Jazz: The art of trio control

The Betty Carter system of man-management is simple but effective. Firstly, you choose employees (in Betty's case, the musicians for her trio) who are above all young and malleable. Secondly, you intimidate them to within an inch of their lives. Thirdly, you offer the occasional sexual come-on - delivered in the full public glare of on-stage performance - to act as both a carrot and a stick. As a method of team-building, it might not work for accountancy, but it sure as hell does the trick in jazz. Faced with the terrifying presence of their employer, Carter's trios - which seem to be getting younger as she gets older - begin to develop almost paranormal powers of inter-group communication. True, they may not look very happy, but they sound magnificent. Not, of course, that they have much say in how they sound at all.

As the three young men took the stage for their warm-up number, they were the image of chipper, well- adjusted young executives, dressed up for the office in sober dark lounge suits. When they began to play, they smiled at each other glowingly as they passed the tune between them like a basketball. Then - in a whoop of applause and an ample shimmer of her black velvet brocade dress - on came Betty, and within a few seconds of "Close Your Eyes", she was already on the bassist's case, standing right in front of him and shaking her head with displeasure. He looked confused, then contrite, and then, as she moved on to the pianist, mightily relieved. It wasn't that there was anything wrong with what he was playing, but rather that she just wanted him to know she was there.

The art of the female jazz vocalist is an elusive one and there are many practitioners who don't seem to have an art at all, just the stylistic accoutrements of the role, such as snapping fingers, soulful glances and a repertoire of dodgy show-tunes. Carter, needless to say, has the art above all else; above, almost, the need for a voice at all. Because she doesn't sing like an angel, like Ella Fitzgerald, or like a saxophone, like Billie Holiday - whose grainy, pitted sound allows us to read vulnerability, loss of innocence, anything you like really, into her delivery - Carter's instrument is not diminished by age at all, although she is now 67. And also unlike the other great singers, Carter's gift is something that can't be considered separately from the music it is part of. The sound is an elongated swoon, the accent the cute timbre of a child pretending to be posh, and while the words of the songs are as clear as daylight, you can soon forget that you're listening to words at all. When she leaves them behind to scat, it's a seamless progression into a private language that seems perfectly natural, and not the usual be-bop-a-roonie beloved of lounge singers everywhere, Even the choice of songs seems almost irrelevant. Carter once made "The Surrey With the Fringe onTop" into perhaps the most swinging jazz vocal ever recorded.

In a long, deliciously intense performance at Ronnie Scott's on Thursday, Carter was every bit as good as you expected. Though sparks flew and the band were occasionally singed by her burning looks, the scoldings were relatively few. Indeed, as she came to stand an inch away from the drummer towards the end of the set, watching intently as he played a brief solo, the look on her face was one of the purest love. The pride of ownership was there too, but it must be the love that keeps them warm.

If King Lear played the double bass, he would look rather like Peter Ind. Ind - who for years owned the Bass Clef club that is now the Blue Note, home to Goldie and drum and bass - came on stage for a couple of numbers during the guitarist Martin Taylor's solo show at the Pizza Express Jazz Club round the corner from Ronnie's in Soho. Though they hadn't played together for 20 years, they immediately melded into one, bass and treble singing along in a dream of quiet, unforced jazz (not exactly the Betty Carter method). As befits one of the leading guitarists in the world, Taylor was impeccably good. But what in the past has sometimes seemed like a perfection of technique earned at the expense of a truly personal sound - all clean lines with no rough edges - had become just about perfect on all fronts. At the end, Taylor played a show-stopping version of "I Got Rhythm" which simultaneously interwove bassline, rhythm figure and lead filigree in a way which defied the eyes, the ears, and probably the laws of gravity. The audience of guitarists both real and manque loved it, in a way that only guitar enthusiasts can, for their devotion is legendary. They'll buy not just the CDs, but the videos, the tutor-books, the plectrums and, if you could market them, plaster casts of their favourite axe-hero's fingers. Give them half a chance in fact, and they'd buy the fingers themselves.

Suggested Topics
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Morrissey pictured in 2013
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Field of broken dreams: Andy Bell visits Passchendaele
news5 News's Andy Bell visited the killing fields of the Great War, and his ancestor - known only from his compelling war diary - came to life
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

    Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

    Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

    Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

    £50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In my grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel