Betters brings sweet sounds to museum
By Dawn Law, TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Monday, February 21, 2005
About the writer
Dawn Law is a stringer for the Tribune-Review.
If you can feel the music, then it is real.
During Harold Betters' five decades in the music business, he has appeared on television, played from the Apollo to the Super Bowl and made numerous recordings that can be heard on jazz radio.
Betters has worked with Slide Hampton, David "Fathead" Newman and Al Hirt, to name a few.
Even Louis Armstrong liked his sound.
He has conducted jazz seminars and workshops at the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State University and West Virginia University, and was recently inducted into the Pittsburgh Jazz Hall of Fame.
Betters turns 77 next month, and says it all started with parents Robert and Lela, who owned a jazz club in the Connellsville area, where he still lives with wife Marjorie.
Betters' six siblings played an instrument, and Harold's choice was the trombone.
"My idol is J.J. Johnson, but the guy that got me started was Tommy Dorsey. The trombone player was real sweet, and that's what I wanted to play."
After formal music training at Ithaca College and the Brooklyn Conservatory, Betters was drafted in 1950.
He played in the 308th Army Band for two years, and that's where Betters says he learned how to play music.
"You don't really get to know it until you get out in the streets. I can tell a guy that's knowledgeable about music, but he doesn't feel it. When you hear stuff like that, you should feel it, and know how to move."
The Harold Betters Quartet performed Thursday for the Westmoreland Jazz Society at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.
Kevin Moore was on keyboard and Cecil Brooks II played the drums.
Chuck Ramsey, who has worked with Betters for 45 years, accompanied on vocals and bass.
Blowing snow was visible through the windows of McKenna Gallery when Betters put on a pair of sunglasses and took on the persona of the late Ray Charles for the tune, "Georgia On My Mind."
He interjected "Amen" into Ramsey's rich rendition of "Drown in My Own Tears."
The quartet toured with Charles, and the song was "one of Ray's favorite numbers," Betters said.
"To me, I don't think it's taught. I think it's born. You got that down, baby? It's inward. That's jazz."
The quartet inspired a standing ovation, something that happens once or twice a season, society organizers said.
"To me, jazz is a style," Betters said. "The nicest compliment I get from people is when they hear my music and they say, 'It's Harold Betters.'"
Seen at the society: Kathy Johnson and her 92-year old aunt, Louise Bolling, who drove all the way from Akron, Ohio; Joe and Pat Erdelsky, Linda Kubas; John Myers; Lou and Joan DeRose; Cliff and Evelyn Felmlee; Dr. Juan and Laura Mari; the Rev. George Johnson and Faith; Harvey and Susan Eger; Jack and Jean Snodgrass; Stu Horner; Irving Bloom; Jim Boswell; Nina Lewis; and quartet manager Dick Fisher with Carole.