Inventive voices

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When I think of creative voices in singing, one of the best examples in my opinion is Betty Carter, the great improvising singer. I was fortunate enough to see and hear her in concert in the intimate setting of Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club a couple of times. On one of those occasions I was taken there by my singing teacher of the time, as a birthday present. We were accompanied by several of my teacher’s friends (all of my parents’ age group).

Initially, my teacher and her friends were bowled over by Ms Carter’s amazing inventiveness and ability to get to the heart of a song’s meaning. After a while, some individuals became disgruntled with her style. I was mystified about this, because even today I still think she had an incredible talent.

One of my teacher’s friends explained “It got irritating that she would never sing the original melody of the standards that she sang”. This statement could have provided an opportunity to have a long philosophical debate about issues such as creativity and what jazz artists are supposed to do with their talents and skills, etc, but since it was a light evening out that was supposed to be a treat for me, I decided to hold my peace.

Maybe Ms Carter could have chosen to write her own songs. She came from a generation before the singer songwriters of the 1960s and 1970s. Not many singers of her age group were known for being auteurs.

But she did refreshing things with well known material from the repertoire of her youth. For people like me who didn’t know the original songs in some cases, she opened up new vistas in that music, so when I would hear the likes of Nat King Cole singing the songs in their original formats, I could marvel at the power of her imagination.