May 16, 1929 –September 26, 1998
Lillie Mae Jones was her birth name when she was born in Flint Michigan, growing up in the “Motor City” (Detroit). She studied piano at the Detroit Conservatory at age 15.
By the time Lionel Hampton asked her to join his band she was already becoming a popular singer with an amazing penchant for scat singing and innovative vocal improvising. Hampton loved her perfect voice and charming personality, but over the course of two and a half years he had fired her seven times, largely due to her fierce independence and his objection to “too much improvising” during his tightly scripted show.
Miles Davis recommended Ms. Carter to team up with Ray Charles which resulted in a joint touring schedule, with many duets, to include the classic “Baby I’m Cold Outside”.
President Bill Clinton presented Ms. Carter with a National medal Of Arts award in 1997 when he explained to her and the audience “hearing her sing “baby its Cold outside” makes you want to curl up in front of a fire even in the summertime”. After fifteen years in the business she was finally becoming a household name.
Refusing to sing and record “Pop” tunes, she avoided recording from 1961 – 1968 and being a fiercely independent Woman she created her own record label Bet-Car Records which became the sole recording source of her music for the next eighteen years. This period has been known to be her finest recording years both musically and commercially.
Baltimore’s own Cyrus Chestnut quotes Carter as saying “Jazz is about finding who YOU are”. He met Ms. Carter at the Berkley School of Music. After attending her master class at Berkeley, he was asked to accompany her unexpectedly. She called for “Body & Soul” which he knew (but not in the key of G) Betty was in G and Cyrus was in C and he fought through it and apologized but the usually intimidating Betty Carter complimented him and so did his classmates. It was embarrassing for Cyrus but the lesson was to convert nervousness and insecurity into focus and performing your best effort. Cyrus later toured with Carter for two years beginning in 1991 as her pianist in the Betty Carter Trio.
Throughout her career, Ms. Carter performed with Charlie Parker, Dizzy, Max Roach,Ray Bryant, Sonny Rollins, King Pleasure and an endless list of sidemen. She remained active performing and developing new musicians through the Jazz Ahead program which was founded in 1993. She continued to stay active right up until her death from pancreatic cancer on September 26th 1998.
August 17, 1932 – August 4, 1980
Columbus Calvin Pearson, Jr was born in Atlanta, GA and was nicknamed “Duke” by his uncle who was an avid Duke Ellington fan. He successfully encouraged Duke to start piano lesson at six years old but by the age of twelve Duke became fonder of brass instruments. Playing trumpet, baritone sax and mellow phone it wasn’t until met pianist Wynton Kelly that he decided to switch back to piano.
While touring with various artists including R&B singer Little Willie John, Trumpeter Donald Byrd heard him playing with the Art Farmer/Benny Golson Sextet and urged him to join the Donald Byrd/Art Pepper ensemble. Duke had already been accompanying Nancy Wilson at the time.
Duke was responsible for writing the hit “Jeanine” for Byrd and would have worked with Donald Byrd longer had he not taken sick and was replaced (temporarily, he thought) by a young Herbie Hancock.
Duke Pearson went on to arrange the 1963 hit album A New Perspective by Donald Byrd that included the hit Cristo Redentor.
Duke Pearson took over the position of A&R man for Blue Note records producing many albums while leading his own big bans that included Chick Corea, Randy Brecker and many others.
With albums such as “Sweet Honey Bee”, “Wahoo”, “Hush”, Angel Eye’s becoming very popular it’s not surprising that one of his most memorable big band performance ever actually took place in Baltimore, Maryland at the “Left Bank Jazz Society” on Charles Street!
Recorded “live” but not issued until much later the CD entitled “The Duke Pearson Big Band-Baltimore 1969” has been lauded one of the best examples of Duke Pearson’s swinging arrangements ever recorded.
Presented on Sunday, April 27, 1969 with his favorite drummer, Mickey Roker on drums along with Bob Cranshaw-Bass, Frank Foster-Sax, previous employer Donald Byrd-Trumpet, Julian Priester, Pepper Adams and others the date proved once again that Baltimore & Great musicians are an unbeatable combination.
After teaching at his alma mater Clark College in Atlanta Duke Pearson died of complications from multiple sclerosis in 1980 at Atlanta Veterans Hospital.