Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Harold Betters


            Not only is it about time I wrote something but way past time for another Trombone Hero. I might have mentioned before that Pittsburgh was a great place to grow up for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was that it was such a great place for jazz. Just off the top of my head I can recite the names of Roy Eldridge, Mary Lou Williams, Slide Hampton, George Benson, Stanley Turrentine, Billy Eckstine, Errol Garner, Dodo Marmarosa and Billy Strayhorn as all being from the Pittsburgh. And if you played trombone, Matty Shiner, the low brass teacher at Duquesne University was world famous and a lot of his former students ended up teaching in the area. I was lucky enough to have been taught by one of them, Jack Lapato.  When Maynard Ferguson started touring the States again in the early '70s he came to Pittsburgh a lot, possibly because one of his trombonists was a local, Randy Purcell - a fabulous player who, sadly, died fairly young a couple of years ago. But one of the undisputed kings of the local Pittsburgh jazz scene was a guy named Harold Betters whose trombone could be heard for 17 years at a club in Shadyside called "The Encore." Like most jazz clubs it's long been closed and I read it's now a lingerie shop, which eases the pain somewhat.

            But you could hear Harold, and still can, at Steeler games but to my regret, the only place I ever heard him play was at a Pirate game when they still played at Forbes Field. I'd always meant to stop by the Encore on my way home from school when I went to Pitt, but working one's way through college usually means sleep wins out over just about everything else including jazz. Considering that Harold Betters, who's well into his '80s, is still gigging around the 'burgh, I'll probably have a chance to rectify this oversight next time I'm home. In the meantime, while checking out his website for this post, I found out that Saturday, November 1, 2014 is Harold Betters Day in his hometown of Connellsville. So everyone in western Pennsylvania, western Maryland and West By God should head out to the Edwin Porter Theater in Connellsville at 7:30 that night. For only 15 bucks you'll get to hear a great trombone player and local jazz legend who could have been a success anywhere but decided to make music close to home - where he hasn't done too bad for himself.
            On a trip home a few years ago, the library in Fox Chapel where my sister works was parting with a bunch of old vinyls and I scored a few Harold Betters albums. He's cut 12, including one in 1964 with homey Slide Hampton. Here he is playing Bobby Timmons' Moanin'.  I was trying to learn this tune while back in college and listened to this recording a lot.  It's my favorite version of this jazz standard.

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