BETTY CARTER / “Betty Carter Live Mixtape”
When one thinks of famous female jazz vocalists, three names that invariably arise are: Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and Billie Holiday. Although they are the best known, there is a fourth vocalist who is quintessential: Betty Carter.
She never had the commercial success of the afore-mentioned triumvirate. Indeed, aside from her duets with Ray Charles, Betty Carter never received much radio airplay, not even on jazz-oriented programs. There were two main reasons.
First, although she sang standards she did not sing in the standard manner. For most vocalists, melody and lyrics were mainly what they did. Betty Carter is much, much more innovative. She used her voice like a horn as she re-harmonized songs, sometimes Betty Carter will radically re-make the song’s structure, or employ extreme tempo changes, or even twist the melody into what becomes virtually a different song. In this manner, Ms. Carter follows a long standing tradition among jazz soloists. Instrumentalist re-shape the music all the time but Betty Carter is the first vocalist to do so as radically as she did.
Second, Betty Carter was fiercely independent. It was not until relatively late in career and only after she had established her own record label, did Betty Carter sign with a major label, Verve Records. As she noted in an interview:
I finally got with a major record company that offered to give me some money and let me keep my integrity. You know, I would record for a record company for no money, if I could just keep my integrity and do what I wanna do.Perhaps her most significant accomplishment aside from her work as a vocalist has been her long term mentoring of younger musicians, which included not only hiring them and training them in her band thereby offering both performing and recording experience, but her mentoring also included workshops in which she gathered talented young musicians and taught them invaluable lessons. (Go here to see a video report on Betty Carter’s mentoring program.)
The world of jazz truly misses this wonderful human being who was both an innovator and a mentor, a stellar soloist as well as a master band leader.
Born Lillie Mae Jones on May 16, 1929 in Flint, Michigan she broke on the national jazz scene touring with Lionel Hampton in the forties. During that time period she developed her abilities not only as a vocalist but also as an arranger and composer.
I thought it was okay to learn new music; learn how to write and to arrange your own stuff. It took a long time to realize that a lot of singers have other people doing their arrangements. But I wanted to do my own. So that meant I had to learn about the music. ...I did that when I was with Lionel Hampton.This Mixtape features Betty Carter in performance including a live session with strings and a rare duet album with vocalist Carmen McRae, plus a scorching, cutting edge encounter with pianist Geri Allen, bassist Dave Holland, and drummer Jack DeJohnette. Betty was at the absolute pinnacle of her abilities as she both pushed and responded to these creative musicians.
Whether one is attracted to her style is a matter of taste but there can be no denying that Betty Carter was (she died September 26, 1998) one of the major contributors to the development of the music known as jazz. She was an innovator and leader both as a highly creative vocalist and as a dedicated mentor.
Surviving as a jazz vocalist is hard, but also giving back in terms of mentoring is exemplary. In this regard, few other musicians have done what she has done. She was never a major name, never a popular commercial success, never featured on the covers of national news journals. How she managed is a wonder—think about how rough it must have been to be an independent voice who was self-directed and willing to persist in an arena where the rewards are slim but where women traditionally were not allowed to be major forces as anything but vocalists singing other people’s songs.
Think of what it took not only to break into the business in the forties and soldier through the fifties, the sixties, the seventies, the eighties and still be swinging hard as well as sharing and sponsoring younger talents in the nineties. For over fifty years she was a stalwart on the jazz scene. Think about how hard it must have been to stay the course—but then, she was Betty Carter and that meant she could do most anything.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Betty Carter Live Mixtape Playlist
01 “Medley: Body And Soul/Heart And Soul”
02 “Girl Talk”
03 “The Sun Died”
The Audience with Betty Carter
04 “Can't We Talk it Over/Either It's Love Or It Isn’t”
06 “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most”
07 “Caribbean Sun”
Whatever Happened To Love?
08 “Social Call”
10 “New Blues (You Purrrrrr)”
11 “Abre La Puerta”
12 “Everytime We Say Goodbye”
The Carmen McRae-Betty Carter Duets
13 “What's New?”
14 “Stolen Moments”
15 “But Beautiful”
16 “It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing”
17 “Droppin' Things”
18 “30 Years”
19 “Dull Day (In Chicago)”
Feed The Fire
20 “Feed The Fire”
21 “Lover Man”
22 “Day Dream”
23 “B's Blues”
This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 28th, 2010 at 4:08 am and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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