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Open the Door: The Life and Music of Betty Carter by By William R. Bauer

Written in painstaking and at times painful detail, this biography of the legendary jazz singer attempts to combine the story of her life with analysis of her unique vocal style, described in Open the Door as “delayed action singing.” Bebop defined Betty Carter and Bauer works hard to explain the ways and means of that style, dissecting the music like Dexter in his laboratory (that’s the cartoon character, not the saxophonist). Bauer comes from academia and his plodding writing style seems more appropriate to an academic journal than a consumer biography. Lacking literary style, he resorts to an encyclopedic approach to biography and is simply not an effective storyteller in the short or long form. It’s a shame because Carter was an interesting and important figure in modern jazz.

Truly a musician’s singer, Carter considered herself a jazz warrior who came to life on the bandstand, reaching her audience gig by gig. Carter was ambivalent about her records and was often brutally dismissive of her efforts in that milieu. Not surprisingly, her best albums were recorded live and reflected her strengths as a performer who seemed to reach out and grab the audience by their collars, while at the same time pushing her band in unconventional directions.

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