Betty Bryant - Lotta Livin'
(Bry-Mar Music, 2023)
For every successful recording made in the twilight of an artist’s life that is worthy of release, there exists one that should have never been made. The then 87-year-old Anita O’Day’s final recording, Indestructible (Kayo, 2006), is a case in point. At the very least this recording was an embarrassment to O’Day’s memory and at worst, a foul exploitation of an aged individual. It is a stark warning.
But, it is not a warning to be heeded by 94-year-old Kansas City-born vocalist/pianist Betty Bryant. When the better part of jazz musicians harkens back to Mulgrew Miller or even Miles Davis, Bryant’s bona fides reach back to a stint with Jay McShann, a fellow Kansas Citian, this one predating anything from post-World War II. That makes Bryant the real deal. But, at 94, can she sing?
I was not simply pleasantly surprised; I was gratefully stunned. Bryant sings with a confidently sardonic style revealing her age, but not as a chronological measurement, as an experienced state of mind. She is as hip and fresh as a late Spring day, casting off phrases as if by some doomed Romantic poet. Her piano playing is right out of the school of Count Basie, spare and elegant.
Bryant’s repertoire, outside of her original compositions, is carefully curated to include songs reflecting Bryant’s easy delivery. “Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea” sets the tone of Lotta Livin’, Bryant’s 14th recording. Bryant is breezy as a Carribian afternoon, in complete command of her art. The original “Put A Lid On It” recalls Ray Charles’ “Hit The Road Jack” had Charles been this cool and laid back.
Bryant can play the blues too, as she demonstrates on “Blues To Get Started” and later on “Stormy Monday.” Her band is crack: led by reeds specialist Robert Kyle, who has been associated with Bryant for some time and plays a big part in the arrangement and execution of this very well-prepared recording. What a gift Betty Bryant has given listeners.