I’m in Montreux with my friends, singers Clare Foster and Twana Rhodes – we’re touring in Switzerland with our colorful close harmony act.
As we stroll over one of the afternoon’s sunny plaza’s, all of a sudden Twana spots Betty Carter in the crowd. And they know each other!
Do you know that feeling of meeting someone that you consider a high priestess in her own right… and then that feeling of not really knowing what to say, how to look or how to stand…
Sheepishly, I smile along as the conversation develops and then – Betty invites us to her show that night.
On her guest list.
At the Montreux Festival.
Waaaaaaah!!! Such a present!
I’m still so happy we got in to see her. It surely wasn’t my winsome doing.
Betty Carter was a phenomenal and very independable artist, who decided to launch her very own record label Bet-Car in 1969, as the opportunities to record with bigger labels were declining fast. It was the rock era, remember? Quite a tough period for a jazz singer who’s big into bebop and scatting. She was a female entrepreneur avant la lettre, come to think of it.
She often recruited young musicians in her line up;“I learn a lot from them, they come up with things that I would never think about doing.” She was known for her spectacular up tempo songs, surprising breaks and modulations in her arrangements.
And her voice. So intensely personal. Anywhere you’ll go, you will immediately recognize Betty Carter’s specific and original sound. It has an airy, nasal and almost spacious quality to me. She was one of a kind.
If you have not yet listened to Betty Carter, try her double album The Audience with Betty Carter, a live recording (you guessed it) on which she opens with Sounds (Movin’ on) – an inspiring and daring composition that lasts over 25 minutes. Indeed. Take a seat.
Now, how to be as original as Betty Carter? As jazz singers, we are always eager to bring our personal version of a song. We don’t want to be a copycat, do we? The road to finding your own sound, seeking your own colors, is one of the most rewarding journeys you can take.
Record yourself singing in different moods and different volumes. Then listen. Listen closely to your sound. Keep what you like. Skip what you dislike.
Also… always work on your technique, to reach the sound that is agreeable to your own taste. There are many wonderful singing techniques around these days: you can have a go at the anatomically based Estill Voice Training, the more acoustically based Complete Vocal Technique, the body based and sensitory Lichtenberger. Or maybe Speech Level Singing is more your thing. It’s a very personal choice and completely up to you!
Get to know the sound of your voice really well, train daily, and you will be able to call for that specific sound whenever you want it. Betty Carter would dig it, I’m sure.
Looking forward to hearing you sing!
My album tip for you:
The Audience With Betty Carter (Bet-Car/Verve, 1979)
Betty Carter on Wikipedia: