Betty Carter improvised freely and fearlessly

The Artistry of… Betty Carter

There is magic when one artist speaks fondly of another. The vocalist Carmen McCrae said these words once upon a time: “There’s really only one jazz singer, only one: Betty Carter.” I don’t think there is anything sweeter than words of a peer who is touched by another’s work.

It truly was the improvisational style of the singer that made her stand out so brilliantly. A fearlessness. Early on she studied piano, and the dynamics of the instrument can be felt in the way she phrased and composed, the way she presented and projected notes. Lionel Hampton called her Betty Bebop, riffing on her ability to improvise with a freedom like a saxophone. (She sang with Hampton’s band for many years.)

A trailblazing woman in jazz, she grew frustrated with the music industry and formed her own label called Bet-Car. Her own bands were launching pads for young musicians who went on to their own stardom in the genre, including Christian McBride and the late Geri Allen. Her preference for live recordings over the restrictions of studio productions was a deep impression into the soul of her artistry that resonated with her fearlessness both in her industry trailblazing and in the way she made music art.



About The Artistry of…

The Artistry of… is a weekly series that reflects on the passion and essence of an artist. It airs Wednesday evenings on Dinner Jazz with John Devenish, made possible with the support of Yamaha Canada.


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