Betty Carter – jazz is about finding out who you are

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Betty Carter is known as one of the all-time greatest jazz singers. Her colleague Carmen McRae once said, “There’s really only one jazz singer – only one Betty Carter.” She came from a family where she had to work hard to make every dime; she started working hard early on, a habit that would pay off. She scatted like Dizzy Gillespie, which he noticed when they eventually worked together with Charlie Parker, Tommy Potter, Max Roach, and Miles Davis. Lionel Hampton had also heard about Carter’s singing abilities and hired her to be part of his band with jazz greats Charles Mingus and Wes Montgomery. Soon she would be known as “Betty Bebop”.

Unfortunately the work between Carter and Hampton had to end because she disliked his style of swing and didn’t want to sing in the way he asked her to. She loved scatting, but Hampton was not a fan of the technique. She was fired seven times over a period of two and a half years. Carter would go to New York City, where she worked hard playing many different kinds of gigs. It was not an easy life for Betty Carter, but her hard work paid off.

The 1960s was a big time for Carter: she worked with artists such as Ray Charles and Sonny Rollins, after a recommendation, and in 1969 she started her own record label, Bet-Car records. This was a big step for her, in a direction many were advised her against, but Betty went for it nonetheless. One of the great things she achieved was discovering many young and talented jazz musicians. She worked with artists such as Benny Green, Cyrus Chestnut, Eric Revis, Jeff “Tain” Watts, and Kenny Washington, among others. In the documentary added below, you can see clips from rehearsals she had with her band. She worked them hard and took them out of their comfort zones. When they left her band, her biggest wish was for them to go and lead their own groups, which many of them did. Also below are several clips of Betty performing with many of the musicians featured in this article, often drummers in particular.

Betty Carter documentary
Betty Carter playing a Cole Porter tune
Betty Carter with Lionel Hampton’s band
Betty Carter with Lionel Hampton’s band
Betty Carter and Gregory Hutchinson
Betty Carter and Gregory Hutchinson
Betty Carter and Lewis Nash
Betty Carter and Al Foster
Betty Carter and Jack DeJohnette
Betty Carter and Winard Harper
Betty Carter and Ralph Peterson
Betty Carter and Ralph Peterson
Betty Carter and Eric Harland
Betty Carter and Kenny Washington
Betty Carter and Jeff “Tain” Watts
Betty Carter and Greg Bandy



          February 10, 2018