Thursday, February 18, 2010

Remembering Keter Betts, Bass Player for Ella Fitzgerald for 24 Years

Keter played at Charlie's Georgetown often — the jazz club I worked at in the early 80s. But I never actually met him back then, and it wasn't until shortly before he passed away that I finally had the chance to get to know him.

We were set to work on a project together, but he passed away 2 days before our first meeting. I did get to talk to him by phone a number of times in preparation for our meeting. Those phone calls weren't very productive — I was worried about organizing a very difficult project, but after Keter found out about our Charlie's Georgtown connection, all he wanted to do was tell me stories. And I was very eager to hear them.

Jazz stories, all of them. Keter talked about Ella, about the shows they played, places they'd been, and about the rich musical history of Washington, DC. Once he got started, I couldn't get a word in. And I didn't care. I loved listening to Keter's stories, and hearing the delight in his voice from re-membering so many great events in his life. And about how he got his name — people called him Sketer ('mosquito') when he was young, and at some point Sketer became Keter.

One of the last times I saw him, we were both attending a garden performance by a traditional African group from Rwanda — a group that I later became manager of, Samputu Ingeli. Keter loved the group, and was fixated on and fascinated by the drummers, and at one point I heard him say "now see, he's not just PLAYING the drums, he's BECOMING the drums."

Here's a shot of Angela Bassett, me, and Samputu Ingeli (from Memphis, Tennessee, at the 2004 Freedom Awards.)

» About Keter Betts

1 comment:

  1. So nice to see your post which put a smile on my face hearing your story.
    Keter Betts' son

    Ketie Betts