Tribute to Keter Betts
Jazz standards, pop favorites, swing, blues and some Ellington, several old chums and lots of laughter -- everything about the Keter Betts tribute at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater on Friday night suggested the late bassist was in the house. And it wasn't just the performances that hit the right notes.
Jennifer Betts, the honoree's daughter, perfectly summed up her dad's genial spirit when she said that he was so nice he'd even talk to telemarketers.
In addition to family members, Keter Betts (who died last year) was represented by his upright bass, which stood onstage throughout the concert.
A fine trio led by pianist Junior Mance opened the evening by demonstrating why Betts would often refer to the keyboardist's "track shoes" -- shorthand for Mance's brand of headlong swing.
The veteran pianist, however, also conjured moments of sheer lyricism during a lovely solo interpretation of "The Single Petal of a Rose." Pianist Billy Taylor followed suit with his elegiac gem "In Loving Memory," then brightened the mood with an imaginatively re-harmonized version of "I'll Remember April."
As the tribute unfolded, the performances became more colorful and expansive.
Among the highlights: a small combo featuring tenor saxophonist Davey Yarborough offering up "Desafinado" as a sensuous reminder of Betts's groundbreaking bossa nova collaborations with Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd; singer Vanessa Rubin, who spoke of Betts's memorable work with Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington, casually refreshing several pop standards, including "The Man I Love"; and bassists James King and Michael Bowie teaming up for "The Walking Bass," a comic novelty and surefire finale.
New York Festival of Song
Twenty-five songs written by 16 composers between 1878 and 2001 do not add up to a unified recital focused on Italy -- especially not when nearly half of them are in English, French, Spanish or German.
So to enjoy the Vocal Arts Society's presentation of the New York Festival of Song on Saturday, you had to ignore the abrupt mood and musical shifts and just let the music wash over you -- as a near-capacity audience did at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater.