Monday, November 06, 2006

Reflections on Betty Be-Bop

I recall an interview with the great Betty Carter in which she was asked to name her "favorite singer." She replied, "No comment." Which I always felt was her amusing and diplomatic way of saying, "Me Me ME."

With one exception, I saw Betty Carter 'Live" more than any other single performer. At her peak, she could have an audience in the palm of her hand before the first song was concluded. A dynamic, take-no-prisoners, hit-the-ground-running, charismatic artist who could even have won over a crowd of Lennon Sisters fans who might have wondered into one of her club dates by mistake. On the other hand, I once gave a Carter CD to a much-more-conservative, but nonetheless quite fine singer friend of mine. (No names puh-leese.) She had never heard Carter. I called her a couple of days later to ask what she thought of it. My friend said that she'd become so immediately overwrought by the experience of listening to the recording to the point of ejecting the disc and throwing it out of the car window and onto the Jersey freeway on which she was traveling. Oh, well as the liner notes to one of Carter's CDs correctly observe, "One man's jazz singer is another's Robert Goulet."

One time I saw Carter in performance at NY's Town Hall, and when she began singing "Round Midnight," using Bernie Hanighen's set of lyrics to the Monk tune, who should've begun shouting at her from the audience but singer Babs Gonzales. He then proceeded to leap up on the stage to begin singing his own---and much more obscure---lyrics to the bop anthem. Carter just stepped aside with a look on her face that read, "Oh, that Babs!" and let him complete the number. Unlike the heckler at a recent Stresand concert, definitely NOT a plant.

If the gardenia was Billie's signature, Carter's was (at least "live") off-the-shoulder dresses which exposed only one shoulder, always the left. That undulating exposed part of her upper torso was definitely a part of her act.

Avant-garde jazz pianist Cecil Taylor once told me with an absolultely straight face, "I feel so sorry for Betty Carter." "Why?," I bit. "Because her husband's favorite singer is Nancy Wilson." Oh well, as the saying goes, "One man's jazz singer. . .."

No comments: