Bown began playing piano at age two; her sister was a classical pianist. She studied piano while attending the University in Seattle on a music scholarship. She played in local orchestras toward the end of the 1940s. From 1956 she worked as a soloist in New York City, playing early on in sessions with Billy Eckstine and Jimmy Rushing. She released an album under her own name, Patti Bown Plays Big Piano, in 1958 for Columbia Records. The next year she was invited by Quincy Jones to join an orchestra for the European tour of the musical Free and Easy. While there she also played with Bill Coleman in Paris. In the 1960s she worked extensively in the studios, recording with Gene Ammons, Oliver Nelson, Cal Massey, Duke Ellington, Roland Kirk, George Russell, and Harry Sweets Edison. Her musical compositions were recorded by jazz legends Sarah Vaughn, Benny Golson, and Duke Ellington. She also recorded with soul musicians such as Aretha Franklin and James Brown. Between 1962-1964 she served as the musical director for the bands accompanying Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan.
In the 1970s, Bown worked as a pianist in orchestras on Broadway and composed for film and television. She lived in Greenwich Village for the last 37 years of her life, and played regularly at the nightclub Village Gate.
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With Gene Ammons
- Up Tight! (Prestige, 1961)
- Boss Soul! (Prestige, 1961)
- Soul Summit Vol. 2 (Prestige, 1962)
- Late Hour Special (Prestige, 1962 )
- The Soulful Moods of Gene Ammons (Moodsville, 1962)
- Sock! (Prestige, 1962 )
With Art Farmer
- New York Jazz Sextet: Group Therapy (Scepter, 1966)
With Etta Jones
- Lonely and Blue (Prestige, 1962)
With Quincy Jones
- The Birth of a Band! (Mercury, 1959)
- The Great Wide World of Quincy Jones (Mercury, 1959)
- I Dig Dancers (Mercury, 1960)
With Oliver Nelson
- Afro/American Sketches (Prestige, 1962)
- Fantabulous (Argo, 1964)
- The Spirit of '67 with Pee Wee Russell (Impulse!, 1967)
- Jazzhattan Suite (Verve, 1967)
With Dinah Washington
- Dinah Washington Sings Fats Waller (EmArcy, 1957)
- Eugene Chadbourne, Patti Bown at Allmusic
- Wilson, John S. "Patti Brown on Piano". New York Times, July 1, 1985.
- Patti Bown papers, 1940-2007, held by Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.
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