of your life, that maybe your parents even know. And that the artist or the writer is right in front of you and you can talk to them about that and about other things. That's pretty special.

So it's been a blast. And that goes both ways. I'm learning things too.

What do you get out of these kinds of performances?

It’s fun. It puts me on my guard, too, because you have to sometimes explain certain kinds of things that at this point in my development I take for granted. It’s like, “Oh, I need to break that down a little differently so that they understand.” And they do. And for me, that's part of the learning experience, too. Can you talk about process, can you talk about what it means to play a groove and how that groove is broken down into these particular beats that you should be paying attention to? Or a lyric, the delivery of a lyric, the delivery of the story? You know, these are nuances that sometimes get left off the table for a long, long time. But to be able to put it into use and apply it right now is a very special situation.

Even if the students never knew you before, they would’ve heard your music on TikTok because Forget Me Nots was popular again last fall in a TikTok dance craze.

That song is 40 years old this year and it has had so many different iterations. I put it out on my own album project in ‘82. And then a few years later, it appeared in the movie Big in the trampoline scene with Tom Hanks. Then a few years later, it became the basis of the theme song of the movie franchise Men in Black. Then later on, George Michael recorded it and used a big sample of it for Fast Love.

So this is the song that just keeps going and going. And it's so great to have that experience because when I do concerts now, I see people my age and older. And I see kids the age of the students that I'm teaching here at Interlochen and younger and they're all singing the same song. It's crazy and wonderful.

Could you have imagined in 1982 when you went in the studio to cut that track that it would be the one?

If somebody had told me then that this would be that, I would like “Oh, really?” So no, but I always try to record things that I like and the things that mean something to me, with the thought that it might resonate with somebody else. But that wasn't my impetus. The impetus first was to get past me, my heart. But the idea was to do something that I felt really good about.

And it was funny because the record company didn't like it at all. When we turned it in, they were like, “Okay, we don't need anything on this.” I guess they didn't get it at the time. But the people did. And that was back in the day when they would put the records out and then it was really the people that had the last word.

Records would be played on radio, which was our internet for those of you who don't know, and people would respond to their local radio station – “What was that? I liked it” – and it would determine how many more spins a day you might get. And so people really did have the last word and in terms of what was going to be a hit and what wasn't. And this was one of those things that as soon as people heard it, they responded. And it took off and it’s still here.

Stefan Wiebe engineered the interview recording.

Kacie Brown provided digital content support.

Dr. Amanda Sewell is IPR's music director.