Thursday, June 14, 2012

Jazz trombonist Harold Betters, 84, has played with Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong

Pittsburgh jazz legend, Harold Betters during Irwin's Art & Jazz Night
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Jazz trombonist Harold Betters will bring his vast catalog of music to Irwin, Penn. next Thursday for a live performance during the summer's first Art & Jazz Night.

Betters, a Connellsville resident, described himself as a lifelong musician. He first picked up the trombone when he was 7 years old.
"I come from a musical family with five boys and two girls," Betters said. "My dad played violin, and taught us to play, and we all got instruments."
Betters played in the Connellsville High School marching band, and upon graduation, he joined several local marching bands before joining the Army. He served during the Korean conflict.
While in the Army, Betters became a member of the U.S. Army Band, where he said he learned how to actually listen to music.
"Before that band, I couldn't play without (sheet) music right in front of me, so they taught me how to listen to the music to play," Betters said.
Betters went on to the Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y., after he left the army, in hopes of one day becoming a high school marching band instructor.
After he graduated from Ithaca, he spent one year at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. During that time, Betters found himself performing on stage with several notable musicians, including Herbie Jones, who played trumpet with Duke Ellington's big band.
"I learned how to improvise during that time, and I also learned that, to get a job, you had to play music for people to dance to," Betters said. "So I had to listen to jazz numbers, and learn how to play them."
When Betters came back to the Pittsburgh region, he played in the Jerry Betters Quartet, with his brother.
Although he stayed with his brother's band for five years, Betters said he was never happy.
"He always wanted to play slow songs for all the girls, but I liked to play jump numbers," Betters said. "So I started my own band."
Betters' band played at several clubs throughout the region, but he found his home at the Encore, in Pittsburgh's Shadyside neighborhood, where he played Mondays through Saturdays.
Eventually, Betters' reputation grew. He made appearances on several television shows, including the Merv Griffin Show and three stints on the Mike Douglas Show.
After his appearance on Griffin's show, he went to California, where he played with jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong.
Then Betters and his quartet toured with Ray Charles for two months, he said.
Although he toured and traveled to play television shows, Betters made sure to keep his job at the Encore. He attributes his success to the club, where he built the majority of his fan base.
"I like to play where people really enjoy me and show it," Betters said. "My fans have been good to me, and I have a great following."
Betters continues to play shows throughout the Pittsburgh region on a regular basis with his quartet, which includes bassist and vocalist Bob Insko, keyboardist John Burgh and drummer Cecil Brooks.
Next Thursday's performance marks Betters' third time playing Irwin's Art & Jazz Nights, which is organized by the Irwin Business & Professionals Association. It's become a tradition for Betters to call the IBPA before they can call him, according to Gail Macioce, who plans to sing with Betters' quartet.
"He tells us he loves the venue so much, and that's apparent whenever you talk to him and watch him perform," Macioce said. "Harold Betters is the epitome of a jazz persona because he has the musical ability and can really engage the crowd."
Macioce said the IBPA is honored to have Betters come into the borough each summer for its Art & Jazz Nights.
And Betters couldn't be happier to oblige, he said.
"The people are just wonderful, and I just love playing for people when I can see people dancing and they're really enjoying themselves," Betters said. "Don't ever think that I won't play anymore because of my age.
"The only way I'm going to retire is if I come to a point where I physically cannot play no more."

Thanks Harold. A lot of us veteran trombonists feel the same way.

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