Wynton’s Blog

One of the greatest exemplars of this axiom is Betty ‘Bebop’ Carter

This is from The Road Ahead 12 Steps to Achieving a Jazz Way of Conducting Business. I wrote this in 2011 during a difficult time for Jazz at Lincoln Center. The first step is: embody the music you serve. Following that heading was a technical breakdown of its meaning and a story that exemplified the principle in practice.

“One of the greatest exemplars of this axiom is Betty ‘Bebop’ Carter. She became a lover of jazz as a teen in the mid- 40’s. She invented a style of singing that could challenge the technical and emotional complexity of the greatest instrumentalist. Though performing with Lionel Hampton and Miles Davis amongst others, she found fame elusive at first. Her style was deemed ‘too difficult’ for public acceptance. In 1961 she recorded an album with Ray Charles that became a national hit. Instead of capitalizing on the fame, she stayed home and raised two kids. In the turbulent 60s, Ms. Carter quickly faded from memory, and when, later in the decade, she was ready to return to music, no one wanted her.

But she was a fiery, independent, and artistically uncompromising woman. It was a fallow period for jazz and most people went ‘commercial’ or stayed home. She did the exact opposite. Betty Carter invested in the future of the music and hit the ground running. Her trio became one of the 1970s most successful groups, and she trained scores of young musicians. The best of today’s jazz musicians came out of her finishing school: Mulgrew Miller, Cyrus Chestnut, Greg Hutchinson, Clarence Penn, Jacky Terrasson, Wessell Anderson, the list goes on and on. In 1969, she founded her own label, Bet-Car, and recorded a string of great albums, the finest of which, The Audience with Betty Carter, became a classic upon release in 1979. At the Newport Jazz Festivals of ’78 and ’79 she drew rave notices and the jazz world was enriched with a significant and substantial comeback story.

In the 1980’s she was signed by Verve Records and went on to win her first Grammy award. She was one of the few jazz artists to perform occasionally on national TV shows, and even did a commercial with Bill Cosby. By this time, many great jazz musicians of her generation were lost in the wilderness of commercialism, attempting to perpetually pursue a popularity driven by teenaged tastes. Betty Carter triumphed by holding her ground. She achieved international success completely on her own terms and remained loved and respected until the end of her life. Ms. Carter performed for JALC on one of our inaugural concerts, August 3, 1987. There was no better way to begin.”

I read Benny Green’s post and remembered again the impact she had on all of us.

– Wynton

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