Betty Bryant: Lotta Livin’

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Betty Bryant

Lotta Livin’

(bry-mar music)

January 11, 2024

Reviewed by Alix Cohen

What is it about Kansas that gives birth to talented nonagenarians?* Kansas-born vocalist/pianist Betty Bryant is still going strong at 94. Bryant, or “Cool Miss B” as her peers refer to her, sings and plays the piano with a warm, distinctive style. Her vocals emerge sandy, often accompanied by a wink. 1950s jazz roots underlie her performance without being confining.

“Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” (Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler) swings in, lightly flirting: “I should hate you, baby, but I guess I love you,” Bryant sings, phrasing in her own time. Robert Kyle’s tenor sax and Richard Simon’s acoustic bass add urbanity. The artist’s own “Put a Lid on It” is wry and cool. Her heroine suffers no fools. By the sound of it, the guy deserves every resolute admonition. The bass is sassy.

Bobby Troup’s “Baby, Baby All the Time” arrives smoky and full of history. “Baby try to see/Baby understand/Baby you’re for me/Won’t you take my hand?/But I pushed him away.” The piano is seductive and rueful, and Kyle’s flute adds texture. The message is both lyrical and direct. The bright, flippant “Chicken Wings” (Bryant) finds multitalented Kyle on harmonica. “I’ll take my chances about all sorts of things/But when it comes to chicken, I only like the wings!” The lyrics are spoken, and rhythmic choruses are almost chanted. I pictured a jump-rope rhyme. Bryant’s infectious laugh ends the cut.

“Stormy Monday” (T-Bone Walker) is the CD’s centerpiece. At 7½ minutes, it’s not a second too long. The melody and vocal define a worn-down soul. The tempo is hurry-up-and-wait. The apparent plea, “Just send me someone to cure my misery,” isn’t expected. The sax is expressive and doleful; the arrangement is terrific.

“Katydid” (Bryant) really swings, like a hammock. Katy “made the best of a very, very bad situation” but if found out…! Yu “Big Poppa” Ooka contributes a guitar that might’ve played with the Dorseys. Tony Guerrero’s pristine trumpet seems to grin. Bryant adds a touch of classical form at the end which bubbles up like a harpsichord. “The Very Thought of You” (Ray Noble) is a luscious bossa nova, with a shhh guitar (Kleber Jorge) that moves like a breeze through branches. Kyle’s sax feels translucent. The tremulous phrasing is the Bryant’s own. She makes the song not just stock romantic, but believable. It’s just beautiful.

This is a lovely collection of material from a veteran who sounds fresh.
(*Marilyn Maye also comes from Kansas.)

Alix Cohen

Alix Cohen’s writing began with poetry, segued into lyrics then took a commercial detour. She now authors pieces about culture/the arts, including reviews and features. A diehard proponent of cabaret, she’s also a theater aficionado, a voting member of Drama Desk, The Drama League and of The NY Press Club in addition to MAC. Currently, Alix writes for Cabaret Scenes, Theater Pizzazz and Woman Around Town. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine and Times Square Chronicles. Alix is the recipient of six New York Press Club Awards.