Betty Carter: Fiercely Individual

In the late ’80s, Betty Carter achieved sustained recognition upon signing to a major label, which also reissued much of her back catalog.

       Tom Copi/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

For nearly 50 years, Betty Carter was an irrepressible and incomparable practitioner of the jazz vocal tradition, with an intense, adventurous style and a booming voice. The fiercely dedicated and demanding vocalist was a pioneer in the music business, paving the route for scores of younger musicians.

Carter was born in a strict Baptist household in Detroit, a city with a rich jazz community. She began singing in her high-school choir, and was later exposed to bebop, a style just emerging in her teenage years. She loved it instantly, and while still in her teens, she had the opportunity to sing with bebop pioneers Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.

Her first big break came when she joined drummer Lionel Hampton’s big band, a gig she held for two and a half years. Their relationship was always rocky, though, and Carter was fired numerous times. But with the help of Hampton’s wife, Gladys, they always managed to get back together. “Any time that Hamp and I got into it, [Gladys] was always backing me up and making sure that I didn’t leave the band too early,” Carter says. “She wanted me to wait and get some experience and then leave the band.” Continue reading

First Listen: Jose James, ‘While You Were Sleeping’


Jose James' new album, While You Were Sleeping, comes out June 10.

Jose James’ new album, While You Were Sleeping, comes out June 10.

Janette Beckman/Courtesy of the artist

When the spirit of Nirvana surfaces in a song, the artist paying tribute almost always shares style points with that treasured band. The hair is shaggy, the clothes a little ragged; the lineage unfolds, relatively neatly, from punk to the present. Imagine, however, a jazz-trained vocalist fluent in hip-hop’s vocabulary, laying down a track as ferociously driven as “In Bloom,” but with the negative-ion cool of “Heart Shaped Box.” That’s what New York singer-songwriter Jose James does with his band in “Anywhere U Go,” just one of the fascinatingly recombinant songs on his new album, While You Were Sleeping. Continue reading