By Steve Elman
A landmark concert from 1992 is an opportunity to rediscover Betty Carter’s greatness, to understand once more how this artist was special to the very essence of her soul.
American jazz vocalist Betty Carter performs in New York for “The Music Never Stops” in 1992.
Nobody else sang like Betty Carter. She was the Thelonious Monk of jazz singing – such a distinctive and private stylist that makes an attempt to do issues her approach virtually all the time danger being typed as imitations.
Not that it might be straightforward to do things her approach. Start together with her sense of pitch: thrillingly flawless, demonstrated by the best way she dared to shine a spotlight on arduous boppish dissonances, extending “wrong” notes near the ends of tunes with the intelligence of Dizzy Gillespie. And her vary: even in her 60s, when singers typically lose flexibility, she reached for the climactic excessive word and dropped to the bottom of her voice with what appeared like off-handed ease. One can’t overlook her exploitation of her “mask”: that’s the word utilized by some singers to describe how they shade notes using the bones and tissues of their faces. And probably the most distinctive of all her presents, her fluid strategy to rhythm: ignoring the underlying beat each time it suited her, floating words behind, forward, and throughout the beat – a rhythmic fashion so daring that it risked violating swing really feel, which is meant to be one of the touchstones of jazz singing.
The curse of the actual stylist, the millstone across the neck of Carter’s popularity, is that the world tends to overlook when an innovator’s work isn’t always renewed. Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan stay towering figures as we speak thanks to large discographies and methods that can be included gracefully into a contemporary singer’s toolkit. Carter’s recorded output is comparatively slim, and her type is far more durable to grasp.
To remind ourselves of Carter’s greatness, we’ve got to return to her recordings. So, a brand new launch of a landmark live performance from 1992 is a chance to rediscover that greatness, to appreciate once more how this artist was special to the very essence of her soul. The Music Never Stops (Blue Engine, 2019) documents, in wonderful fidelity, Carter’s Jazz at Lincoln Middle live performance on March 29 of that yr. Vinylphiles, please observe: the 180-gram version of the set drops on Might 17 this yr. The remainder of us will do very nicely with the CD version, which is already out there and blessedly freed from digital distortion.
Betty Carter with massive band. Betty Carter with strings. Betty Carter with visitor artists. Betty Carter together with her working trio of the time. Regardless of which of these characterizations I exploit, you’ll have expectations concerning the sound of this new release. Overlook them. True to Carter’s individualism, this can be a unique concert concept. True to Carter’s requirements, it is magnificent.
Vocalist Betty Carter — time to remind ourselves of her greatness.
Carter constructed the program and specified the stage setup in a fashion in contrast to that of any large-ensemble concert I have ever attended – and it seems so proper that I’m wondering why others haven’t violated the conventions in the best way she did. All the musicians – together with a full rhythm part for the large band composed of gamers totally different from those in her working trio – have been on stage throughout the 76 minutes of music. This allowed easy segues between tunes and seamless handoffs from one ensemble to the opposite. There’s not a single moment of uncontrolled sound inside these 76 minutes. But – and now I understand why extra musicians don’t do things this manner – Carter’s plan also meant that she could not rest for about 72 and a half minutes of the show, as soon as the band had finished the overture and the introductory bars of her first tune.
And she or he organized 11 of the 15 tunes she sang that Sunday afternoon, together with one of many huge band numbers.
Her working group was on the heart of the challenge. The massive band is heard on five songs, the strings on only two (here’s another distinctive contact – there are solely six low-register strings, with nary a violin or viola among them), and there’s a single duet with pianist Geri Allen. Carter performs all the things else together with her trio, which doesn’t mean that anything they play is second-rate. Cyrus Chestnut is at the piano, and his presence alone ensures brilliance. (By the best way, please notice that Chestnut can be at Scullers on Might 30 with Carl Allen’s quartet, and he’s positive to be sensible there, too.) Carter selected to use two totally different drummers on the gig, Greg Hutchinson and Clarence Penn, and once more the transition between them doesn’t mean that this system even hiccups. Bassist Ariel Roland rounds out the small group. If the three other gamers are usually not as nicely often known as Chestnut is, relaxation assured that Carter never selected her accompanists with something however probably the most exacting requirements. They assume and breathe together with her, particularly stunningly on “Bridges,” her all-scat function, which rises and falls, ebbs and flows, with the three supporting gamers staying right together with her.
As in a lot of her recorded work, the repertoire appears back without being nostalgic. She returns to Cole Porter’s “Most Gentlemen Don’t Like Love,” a tune she had been performing since at the very least 1976. “The Good Life” goes back to at the very least 1963. “Tight” is right here, too, a signature piece in her e-book for at the very least 20 years (Jazzmeia Horn has been giving it a much-deserved revival lately, to great acclaim).
She first recorded “Moonlight in Vermont” in 1955, with Ray Bryant, and the model on this live performance offers an object lesson in understanding the evolution of her fashion. Within the early rendition, she’s already enjoying with tempo in ways in which she would make far more dramatic, but her strategy at that time was in service to musical creativity quite than music interpretation. She dips underneath the surface of the phrases just a bit; there’s an ideal second when she hits a bell-like “sing” on “Telegraph cables sing down the highway.” But her early interpretation can’t match the facility of the 1992 model. The one on the new CD is far looser rhythmically, delving deeply into the hypnotic temper set by the lyric. The endings are totally different, too – in instructive ways. The 1956 model concludes with monumental dissonance, absolutely on pitch. The 1992 model provides us certainly one of her most dramatic makes use of of her masks.
Two of the large band arrangements come from one other early session, led by Gigi Gryce. This is music that remained unissued until 1990, when Carter’s star had risen far sufficient to make her early work commercially viable. We will learn Carter’s resuscitation of the Gryce charts of “Social Call” and “Frenesi” – recorded initially in 1956, launched 34 years later in 1990, refurbished and played stay on this show in 1992 – as a pointed commentary on material that was “new” to her discography at the time. (“Listen to how good these things sound! What a shame we had to wait so long for them to come out!”) And the irony deepens – it’s taken one other 27 years for the second versions to return to market.
Here’s one other lesson I discovered, by evaluating the original “Social Call” with this one: Within the first, she stays closer to the beat, displaying off her superb ear, as a result of the tune as written calls for giant leaps and harmonic shifts (in 1956, she nailed each certainly one of them). Within the 1992 version, she deviates from the melody shortly, not bothering with those technical challenges. As an alternative, she takes big dangers with the tempo, inserting massive silences, gaps so lengthy that you simply assume she will’t probably put all of the phrases in . . . and then she places all of them in.
I need to point out just one extra revelation from this set. “30 Years,” an unique, seems like a biographical tune, extra private than any of her sardonic tunes about love. In this version, after the written lyric, ending “30 years is a long time,” she begins “singing the story” à la Sheila Jordan, something I have by no means heard her do in another context.
However the sum of the elements here is far higher than the belief of any particular person tune. The concert positive factors emotional momentum as it goes alongside, with unforgettable results. I might rhapsodize about every monitor (and I have – see under). However for this sketch, it’s enough to say that listening to these 76 minutes introduced Betty Carter back to life for me, if just for a tiny slice of time. I can’t sufficiently categorical my gratitude to Wynton Marsalis, Steve Rathe, and all of the others who made it potential.
Carter died of pancreatic cancer slightly more than twenty years in the past, on September 24, 1998. On Might 16, simply a couple of weeks from now, she would have celebrated her 90th birthday. If life were not so arbitrary and unfair, there can be encomia and live shows in her honor. As an alternative, we have now the good vacancy that yawns every time a consummate artist moves on. Those that love her work can take nice solace in The Music Never Stops. And every working singer should pause a second on Might 16, whether on stage or off, to recollect.
The Music Never Stops is so exceptional and so sustained as a murals that it deserves a tune-by-tune description. I’m positive that every listener’s appreciation of the album might be private, but listed here are my own impressions:
“Ms. B. C.” (Pamela Watson, arr. Bobby Watson): An up-tempo overture, written in Carter’s honor. (The title is a pun on Coltrane’s “Mr. P. C.”) The huge band gets its probability to shine, and it’s a crack NYC crew, with Jerry Dodgion leading the reeds, and Lew Soloff main the trumpets, two of the most effective musicians Carter might have requested for. The chart is crisply executed, with solos by tenor participant Alex Foster (robust), and trumpeter Kamal Adikifu (maybe making an attempt a bit too arduous, but this is excusable given the heavy firm). And I’ve to note that the rhythm part – John Hicks on piano, Lisle Atkinson on bass, and Kenny Washington on drums – have been all veterans of Carter’s small group. Another indication of how rigorously she planned and controlled this gig.
“Ms. B. C.” segues seamlessly right into a piano obbligato from Cyrus Chestnut on the opposite aspect of the stage (or perhaps a part of the obbligato is played by the large band’s pianist, John Hicks) which results in:
“Make It Last,” (Bob Haymes, arr. Melba Liston), with the strings (four cellos and two basses) in a outstanding position, backed by the large band. Carter is in excellent voice, everywhere in the tempo. She throws in some very daring shading, virtually off-pitch. This primary quantity defines the Carter territory; she makes other singers sound hamstrung by hewing to tempo and composed melody. Nevertheless, Carter’s rhythmic adventurousness and lyric stretches begin to separate the phrases from their which means – you cease listening to what the music is about, dazzled by what she does.
Another seamless segue to:
“30 Years” (Carter), with the trio solely. After the written lyric, ending “30 years is a long time,” she begins “singing the story” à la Sheila Jordan. The lengthy held observe on the end is intentionally in counter-pitch to the key, true to her bop roots.
Carter sings a segue between tunes over Chestnut’s piano and strikes into the first line of the subsequent tune a cappella.
“Why Him?” (Burton Lane / Alan Jay Lerner). That is the first of three “question” tunes that Carter has labored right into a medley. It’s taken slowly, with just a little bit of a pulse. Memorable line: “There’s nothing but bulging . . . in his arms,” gently hinting at one thing more risqué. Chestnut does some fancy rubato fingering, feigning going into fast tempo, but takes his solo over the bass and drums at the similar sluggish pace. They go into double-time leading into Carter’s return. On the finish of the lyric line, Chestnut slides right into a sluggish vamp and Carter improvises over it, using “why him” as syllabic foundation for a semi-scat transition into the subsequent tune.
“Where or When” (Rodgers / Hart) – This is the primary really acquainted tune on this system. She sings one chorus very freely, then palms it to Chestnut for a solo, then takes it again for another refrain and a vamp.
She sings an introduction to the last tune of the medley with an extended high notice over suspended tempo, displaying that she nonetheless has a pure excessive register.
“What’s New” (Bob Haggart / Johnny Burke) is the primary tune on this system where she truly sings the melody as written. By some means, she even turns that right into a dramatic surprise. At the end of the first chorus, Chestnut drops right into a sluggish vamp of chords and Carter repeats phrases from the lyric, stretching every little thing out.
Finally, there’s sufficient of a break within the music for some enthusiastic applause.
“Tight” (Carter): Carter is everywhere in the beat, apart from the ultimate word in every refrain, which is strictly on the beat, where it have to be for the track to work. That is blended with:
“Mr. Gentleman” (Carter), taken at a furious tempo, so fast that phrases slide into each other. The tune was originally regarded as a sequel to “Tight,” though earlier recordings of it miss a little bit of the snap of the earlier tune. It uses the same motif, the phrase “tight,” planted solidly on the beat. This efficiency puts the 2 compositions collectively, and the mixture is definitive.
“Social Call” (Qusim Basheer / Jon Hendricks, arr. Gigi Gryce): The massive band is all of a sudden back, with tenor player Lou Marini taking two brief breaks. Carter begins the tune a bit conventionally, and then begins bending and re-forming the lyric as noted above.
“Moonlight in Vermont” (John Blackburn / Karl Suessdorf). The huge band association on this tune is by Carter herself. Full discussion above. Whereas the large band plays it, Clarence Penn comes out to switch Greg Hutchinson behind the small group’s drum package.
“The Good Life” (Sascha Distel / Jean Broussolle / Jack Reardon). This music has all the time struck me as slightly insincere, glamorizing “the good life” on the one hand while making an attempt to say that, with out true love, it’s empty at its core. Carter and her trio (now with Penn on drums) make it a purely musical exercise. After a suspense-filled first chorus of piano, Chestnut goes into medium swing for one in every of his greatest solos of the present. Carter comes in for the out-chorus in the same swing really feel, and reaches for a thrillingly excessive word on the end.
“Bridges” (BC): A wordless virtuoso piece with the trio. Carter begins with scat over a pedal level. She explores the texture with a feint into modality, and then cues the band into a rising determine that leads into the modifications. Her scat potential is so superior in imagination to others’ work (even Ella’s) that it virtually looks like another style of music totally. There’s nothing coy or foolish about it – it’s critical music in bright-colored garments. The section is so attuned to her here that you simply overlook how troublesome it have to be for them to learn the various modifications in intensity that she introduces.
The program strikes into the subsequent tune with applause, but no perceptible break, as Chestnut provides up his seat on the piano.
“If I Should Lose You” (Leo Robin / Ralph Rainger): A duet with the late Geri Allen, whose demise in 2017 disadvantaged us of a sensitive and sleek pianist. She was a much more introspective participant than Chestnut is, and Carter’s choice to sing this together with her alone exhibits how properly she knew her accompanists. After a misty keyboard introduction, Carter begins distant from the melody and stays there, hovering into area, while Allen holds issues together with chords in simply the fitting places. Allen’s solo, after one chorus from Carter, could be very impressionistic, and it provides one more reason to feel grief at her passing. Carter concludes with a sweet, pure, sustained “you,” over Allen’s spare piano.
Beneath the applause, Chestnut virtually immediately returns to the piano bench and kicks off the subsequent tune in a brilliant 6/8. Carter speaks her introduction over the trio. It’s value transcribing: “This is fun time, fun time, fun time. [She laughs a bit to herself.] Cole Porter song that you’ve all heard me do, I think, I think. If you haven’t . . . good. It’s dedicated to the men. I like singing things that are dedicated to the men. I didn’t have a thing to do with these lyrics. Cole Porter wrote ‘em. It’s just my concept, OK? Just remember that, OK? My job is to pick clever, clever, clever, clever songs. And here’s one:”
“Most Gentlemen Don’t Like Love” (Cole Porter): Carter floats smilingly above the fleet 6/eight, and it truly is “fun time,” as she interpolates her personal asides into Porter’s phrases. Her comic aid is so adroit that transcription doesn’t do it justice. You’ll not remorse it in case you go to Spotify and pay attention to only this tune. After the last line (“They just like to kick it around”), the rhythm part hits the final chord, and Chestnut sustains it with tremolos, as Carter noodles away above him. She sings “round and round and round and round” and then speaks a transition over the piano:
“And ladies, even with the kicking, we still don’t seem to get enough. We just keep going . . . going back in there . . . and looking in his eyes . . . and saying dumb things, like . . . ” Chestnut modifications key, and she sings:
“Everything I Have Is Yours” (Harold Adamson / Burton Lane), and you assume she’s going to do a delicate yin to “Gentlemen”’s yang, but no. She chuckles and says, “Oh, is that dumb . . .,” sings yet one more line of the lyric, and then talks it out:
“I’m not gonna finish that song. That’s too heavy. It’s too deep. But what I’m gonna do, before I do the finale, I’m gonna turn you on to a brand-new one, OK? We got a brand-new one, conducted by . . . Miss Geri Allen.”
“Make Him Believe” (Carter): The strings ease in, and Chestnut plays a rubato introduction over them. Then Carter pays off the promise of yin she snuffed out just seconds before, together with her personal worldly-wise track of figuring out sacrifice and suspension of disbelief, achingly exquisite, magnificently sung, an emotional climax that can make you cry when you have a heart. Allen’s chart and Chestnut’s accompaniment are superb enhances. One other high observe, shaded just a little bit flat, concludes.
Applause subsides, and Carter counts of a blistering tempo for the large band:
“Frenesi” (Alberto Dominguez / Leonard Whitcap). This very silly music, with its slightly racist state of affairs of a lady falling for a “Latin lover” in a frenzy (frenesi) of want, was a big hit for Artie Shaw in 1940. Gigi Gryce and Carter rightly burlesqued it of their 1955 recording, but right here it turns into an anthem of triumph, a car for Carter to tug out all of the stops She takes the first refrain so quick that she will barely say the strains, then scats brilliantly for a chorus, then tosses a number of phrases back and forth with the band. There’s a bit of the lyric on the finish, another flick of scatting, and lastly (as seems inevitable), a repetition of “Frenesi” with an extended high observe on the finish.
However that’s not fairly all. The huge band, kicked off by drummer Kenny Washington, vamps for Carter’s curtain calls. She shouts, “My fans!” and you’ll be able to imagine her casting her arms broad to embrace the gang and perhaps throwing a kiss. She commands the band to stand (while they are still enjoying) to take a bow, and finally leaves the stage.
William R. Bauer’s biography, Open the Door: The Life and Music of Betty Carter (College of Michigan Press, 2002) is a worthwhile addition to jazz literature, clear-eyed and scholarly. It’s properly value proudly owning by anybody who needs to know Carter’s uncompromising character in addition to her artwork. He additionally provides phonetic analyses and musical transcriptions of 15 of her nice performances. Regardless that Bauer’s prose is a bit dry, I might fairly have this work in my library than some effusive hagiography. Carter deserved nice care and nice respect in a biographer. She was fortunate to have found such a writer, and to know, a minimum of a number of months earlier than her dying, that a cautious sculptor was at work on her gravestone. Because the textual content has been entered into the Google Books database, excerpts of it sometimes pop up for those who search for any of her signature songs or the identify of an necessary aspect player she worked with, alongside together with her identify.
Of the readily available Carter CDs, The Music Never Stops is now the one to own for those who must personal only one. However there are other nice ones that may repay many listens:
The undisputed discount is 4 Basic Albums, an import reissue of Ray Charles and Betty Carter, Meet Betty Carter and Ray Bryant, Out There, and The Trendy Sound of Betty Carter. The first two are early and great collaborations with different masters. The Ray Charles set is indispensable, if only for “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” the sexiest winter music ever recorded, easily shading the infantile and exploitative “Santa Baby,” which is heard far too typically in the Yuletide season. The latter two are huge band periods, including “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” that rarest of all performances, a cover of a Billie Holiday basic that bests the original.
Inside Betty Carter, from 1964, is a masterpiece. The CD reissue (Capitol, 1993) is now out of print and obtainable solely from the secondary market – however the going fee to own it isn’t too prohibitive. This set consists of the first, heart-stopping performance of “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most,” and certainly one of her earliest originals, “Open the Door.” The choice of tunes is impeccable – “This Is Always” and “Some Other Time” are nonetheless neglected masterpieces of the pop music repertoire. And the accompaniment includes a rare look of grasp pianist Harold Mabern backing a singer. (Another performance word: Mabern comes to Scullers the day after Cyrus Chestnut performs there, Might 31.) The CD reissue has seven tracks from a 1965 session that complement the original ones very nicely.
Look What I Received! (Polygram, 1988) was the first of her 5 CDs for Polygram and Verve, which have been issued at two-year intervals (the others have been Droppin’ Issues [Polygram, 1990], It’s Not Concerning the Melody [Verve, 1992], and the two under). It’s a richly rounded assortment of tunes that present her creativity on a really excessive degree, sensitively aided (inspired, even) by saxophonist Don Braden and pianist Benny Inexperienced. It gained her a Grammy for Greatest Jazz Vocal Female, and choosing highlights from it is inconceivable; every monitor could be very rewarding.
Feed the Hearth (Verve, 1994), recorded the yr after The Music Never Stops, is a wonderful companion piece to the new release, extra intimate, however no less satisfying. It’s a stay set recorded in London, with an all-star backing trio: Geri Allen, bassist Dave Holland, and drummer Jack DeJohnette. It’s much less adrenaline-driven than The Music Never Stops, and consists of duets with every of the supporting players – including one other tackle “If I Should Lose You” with Allen. There’s one standout monitor: a shocking rearrangement of “Lover Man,” so totally different from Billie Holiday’s model that it virtually makes you overlook Woman Day.
I’m Yours, You’re Mine (Verve, 1996) was her last recording. At 67, her voice still exhibits no rough edges, and her pitch control continues to be unerring. The tempos are principally sluggish, apart from a medium-up “East of the Sun.” The accompaniment is top-rate, anchored by drummer Greg Hutchinson, who plays on The Music Never Stops, with worthwhile contributions from pianist Xavier Davis and saxophonist Mark Shim, each of whom are skills deserving of wider recognition. It’s tempting to read her penetrating extended model of “September Song” right here as a valediction, however that might be a mistake. When it was recorded, she was still two years away from the analysis of her cancer.
The Verve CD reissue of a Carter LP from a 1970 set (initially referred to as Betty Carter, the first one to be issued on her own label) is now referred to as Betty Carter on the Village Vanguard. It’s a high-quality collection, and for one monitor alone properly value proudly owning: “Ego” – Carter’s nice lyric on Randy Weston’s “Berkshire Blues,” and the primary of her songs critiquing men’s conduct toward ladies.
Regrettably, solely well-to-do collectors can now afford to buy another masterpiece, The Viewers with Betty Carter, which was a serious launch on her own Guess-Automotive label (from 1980, reissued on CD by Polygram, 1990). By this yr in her career, Carter had refined the strategy to rhythm that may characterize her work for the rest of her life. The trio featured John Hicks (who is nice, regardless of a barely out-of-tune piano) and Kenny Washington, both of whom play within the massive band’s rhythm part on The Music Never Stops. She revisits “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” and “Open the Door,” but there’s additionally a memorable trio of originals (“Tight,” “Fake,” and “So . . .”) that show how a lot she has grown as a writer. She also sings profound variations of “Deep Night” and “Everything I Have is Yours.” The CD reissue was a big enchancment over the inferior noisy vinyl used for the unique launch.
No matter Happened to Love? (Guess-Automotive, 1982) seems to have fallen by the wayside, and that may be a disgrace. Verve reissued it in 1988, and then it disappeared. It was recorded on the Backside Line in New York, with a very sympathetic rhythm part (pianist Khalid Moss, a Dayton native, has no other notable recordings; bassist Curtis Lundy was one among Carter’s most dependable sidemen; Lewis Nash is a drummer with too many credentials to recount). The lead-off tune, a remake of “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” is a real tour de pressure, beginning at a slow-medium tempo, doubling up, and doubling the tempo once more for a breakneck finish. There’s additionally a small string part (with harp) accompanying her on several tunes. This release was nominated for a Grammy, and it deserves to be available on the market once more.
Every of the above releases is hearable by way of Spotify.
Steve Elman’s four many years (and counting) in New England public radio have included ten years as a jazz host in the 1970s, five years as a classical host in the 1980s, a brief stint as senior producer of an arts magazine, 13 years as assistant common supervisor of WBUR, and presently, on-call status as fill-in classical host on 99.5 WCRB since 2011. He was jazz and common music editor of The Schwann Report and Tape Guides from 1973 to 1978 and wrote free-lance music and travel items for The Boston Globe and The Boston Phoenix from 1988 by means of 1991.