Betty Carter | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Betty Carter

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This year has seen reissues of Betty Carter recordings from 1958 (I Can't Help It on GRP) and 1965 (inside Betty Carter on Capitol Jazz). And with this month's release of At the Village Vanguard (Verve), all the albums made for her own Bet-Car label--for which she recorded in the 70s and early 80s--will be available on CD. Taken together they give a clear picture of Carter's development from a fresh-voiced, adventurous, but still conventional songstress to the galvanic, extravagant, and still-hungry improviser of today. Don't expect to hear many melodies you recognize from Carter, who has said that "there is no way I can approach a song and not change it." And don't expect a set full of nice mid-tempo grooves: Carter luxuriates in exaggerated tempos at both ends of the spectrum. (Her dirge-time ballads sometimes lag entire measures behind the beat, finding new emotional substrata beneath familiar turf; on the other hand, she scat-sings at tempos that scare even horn players.) Carter has inspired almost as many stories about her demanding perfectionism as about her exultant music. But in a recent interview she admitted that former irritations no longer rile her--not even reminders of the nickname "Betty Bebop," the inane corruption of "Betty Boop" attached to her by her first employer, Lionel Hampton. Now that she's nearing senior citizenship, should we think that Betty Carter has mellowed? Yeah--in the some way you should feel free to pet a tigress you think has gone soft. Friday through Sunday, Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase, Blackstone Hotel, 636 S. Michigan; 427-4846.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Anthony Barboza.

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