Betty Bennett & Mundell Lowe

October 10, 2012

Swinging majestically past their 90th birthdays, jazz singer Betty Bennett and jazz guitarist Mundell Lowe are glowing examples to us all – inside or outside the music business. Although Betty has not sung publicly for a little while, she still keeps busy and takes a special interest in the career of her husband who has an engagement book as full as he wants it to be and in recent years, Mundy has played not only in the USA but also on tour in Europe. As his performances vividly demonstrate, neither his dexterity nor his invention show any signs of diminishing.

In case you have yet to encounter Betty and Mundy, here is a little background information:

 

The lady who sang with the band …

Betty Bennett was born 23 October 1921 in Lincoln, Nebraska. As a child, she hoped to become an opera singer, studying voice and piano. Her direction was changed when, by way of records, her mother introduced her to the music of Duke Ellington and Count Basie. Loving what she heard of these jazz musicians, Betty quickly became proficient in jazz singing, displaying a natural talent for the form. While still very young, she joined Georgie Auld’s band and then in quick succession spent time in the late swing era big bands led by Claude Thornhill, Alvino Rey, and Charlie Ventura and she was also briefly with Stan Kenton and Woody Herman. The Ventura band bore the promo tag ‘Bop for the People’ and Betty’s contemporary vocal styling was a perfect fit. More than her contemporaries, Betty bridged swing and bop. Apart from airshots, Betty’s recording career got underway with 1949-1951 sessions by the Ventura band, including performances of Yankee Clipper, Too Marvelous For Words and I Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind. Betty’s experiences in these years are entertainingly recounted in her autobiography, The Ladies Who Sing With The Band, which was published by Scarecrow Press in 2000.

Betty recorded her first own-name album for Trend in 1953, the songs including Nobody’s Heart, Time After Time and You’re Nearer. Two years later, she recorded for Atlantic Records accompanied by a band led by André Previn, whom she had married in 1952. In the band for Nobody Else But Me were Shorty Rogers, who with Previn also wrote the charts, Frank Rosolino, Bob Cooper, Jimmy Giuffre, Barney Kessell and Shelly Manne. Similarly star-studded were the trio and quartet Previn fronted for a 1959 United Artists date, the aptly titled I Love To Sing, on which are Conte Candoli, Red Mitchell, and Irv Cottler.

In addition to jazz club dates, Betty had begun appearing on the jazz festival circuit and in 1975 she celebrated a new personal relationship when she and Mundell Lowe were married at a ceremony held at the Monterey Jazz Festival.

 

A man for all sessions …

Mundell Lowe’s career had begun way back in 1935. He was born 21 April 1922, in Laurel, Mississippi and began playing guitar at the age of six. At age thirteen he set out for New Orleans where he haunted clubs before his Baptist minister father found him and hauled him back home. Determined on a career in music, he was soon in Nashville where he played in Pee Wee King’s band. Briefly in Jan Savitt’s band, military service intervened but, fortuitously, he landed in a camp near New Orleans and soon encountered John Hammond Jnr. After the war, Mundy and Hammond met up again and the entrepreneur introduced him to Ray McKinley, now leader of the Glenn Miller band, all of this helping open doors. The second half of the 1940s and on through the 1950s saw Mundy playing guitar in clubs and on record dates with an astonishing array of late swing era notables and many rising stars of early bop. These musicians include Buck Clayton, Miles Davis, Benny Goodman, Wardell Gray, Billie Holiday, Fats Navarro, Red Norvo, Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughan, Lester Young.

During the 1950s, Mundy played regularly in the NBC television studio orchestra and he was also musical director on the Today show. Aside from music, he also acted on and off Broadway, but music remained the main thrust of his life and he played and often recorded with musicians such as Georgie Auld, Ruby Braff, Mel Powell, Tony Scott, Ben Webster, the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra, and Joe Venuti.

Mundell Lowe cd

Among numerous own-name releases is 1957’s A Grand Night For Swinging, released on OJC, on which his collaborators are Gene Quill, Billy Taylor, Les Grinage, and Ed Thigpen; while on a 1990 trio date, Telarc’s Old Friends, he linked up with André Previn and Ray Brown. Over the years, Mundy also backed many singers on record dates, among them LaVern Baker, Tony Bennett, Connee Boswell, Ruth Brown, Chris Connor, Sammy Davis Jnr., Carmen McRae, Helen Merrill, Lee Wiley. Mundy continued to work in television and radio after his 1965 move to Los Angeles, a time when he was recognized as a writer of scores for films and television and also as an exponent of 12-tone music.

Two minds in harmony …

The marriage of Betty Bennett and Mundell Lowe at Monterey in 1975 was also a joining of musical minds as is apparent from the 1990 Fresh Sound recording session that resulted in The Song Is You. Here, accompanied by Bob Cooper, George Cables, Monty Budwig, and Roy McCurdy, the couple perform fine interpretations of songs such as You Must Believe In Spring, No More Blues, I Thought About You and The Eagle And Me.

Separately and together, over the years Betty Bennett and Mundell Lowe have made significant contributions to jazz that are always lithely swinging. Betty’s singing, lyrically profound and musically adventurous, and Mundy’s elegant and deceptively sparse exploration of the often overlooked subtleties of many compositions, have allowed them to create memorable interpretations of standards from the repertoire of both jazz and popular song.

Betty’s extensive collection of photographs and other memorabilia is now with Rutgers University’s Institute of Jazz Studies, although some photos can be seen on Marc Myers’ JazzWax website.

As for Mundy, his own website is where you can find details of this indefatigable jazz musician’s forthcoming gigs.

 

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