In an interview several years ago, Betty Carter commented upon the theme of individuality in jazz: "I don't talk like anyone else, I have a different voice pitch too; that's why you get different sounds, because everyone is an individual."
In an art form that abjures conformity and insists upon singularity, it is the idiosyncratic creator that stands out. Betty Carter has created an approach to song that is totally eccentric and yet works - perfectly.
Her set last night at Crampton Auditorium at Howard University included standards as well as wordless bop pieces, and Carter proved throughout to be the consummate artist. She has admitted her debt to horn players but her voice can also become a rhythm instrument as in her final number, when she traded fours with each member of her trio: John Hicks piano; Curtis Lundy, bass and Kenny Washington, drums.
The concert was part of a two-week-long fine arts festival at the university, its theme being "Survival of the Black Artist." Who else could better exemplify that theme than Lionel Hampton, who in two weeks will celebrate his 70th birthday? Although Hampton performed in only two numbers last night he amply demonstrated the several characteristics that brought him to the attention of the Jazz public a half century ago; his musicianship, his energy and his showmanship.
Hampton promised a jam session for the second set and delivered, with him at his vibes; Joe Newman on trumpet, Curtis Fuller on trombone, Ernie Wilkins on tenor sax, and with Betty Carter. The only fault the cheering audience found with anything was that it didn't last long enough.
The festival continues with performances of "God's Trombones," today through Sunday and April 18.