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Tuesday, July 16, 2024


Aug. 7, 2001 – Jazz bassist Keter Betts has got to have an optimistic outlook on life.
He accepted an invitation to come to the Virgin Islands this week to play music and golf at the fifth annual Beacon Celebrity Golf Tournament. He's booked to stay at the Renaissance Grand Beach Resort, where he'll headline the musical entertainment at a dinner for event celebrities and sponsors Friday night.
What's so optimistic about that?
Last time Betts came to St. Thomas for a gig, he stayed at the Renaissance, too.
Right through Hurricane Lenny.
It was November of 1999, and Betts had come to the territory with pianist Junior Mance and drummer Jackie Williams for a Wednesday jazz concert scheduled in Tillett Gardens and a Thursday night performance at the St. John School of the Arts in Cruz Bay.
The musicians checked into the resort on Monday, and Lenny blew in the next day. It wasn't all that much of a hurricane by contemporary Virgin Islands standards, but the Wednesday concert was rescheduled for Friday. The winds had died down by Thursday, but the St. John gig was called off because the trio was on St. Thomas and the ferries still weren't running between the two islands.
It seems that Betts harbors no ill feelings about the experience. In addition to staying at the Renaissance again, he's going to perform again this week in Tillett Gardens– in a special event added to the Beacon tournament schedule announced earlier. It's a "jazz workshop and mini-concert" Thursday at 10:30 a.m., and it's free and open to the public.
For the presentation, Betts will be joined by tenor saxophonist Jerry Weldon and drummer Harold Jones, the other celebrity guest jazz artists who be playing at Friday's dinner at the Renaissance — as well as in Sunday's golf outing at Carambola on St. Croix. They'll be joined on the Arts Alive stage Thursday morning by one more jazz celebrity — St. Thomas's own pianist Louis Taylor Jr.
The workshop is one Betts designed for elementary and middle-school students (and their teachers and parents), and he presents it regularly at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts outside of Washington, D.C., where he lives, and around the world.
"Word hasn't gotten out much," Rhoda Tillett said Tuesday of the Thursday event, "but already I got a call from a tourist who said he heard about it on the beach and wanted to know if he could come with his friends." The answer, of course, was yes. Young people interested in music, as well as adults, are welcome, she added.
Betts, most notably known for his 24 years with Ella Fitzgerald, also toured with Dinah Washington, Charlie Byrd, Joe Williams and Louie Bellson and played with Cannonball Adderley and Stan Getz. He has devoted much of his time for the last quarter century to educational outreach through the Washington Performing Arts Society's Concerts in Schools, Wolf Trap's Headstart program and Prince George's County's Arts Alive program.
He is a member of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Big Band, a contributor to its jazz programs and an inductee into the Washington Area Music Association Hall of Fame. He can be heard on over 100 jazz albums and recently completed two self-released compact discs.
Weldon is a veteran of the bands of Lionel Hampton and Harry Connick Jr. and currently performs in the small groups of Al Grey, Jimmy McGriff and Brother Jack McDuff. The album "Midtown Blues" features Weldon's quintet in a performance recorded live at a New York jazz club. The album won the saxophonist critical plaudits for his original compositions in the hard bop vein as well as his stylish interpretations of seldom-recorded standards.
Jones worked from the 1950s with Wes Montgomery and Freddie Hubbard. While attending the American Conservatory in Chicago, he played with the Honeydrippers (led by blues singer/pianist Roosevelt Sykes) and Eddie Harris and toured with Paul Winter. He was in Count Basie's orchestra in 1967-72 and was named best new artist of 1972 in the Down Beat jazz critics' poll. He has performed with Marlena Shaw, Benny Carter, B.B. King, Ray Charles and Herbie Hancock and was a member of Sarah Vaughan's accompanying trio.
Taylor, a native St. Thomian, studied classical piano before making his mark as a jazz artist. A music educator as well as a solo performer and leader of his own jazz ensemble, he has been a mentor to numerous local young people aspiring to careers in music, especially in the jazz idiom.
The celebrity golf tournament and related social events are the major annual fund-raiser for Beacon Schools of the Virgin Islands, the territory's national award-winning after-school community learning center program on St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John. For the full tournament schedule and a list of celebrity participants, see "Beacon celebrity event is more than golf".
For further information about the tournament, call Beacon Schools of the Virgin Islands coordinator and tournament director Valerie George at 777-9300. For details on the Thursday workshop and mini-concert, call Tillett at 775-1929.

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