Primary Instrument: Vocalist
Some people are just born to music.
Patrice Williamson’s childhood home in Memphis, Tennessee was filled with music. Her late father, Webster Williamson, was an amateur singer, choir director, and pillar of the St. Stephen’s Baptist Church music ministry, and he introduced his children early on to both sacred music and the secular styles of legendary figures like Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, and Lena Horne. Encouraged by her mother, Lillie Rivers Williamson, Patrice followed in the footsteps of her elder sister Denise and began studying the violin, making her debut at age four in front of the St. Stephen’s congregation in a duet with her sister. From that moment on she was hooked on music, and in addition to her violin lessons, she began studying the piano at age seven and the flute at age eleven.
By her teens, Patrice was playing the flute quite seriously, and was involved in numerous high school orchestras and bands. However, when she enrolled at the University of Tennessee (UT), she decided to choose a “practical” major ? communications. By her second year though, she realized that this was not where her heart lay, and she decided to change her major to Flute Performance. She was afraid to tell her family, but her mother very matter-of-factly replied, “Well, it’s about time. I didn’t know what you were doing in broadcasting when you’ve been in music your whole life!”
During this time she focused on classical music, and served as the principal flutist for both the UT opera and symphony orchestras. However, it was during a rehearsal break for the UT studio jazz orchestra, of which she was also a member, that one of those fateful moments occurred that can change one’s life: The conductor overheard her scatting with some fellow band members, and immediately gave her a solo in the next concert! Patrice had never considered a singing career until this moment, and the rest, as we say, is history. Encouraged by yet another UT faculty member, jazz pianist Donald Brown, she headed to the New England Conservatory for a Master’s Degree in Jazz Vocal Performance, where she worked with award-winning RCA recording artist Dominique Eade.
In Boston, Patrice hit the ground running: before she even finished her degree, she was weighing rival offers for a four-month engagement at Singapore’s premiere jazz venue, The Somerset's Bar, and a place in NEC’s prestigious Artist’s Diploma program. In the end, she managed to do both, widening her musical world even further.
A regular at Boston’s celebrated Regattabar since 1996, Patrice has also appeared in the company of Tony Bennett, James Moody, and Cassandra Wilson at the Tanglewood Jazz Festival, and Danilo Perez and Kevin Mahogony at the Marblehead Jazz Festival. She’s been heard at Boston’s Symphony Hall, Jordan Hall, the Hatch Shell, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and at the IDB National Bank Cultural Center Concert Series in Washington, D.C.
Having triumphed during her first engagement in Singapore, she was invited back as a special guest performer in the nation’s New Year’s Eve Millennium Celebration. That same year, she returned to take part in the Eden Project, an international group of female jazz musicians who rocked the International Women’s Forum in March 2000.
The critics and the jazz community have been quick to recognize that this talent is for real. She was honored with a coveted Best of Boston award in 1997, and in 1999 and 2000 was a nominee for Best Jazz Vocalist by the Kahlua Boston Music Awards. Patrice is a versatile musician who is as well-versed in (the style of) BeBop as she is in contemporary music, and a typical set for her can include anything from a blistering version of a Bud Powell tune (she is one of the most virtuosic scatters around), to a swinging version of a Stevie Wonder favorite. She fully engages her audiences with her personal warmth and charm, and enjoys the respect of her colleagues on the bandstand, who are always intent on helping her convey her musical vision.
The response to her debut recording My Shining Hour (released in September 1998) has been overwhelmingly positive, drawing favorable comparisons to legends like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn.
Her former teachers, now senior colleagues, are quick with their own praise. Says Dominique Eade, Patrice is a hard-swinging interpreter and a refreshingly accomplished jazz vocal improviser. Ran Blake, head of NEC’s Contemporary Improvisation department, sums it up: It’s a breathtaking voice.
Currently, in addition to her performing, Patrice is also passing on the love of jazz to others through her teaching. At the New School of Music in Cambridge (a community music school), she has a number of private students, and at Wellesley College, she leads a (popular) jazz vocal ensemble called Body & Soul.