Jazz Bassist Keter Betts
By Adam Bernstein, Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 8, 2005; Page B04
Keter Betts, 77, a jazz bassist heard on
more than 200 recordings, notably with guitarist Charlie Byrd and singers
Dinah Washington and Ella Fitzgerald, was found dead Aug. 6 at his home in
The cause of death has not been
determined, according to the McGuire funeral home in the District.
Trumpeter Clark Terry, formerly with the Duke
Ellington and "Tonight Show" orchestras, said Mr. Betts was "on the top
plateau of all the bass players."
Mr. Betts played in bands with Oscar Peterson, Tommy
Flanagan, Woody Herman, Nat Adderley, Joe Pass, Clifford Brown and Vince
After he made the Washington area his home in the
mid-1950s, Mr. Betts teamed with Byrd, the lyrical guitarist who made his
name with sensual, samba-inspired bossa nova music. They were regulars at
the Showboat Lounge in the District and made several State
Department-sponsored trips abroad.
During one trip to Brazil, Mr. Betts became
enthralled with samba records and, he said, spent months persuading Byrd
to play the music around Washington.
Although Mr. Betts was on the million-selling "Jazz
Samba" (1962) album -- recorded at Washington's All Souls Unitarian Church
-- stars Byrd and saxophonist Stan Getz were credited with launching the
bossa nova craze in the United States.
One of the most memorable songs from the album,
"Desafinado," featured Mr. Betts doing the supple bass-line introduction.
But his contribution to finding the music went unheralded until recent
years, after he spoke to JazzTimes magazine about his role.
Ken Kimery, a producer and drummer with the
Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, told The Washington Post in 2003:
"My experience with him is that he feels the story will come out, and he
does not feel he'll have to be the one who takes the effort to do that. .
. . Here's a gentleman who's done so much and does not feel the need to
William Thomas Betts was born in Port Chester, N.Y.,
July 22, 1928, and was raised by his single mother, a domestic worker. He
got his nickname when a family friend said the baby was as cute as a
mosquito. Mosquito became Skeeter, then Keter.
One day, his mother sent the youngster for milk and
bread at the market. Thrilled by the sound of a passing Italian parade, he
followed the drummer across town. He was gone four hours with the milk and
"My mother almost killed me when I got home," he told
an interviewer. "I got a whippin'. After that, I told my mother I wanted
to play drums."