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Betty Carter’s School of Spontaneity

The late singer gave tough-love lessons to generations

Betty Carter
Betty Carter
Betty Carter in Washington, D.C., 1998
Betty Carter in Washington, D.C., 1998
Carmen Lundy (seated at table) and Jason Moran (fourth from left) work with Jazz Ahead students at the Kennedy Center in 2013
2013 residency participants of Jazz Ahead at the Kennedy Center

Twenty years ago at the Brooklyn Academy of Music-operated Majestic Theater, vocalist Betty Carter gathered 20 promising young jazz musicians for two nights of performances. The concerts were billed “Betty Carter: Jazz Ahead ’94,” and they featured many players who would go on to become some of the leading jazz artists of the early 21st century. Before the shows, Carter engaged the young artists in vigorous workshops for five days, teaching them the ropes of grade-A jazz performance.

Jazz Ahead would soon develop into an acclaimed annual weeklong residency in which Carter recruited burgeoning talent from around the world. She recruited many musicians at the annual conference of the now-defunct International Association for Jazz Education, and by visiting various schools, including Berklee College of Music. Striving for originality was paramount for all of Carter’s students; she also required participants to write original material.

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