Patti Austin reveals that after 10 years of trying to line up James Ingram to do a duets album, it’s finally coming together. “He kept saying ‘No, no, no, no, no.’ But finally the stars aligned,” says the Grammy-winning songstress with a laugh.
Part of the reason Austin and Ingram are joining forces for a full album is that they now have a producer they’re happy with for the job — Keith Thomas, who has worked with CeCe Winans and Amy Grant, among others. Another reason was that the entire recording industry has changed. “That makes it a different kind of project. We have to get this thing financed, but that also means we own it,” she points out. Not surprisingly, “We already have people ready to book it, and we haven’t even recorded it yet.”
According to Austin, preliminary plans call for a mix of original songs and covers of some of the great male-female duets of the past. As for any sure things? “I can semi-guarantee Marvin and Tammy happening,” she says, referring to the classic hit-making duo of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. “We’ll probably record more than we need and pick out the best.”
The duet album release is a ways off — late next year, she reckons — while Patti has her own “Sound Advice” pop-soul-R&B album just now coming out. Having focused on the jazz side of her career the last several years, she’s enjoying the response she’s getting to the record that takes her back to her pop-soul-R&B roots. The songs range from a gospel-inspired take on Des’ree’s “You Gotta Be” to Patti’s rousing take on the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” — to her tribute song to another past collaborator, the late Michael Jackson.
She tells us she wanted to do a “Mikey” song in his honor, but “I wanted to do something very obscure, because everybody does the same five songs. I wanted something people didn’t know or forgot they knew.” She heard producer Greg Phillinganes “doodling around on the piano” one day and asked what he was playing — it sounded familiar. “He said, ‘Oh, you don’t know it.’ And I said, ‘It’s driving me crazy…I know it’s Michael…It’s Jackson 5. Play it from the top.’” It turned out, the song was “Give it Up,” for which which Phillinganes did the original arrangement.
“I used to listen to that song every morning. It was my wakeup song. But I hadn’t heard it in 30 years,” marvels Patti. She and the producer decided to “give it a Brazilian sendoff, but I said, ‘Greg, if it ain’t broke. Don’t fix it. There’s not a heck of a lot you should do with this.’” Thus, some of the arrangement stays intact.