Jazz interview with jazz veteran pianist, vocalist and composer Betty Bryant. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Betty Bryant: – I grew up in Kansas City, Mo. My maternal grandmother gave me a beautiful Chickering baby grand piano when I was four and that started my interest in music.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
BB: – I studied basic piano and learned classical pieces in the beginning. I would guess around the age of 8 or 9 I started trying to play boogie because that’s what everybody did. Remember there were no television sets back then – most people had some sort of piano and everybody – young and old – good and bad – played.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
BB: – I rarely practice. Usually the only time I practice is when learning something new – or composing something.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now? You’re playing is very sensitive, deft, it’s smooth, and I’d say you drift more toward harmony than dissonance. There is some dissonance there, but you use it judiciously. Is that a conscious decision or again, is it just an output of what goes in?
BB: – I just play what sounds good to my ear. I don’t really think about it – but I know when I want something to sound funky or bluesy and I can switch that completely off if I want something to sound pretty, melodic, even ethereal. So I can go from “Catfish Man” to “Some Other Time” (L. Bernstein) and keep everybody, including myself, interested.
JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
BB: – You probably can’t prevent influences from people you admire. I guess you should enjoy but not copy. I don’t even know if that is possible! I can’t really give an honest answer to this.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
BB: – Is there a balance? Some musicians seem to want it one way or the other! I don’t call it “balance” but I find it exciting to keep a little of everything in the mix – my shows run the gamut – happy, sad, slow, fast, be-bop, blues, ballads, bossa, etc. I don’t think I am an intellectual being to begin with so I don’t try to intellectualize music. I think I might ruin my music if I started to over-think it.
JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
BB: – Fortunately I now have audiences that usually come to see me and they know what I do. When I was younger and doing gigs that were mainly background music this was not true. I frequently had to play requests that I did not or could not relate to. That was difficult. Today my relationship with audiences is totally different and we have a mutual love affair going on!
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
BB: – Nothing stands out at the moment. I’m very happy with the way things are going. I keep threatening to quit but nobody pays any attention to me and I just keep on going. I’m very family oriented and they all support anything I do. Life is good!
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
BB: – I don’t think jazz will ever die. Every time someone says it is dead it shows up again – maybe in another form, maybe as a revival of an old form.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
BB: – Spirit? OK, I guess I can say music is part of my spirit – a big part. The meaning of life? Hah! I have no idea.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
BB: – More music in schools as part of the regular agenda – from kindergarten on up.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
BB: – No one in particular.
JBN.S: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
BB: – Joy.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
BB: – I really loved Rio and the bossa nova era – late 60’s, early 70’s. I don’t think I can focus on any one era however.
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
BB: – No questions from me but a deep appreciation for the ones you have asked. You made me step back, take a look at myself and actually THINK! Thank you for that.
JBN.S: – Thank you for answers.
JBN.S: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?
BB: – See above answer!
Interview by Simon Sargsyan