Keter Betts, Reflecting on a Life in Jazz

Jazz musician Keter Betts died Saturday in Maryland. He was 77. His bass could be heard on more than 100 albums, including three solo efforts. In 2003, he spoke with NPR for the series Musicians in Their Own Words.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The jazz musician Keter Betts died over the weekend. In a career spanning nearly six decades, Betts recorded on almost 100 albums. Those recordings include a who's who of jazz. He considered two of the highlights to be his stints with vocalists Dinah Washington and Ella Fitzgerald. And in July of 2003, Betts explained why for the NPR series, Musicians In Their Own Words.

(Soundbite of bass)

Mr. KETER BETTS (Jazz Musician): You might not know me.

(Soundbite of bass)

Mr. BETTS: I'm a bass player.

(Soundbite of jazz music)

Mr. BETTS: In the fifth grade, my mother sent me down to the corner to the store to get a loaf of bread and a bottle of milk. When I come out of the store something came by and I said `What the heck is that?' And I followed it and it was an Italian parade. And I walked behind the drummers all over town. I was gone four hours. And when I got home my mother like to killed me, and she figured, `Well, if I give him a lickin' and he keeps on tickin' he must be serious.'

(Soundbite of jazz music)

Mr. BETTS: In the beginning when I first started the main part of the bass was to learn the changes to each song. But when I went with Dinah and started hearing the words and the melody, I'm learning the whole song instead of just the bottom part, and also the middle and the top. And then I found out that I liked almost being like a tailor.

(Soundbite of jazz song)

Ms. DINAH WASHINGTON: (Singing) You go to my head and you linger like a haunting refrain and I find you spinning round in my brain like the bubbles in a glass of champagne. Oh, you go to my head like a sip of sparkling Burgundy brew and I find the very mention of you like a kicker in a julep or two. Oh...

Mr. BETTS: My concept is that a singer comes out there, is buck-naked and it's my job to dress that person for the audience. A person comes in and I'm a tailor and they want a certain type of a jacket made with a double vent and this big guy wants one made with no vent and so forth. If you dress each one of those the way that they want to be fitted, and when they come out of there, their clothes fit them well, you're a good tailor. And I started tailor-making my bass to fit for the singing.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. WASHINGTON: (Singing) The sky was blue and high above...

Mr. BETTS: And then the more than 24 years with Ella was, you know, top of the learning point.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. ELLA FITZGERALD: (Singing) Yes, my heart belongs to Dad, 'cause my daddy he treats so well. Diamonds...

(Soundbite of crowd)

Ms. FITZGERALD: (Singing) ...my man...

What else did you say about him, Keter?

(Soundbite of bass)

Ms. FITZGERALD: You don't say.

(Soundbite of bass)

Ms. FITZGERALD: What?

(Soundbite of bass)

Ms. FITZGERALD: What?

(Soundbite of bass)

Ms. FITZGERALD: Oh, the dirty old man!

(Soundbite of crowd)

Mr. BETTS: My daughter, she looked up on the Internet and she said `You've been on here, so many albums and so forth. Why don't you put out one?' And at that time I was preparing to try to get a boat, something that had been my biggest wish for 30 years ago. And then my wife and I talked about it and I said, `Well, maybe I will put out a CD.'

(Soundbite of bass)

INSKEEP: And that album, "Bass, Buddies & Blues" was released in 1998. It was the first of three solo albums that Keter Betts eventually released after that long career as a side man. He died over the weekend at the age of 77.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Related NPR Stories

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: