Betty Bryant: “Lotta Livin’”

April 19, 2024

We live in an age when octogenarians and nonagenarians in the music industry are delivering performances in recordings and concerts, in cabarets and jazz clubs that are equal (and at times superior) to their younger counterparts. Near the top of any list of these remarkable musical artists, would appear the name Betty Bryant.  She is a 94-year-old singer-pianist-composer-arranger, whose style, voice and songs conjure decades of smoke-filled (at least in earlier days) clubs and dives. She has just released her 14th album, Lotta Livin’ and it is an irresistible continuation of her remarkable legacy—as fresh, as saucy, as smart, and as captivating as anything she has given the world in the past. Beautifully overseen by executive producer Alan Eichler and producer Robert Kyle (who contributes tasty tenor sax, flute, and harmonica throughout), this recording is most definitely a keeper. 

Bryant gets things off to a rousing start with “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” (Harold Arlen, Ted Koehler) showcasing her sly, easygoing swing along with her masterful piano, peppered with engaging solos by Kyle on sax, Richard Simon on bass, and Kenny Elliott on drums. Keen-eared listeners might just catch “quotes” from “A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square” and “Twisted” in the witty accompaniment. If you are not smiling by the end, you should check to make sure you are still breathing,

Bryant’s originals hold their own against the well-chosen covers, starting with the amusingly acid-tongued put down of “Put a Lid on It.”  Kyle’s flute along with the halting pulse of Bryant’s piano give Bobby Troup’s “Baby, Baby All the Time” a surprising and haunting vulnerability that transforms the song from its bluesy origins. Anyone missing the blues on that tune will be pleased with the singer’s own sizzling, slow-burn instrumental, “Blues to Get Started,” which follows. Staying in that traditional groove is “Chicken Wings,” the spoken lyric introduction growing into a spirited vocal, supported by classic harmonica backing. This is downhome, back-porch storytelling of a kind people don’t do anymore—people other than Betty Bryant that is. T-Bone Walker’s classic “Stormy Monday” could have been written for the singer; she luxuriates in the bluesy surroundings she creates, never pushing but just living in a world she allows us to visit. 

The humorous wordplay is deceptively simple in Bryant’s “Katydid” but the story it tells is irresistible; Yu Ooka’s guitar and Tony Guerrero’s trumpet stand out behind her witty vocal. The gently bossa rhythms of Kleber Jorge’s guitar caress the singers perfectly phrased take on the Ray Noble classic, “The Very Thought of You.” The delights of the album come to a close with “A Lot of Livin’ to Do” (Charles Strouse, Lee Adams, from Bye, Bye Birdie) that encapsulates the wonder, the style, the artistry, the humor and the wisdom of Betty Bryant. It delivers a lesson the years have taught her that she  wants us all to learn.

 I can’t wait to see what she gives us at 95!



About the Author

Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”