Harold betters Interview
(Off-mic conversation, set up)
(Audio Countdown)(Chair move)
Interviewer: Okay, this is Harold Betters, March 9th, 2014. First of all, take me back to Connellsville of your upbringing ... give me a sense of where it is in relation to Pittsburgh.
File 1 – 00:01:32 Harold Betters: Okay. Connellsville’s about fifty-five miles south of Pittsburgh. Okay? I lived there all my life. I was born and raised there, and went to high school there. And then I also went to Ithaca College to teach, I wanted to teach in the high schools. And then I didn’t want to ... I changed it and went to a, uh, place in Brooklyn, New York, to get a certificate to play jazz, ‘cause I found out I wanted to play jazz.
Interviewer: What was Connellsville like in those days? Tell me a bit about your life ...
File 1 – 00:02:04 Harold Betters: Okay, um, it’s about thirteen thousand; it’s a small population. Everybody knew everybody. And, actually, my first ... there’s, in my family, there’s seven, five boys and two girls. And we had family band.
File 1 – 00:02:19 Harold Betters: And then, when I went to high school, before high school, we played in the band to advertise for people ... they have a banner to “eat ice cream at Dugan’s.” And then we had a high school band and my brother Jim was the drum major. He played trumpet; he was the oldest. And then my brother George played sax.
File 1 – 00:02:39 Harold Betters: And then, comes me, playing the trombone. And then there was Jerry, a very good singer, and he played drums. And he had a band also. Sometimes we would combine our band, you know, to play together, a very good singer, a very good drummer. You know? Very good drummer.
Interviewer: So tell me a bit ... give me a sense of your family, your parents and their business... just give me an idea of ... (Betters Affirms)
File 1 – 00:03:10 Harold Betters: Yeah. Okay. Anyway, well, our fam ... we lived in ... on North Eighth Street. And, um, I would say it was like a small ... everybody knew everybody, you know? My father had a beer garden, hotel. And, uh, he had a lot of cr ... uh, property. He was ... my dad was a very intelligent man. He read a lot, law books, and everything like that.
File 1 – 00:03:33 Harold Betters: And we had everything. Uh. Actually, there was only ... Connellsville has a North Side, mostly, uh, blacks grew up in the North Side. We were on the West Side. You know? We were spoiled. My father gave us everything. He did well, financially.
File 1 – 00:03:50 Harold Betters: And they bought us all the best of the instruments, you know? I’ll never forget, when I wanted a new trombone, I play ... I started off on a Bundy. It’s a nice elementary trombone. Then they took me down to Pittsburgh, it was called “Petty’s Music Store,” and I got a Stradivarius Bach trombone. It was very good.
File 1 – 00:04:09 Harold Betters: You know, but we had the best equipment, you know? And we would play for families, whenever we’d have people come in the house, my dad would say, “Go get your trombone,” and, “Go get your trumpet, Jim, and play for the people.” And we played for the people a lot.
File 1 – 00:04:23 Harold Betters: You know, that was my earlier days. And then, when I’d come out of high school, we played in my mother’s bar and grill. That’s where we got started and then we moved down to, uh, Greensburg and played at the William Penn Hotel. And then we moved from there to, um, Gene’s (Check Spelling) Musical Bar, on thirty. It was a nice music club.
File 1 – 00:04:41 Harold Betters: And then we hit the big time, to hit the Midway Lounge. The Midway Lounge was where all the big name acts came, you know? And it was very ... it was fun. I enjoyed it.
Interviewer: So what was it like growing up? Your father was very successful in business, how did he feel about ...
File 1 Ends
Interviewer: So your father was successful (Betters Affirms). You had a good upbringing. What was it like living on the West Side when most of the black people lived on the other side.
File 2 – 00:00:26 Harold Betters: Well there was a racial, racial prejudice, I would say that, you know. Um. I’d have to say, on my street, there was a black doctor. You know? And then there was a lady who taught music who was black. We were about the three families on the West Side. Okay?
File 2 – 00:00:43 Harold Betters: And, uh, at that time, when we started playing in my mother’s place, you know, the whites, you could ... if you were black, you couldn’t go into the clubs there. So a lot of the clubs that they had next, there was a club right next (Claps Hand) door to my father’s place and they got entertainment from Pittsburgh and Chicago, Philadelphia. But every time they’d come there, they would come over to hear us play and they would sit in with us.
File 2 – 00:01:08 Harold Betters: And that’s when I met this fellow Dick Hixon (Spelling?) and he said, “Man, you play nice. You ought to study off of Matty Shiner.” And Matty Shiner was a very successful trumpet, trombone ... his brother was a trumpet teacher, but he was a good trombone teacher, okay?
File 2 – 00:01:24 Harold Betters: So I went from Dick Hixon’s advice to go down and play with Matty Shiner, a very, very knowledgeable trombonist. And I learned from that and then, as I said earlier, I wanted to be a high school band director ‘cause I loved my high school band director. He played trombone, and real strong and I liked that. And I said I want to play that.
File 2 – 00:01:42 Harold Betters: But then when I found out, they told me when I went to Ithaca College that if you get a (Claps Hands) degree, you can’t teach in the North. You have to teach in the South. So there was a racial thing there, you know? It’s oh, so much better now. Back then, uh, I went to that Conservatory of Music in Brooklyn and I learned to play jazz.
File 2 – 00:02:01 Harold Betters: Then I met Herbie Jones, who was one of the first trom ... trumpet players for the Duke Ellington Band. And he said, “__(Inaud?) get a nice sound,” you know, and start reading “Big Boy (?)” and charts, and so forth.
File 2 – 00:02:12 Harold Betters: And then I, uh, oh, and I transferred from Ithaca to the Conservatory of Music. And then I started playing with jazz clubs in New York. And then, when I come back, me and my brother Jerry played in the Midway Lounge, which was a big jazz spot, you know, and in, oh, Johnstown, you know, little towns, Uniontown. You know, we were “The Betters Boys,” everybody called ... (?)
File 2 – 00:02:35 Harold Betters: And then we played a club, uh, near the Pittsburgh Airport. And I remember that, uh, we were packing them in (Small Laugh). We asked for more money or we wouldn’t play (Laughing), you know? And, uh, Carter (?)(Inaud?) was the president. He’d come into Pittsburgh with Chuck Edwards. And Chuck Edwards was a very fine rock and, rock and roll guitar player, you know?
File 2 – 00:02:58 Harold Betters: So, we exchanged things like that. So, uh, any questions you want to ask, let me know. I’m trying to remember back ... (Interviewer Affirms) It was fun. I didn’t catch too much of the “racialism.” You know?
Interviewer: What did your father feel about your drifting off in the direction of music as a career?
File 2 – 00:03:27 Harold Betters: Well, he, he was more like ...
Interviewer: Refer to him as “my father,” “my dad.”
File 2 – 00:03:33 Harold Betters: Yeah. Well, my father just said to me, “Practice Harold,” you know, and I’ll get you the best trombone to play,” and so forth. And, uh, that was about it. I mean, uh, he would teach me, uh, racial lines like, “To get ahead of the white guy, you’ve got to play faster or higher, and better than him.”
File 2 – 00:03:52 Harold Betters: And I had that in mind when I played in high school band; I always played first chair. And we went to the WPIL Festival in Jazz, tryouts, and I got first chair there. You know? And, uh, I didn’t feel too much racial prejudice. I got scared when I went on the road with Ray Charles about, they said, “Be careful,” and that’s when I first experienced, I went down on a bus and when I saw all the signs that said, “Black Restroom,” and “White Restroom,” I figured, “Wow. Here, here it is.” You know what I mean?
File 2 – 00:04:20 Harold Betters: That bothered me quite a bit. It did, racially, you know?
Interviewer: Did you have that same experience in Connellsville? Or was that when you went on the road?
File 2 – 00:04:30 Harold Betters: No, just ... No, Connellsville, I didn’t have that. No. My, my family was very well respected, like, “Oh, it’s the Betters’ family,” you know? So I was fortunate. In fact, the, the famous, uh, what’s his name now, Johnny Woodruff, who went to the Olympics in, in track, you know, my father sent him a cable, __(Inaud?)when he took first place, and so forth. Well, that family, Johnny, uh, Woodruff’s sister was our babysitter, you know?
File 2 – 00:04:54 Harold Betters: And it was just a fun town, you know? Uh.
Interviewer: You had an amazing upbringing. What was it like when you came down to the Midway. Describe to me what the scene was like.
File 2 – 00:05:08 Harold Betters: Okay. When we hit the Midway Lounge, it was my brother’s band, Jerry, the baby of the family. You know? And, uh, we hit that and we met the musicians and they were the big names then, local, it was Walt Harper, and, uh, Joe Westray, Honeyboy and the Buzzin’ Bees, you know? And then the jazz spot was to go to Crawford Grill.
File 2 – 00:05:29 Harold Betters: You know, they had the, the Crawford Grill and also the Hurricane, the two black bars that had name bands. So, uh, we went there to hear the... I heard J.J. Johnson there; I heard Kai Winding there, you know, I heard, uh, oh, all the great ... Erroll Garner, from Pittsburgh, was playing there, you know?
File 2 – 00:05:50 Harold Betters: And, uh, it was just nice to hit ... then we hit playing the Crawford Grill. That was a big, big step, you know, the country boys, the Betters Boys, from Connellsville, a small town, were coming to play. So, uh, and then I got, uh, my start ... I left Jerry and went to the Suburban Room. It’s in, I forget where, where it’s ... North Hills, uh, out on 119, whatever it is.
File 2 – 00:06:14 Harold Betters: Anyway, I got a start there playing, uh, every Friday night. And we got ... I got eight bucks, you know, a man. And then we got promoted to Friday and Saturday. And then the Pitt Pot called me up. And then the Encore called me up. And then, when I hit the Encore, that’s when I really made it big because that’s when I ... Mike Douglas would come in there for a __(Inaud?) or something and then he would, uh, you know, come out and he heard the band. And he’d say, “Hey, could you come on the TV show?” And I never heard of Mike Douglas and I said, “Yes.”
File 2 – 00:06:46 Harold Betters: And he was out of Philadelphia. First, he was out of Ohio and then he went to Philadelphia. Okay? So then he had ... he had me on about three or four times. And I met some spectacular people. You know, Louis Armstrong was on. And, uh, oh, I met all the big boys, you know, that you know.
File 2 – 00:07:04 Harold Betters: And, uh, it was fun. In fact, the day I went on, the Maynard Ferguson Band was on. And, uh, I thought we wasn’t going to get on, you know? And then Maynard Ferguson came over and said, “Man, you play a nice trombone, my man,” you know, and it was just great, you know?
Interviewer: It sort of all just flowed ...
File 2 – 00:07:24 Harold Betters: It gelled together. It’s funny how, you know, I found out when you want to make it big, you’ve got to travel. Now, Kai Winding said, “Betters, you’ve got it made here. You’re the, the main man.” You know, I worked five nights a week and I ... for fifteen years.
File 2 – 00:07:40 Harold Betters: And that’s odd for playing jazz. Usually, you’d play one club and then another club. You don’t have a seven day week. I played a jam session on Saturday afternoon and played there Saturday night. And I would start Monday. So I made nice money then, you know? And I, I got a lot of people that, I’m going to say, I got to play with the big boys, let’s say, you know?
File 2 – 00:08:01 Harold Betters: I met, uh, Bill Watrous at the time, with a house band at, uh, the Merv Griffin Show, you know? And then I met Louis Armstrong on the Mike Douglas Show. And then I met, uh, Herb Alpert, not Herb Alpert, but, uh, what’s the big guy from the South that plays trumpet for the Saints? I can’t think ...
Interviewer: ... Al Hirt ... (Betters Affirms)
File 2 – 00:08:21 Harold Betters: Al Hirt. Right. And when he’d come to Pittsburgh, the Steelers were playing the Saints. And when he’d come down.
Interviewer: Start that again ... “Al Hirt” ... (Betters Affirms)
File 2 – 00:08:32 Harold Betters: Okay. Al Hirt came with the band and his clarinet player, and he was such a gentleman. He said to me, “Hey, Betters, could I sit in with you guys?” I said, ‘Oh, sure, Al. Whatever you want.”
File 2 – 00:08:42 Harold Betters: You know? “Well, can we do, uh, ‘The Saints’?” I said, “Yeah. What key?” “Can we do it E-Flat?” So humble. You know? And I said, man, it was real nice. We had a nice time, relationship that way. You know? So every ... and then I met the great, uh, Kai Winding. Uh. The, the King Company that makes the trombones, there was a fellow from Uniontown, a saxophone player, and his name was Johnny ... not Johnny Walton, I was going to say Johnny ... Joe Anastasia (Spelling?), and he worked at the King Company.
File 2 – 00:09:10 Harold Betters: So he called me up and said, “If you come down, Harold, I can get you ten percent off of the trombones.” And I says, “Great.” So I went down there and he said to me, “Did you happen to know, uh, Kai Winding?” I said, “Yeah, I met him once.” He had come to the Encore to replace me. He said, “Well, we’ll make it twenty percent off,” you know?
File 2 – 00:09:26 Harold Betters: So, when I went in, uh, as soon as I walked in the office, and Kai Winding was talking to the pres ... he said, “Betters, how you doing?” And the owner said, “Oh, is he anybody?” You know? And he said, “Oh, he’s going to be one of the future trombone players.” He said, “You give him the trombone.”
File 2 – 00:09:40 Harold Betters: And he gave me a trombone. You know? So the musicians were just ... And then I met Dizzy when I was in Ohio. We played opposite him, you know, and that was called, oh, I ... it goes so far back. It was a jazz spot in, in Cleveland. You know, that we ... that’s when I met Dizzy. You know?
File 2 – 00:09:58 Harold Betters: And, uh, like you say, it all gels together. When I went to Cleveland, oh, we sold the club out. You know? And then we’d go there every year for two weeks. And then I went out to San Francisco. You know? And a funny thing about that, uh, what’s his name has a big book here, I forget his name. Louis Armstrong told him about me, uh, Joe Glaser.
File 2 – 00:10:21 Harold Betters: So Joe Glaser called me up from New York and said, (Dramatic) “Better, how you doing?” And, uh, said, “How would you like to play at the Cabana Club in Palo Alto?” I had never heard of Palo Alto. And I was cocky ‘cause I was running all over and I said, “Hey, look, when you could book me in New York or San Francisco, or Hollywood, you call me.”
File 2 – 00:10:40 Harold Betters: So I hung up. Louis Armstrong called me back and said, (Dramatic) “Betters, that’s the club Doris Day owns __(Inaud?). It’s class.” So I called Joe Glaser back and said, “Hey, I’m sorry. I’ll take it.” And then I got out to the West Coast. And then the guys on the West Coast said to me, we played the first week, “You want to stay two more weeks?” And I said, “Fine.”
File 2 – 00:10:58 Harold Betters: The guy called me from the Encore and said, ‘If you’re not back, you’ve got no more job here.” Well I was steady playing there, you know, seven nights a week, so I said, “I’ve got to go back.”
File 2 – 00:11:08 Harold Betters: But everything was, I’ve got to say, I owe my success for my father and my mother, and my brothers, you know? We backed each other up, and so forth. But I had a perfect life. You know? I was very fortunate, you know? And you’ve got to have a foundation, you know, it’s just like building (Claps) a house, you’ve got to have a good foundation. Well my parents were real right on, you know?
File 2 – 00:11:35 Harold Betters: And, uh, and it just kept going up. I just got an award the other day. I got two awards last week, last month. “Man of the Year” in Pittsburgh, in music, you know what I mean? Um. I’m not being egotistical; it just kept building for me. You know? Now that I’m getting up there from my age, you know, I’m not working that much. But I only work when I want to. You know?
Interviewer: That’s a great position to be in. (Betters Affirms)
File 2 – 00:12:00 Harold Betters: It is. It is. Yes. Yeah. And it’s because, through the ... Duke Ellington said that. I read a book about him and he said, you know, be very good to your fans because your fans become your friends. Sometimes you’re going to lose your fans, but your friends are going to come. And that happened to me. I met so many fans, people, I’ve got, you know, when I play somewhere, boom!, they’re they’re there. You know?
File 2 – 00:12:24 Harold Betters: And that’s good for business. You know?
Interviewer: Tell me a bit about your bookings on ... recap the whole Mike Douglas experience ... (Betters Affirms) You did Dick Cavett (Betters Affirms) ...talk about those. (Betters Affirms) And give me an idea, sort of the time period ... ?
File 2 – 00:12:48 Harold Betters: Well, you know, the ... when they called ... took me to Hollywood, uh, they called me to do my record there. I met Frank Sinatra, you know, __(Inaud?) ... was very nice seeing Frank Sinatra. And, uh, the guys, I’m trying to think of ... he’s a comedian. He did ... I did a song called “Margie.” And a funny thing, when they come to Pittsburgh to record me, you know, I would go like this (Demos ‘Cut’) with my hand, like, “Don’t write this one down. It’s just a gimmick.” They kept going (Dramatic) __(Inaud?) “Margie, Margie.” I’ve got fans, “Play Margie.” And I went (Demos ‘Cut’) ... and I give them the sign, “Don’t write this down.”
File 2 – 00:13:20 Harold Betters: I did it and, uh, Keely Smith was there. Remember Keely Smith? She was with a trumpet player, I forget his name, but she said she loved it. So I played that and it almost got an Emmy ‘cause Dick Cav, Dick Cavett was doing it on a tightrope (?) and the song starts like (Dramatic) (Demos Sound) ... and he’d do all that movement for that, you know? And so they called me up from Hollywood and said, “You’re going to be playing ‘Margie’ and Dick Cav, Dick Cavett’s going to do a thing on it,” you know?
File 2 – 00:13:46 Harold Betters: So that was a big, big thing to me, you know? But, uh, meeting Slide Hampton was, was a charm. I knew Lionel Hampton. I didn’t know Slide Hampton. But when they told me about Slide Hampton, I was playing with Ray Charles. And we ... and Slide came in and they said, “There’s, there’s Slide Hampton.” I went over and he said, ‘How are you doing Betters? I’m from Jeannette, originally,” you know?
File 2 – 00:14:06 Harold Betters: But when I heard him play, oh! You know, he just ... and he did an arrangement for ten trombones and then he’d come to Pittsburgh and we ... they played at the Encore with me, you know, and so forth. But it was nice meeting nice musicians, like I told you. I met Bill Watrous, you know. I never ... I didn’t know who he was and, uh, I thought I did very, very well playing with him, you know?
File 2 – 00:14:26 Harold Betters: But now if you had told me it was the Bill Watrous that I know today, I would never had played. Alright? (Laughs)
Interviewer: Marty said you had a good Watrous story.
File 2 – 00:14:36 Harold Betters: Watrous? Yeah. Well, okay. Bill Watrous, good. What happened, I had never heard of Bill Watrous. So it was a funny thing, like I heard of, now, uh, Tommy Dorsey was my idol coming up because I wasn’t a bebop guy. You know? I was a rhythm and blues trombonist and I played pretty ballads. Well, I played all ... every time I’d play a job, I’d play Tommy Dorsey’s theme song (Demos Sound) ... .
File 2 – 00:14:58 Harold Betters: You know? And people recognized that. So I’d try to play to the ages of my people, okay? So ... where were we at? Talking about? Alright, Bill Watrous.
File 2 – 00:15:08 Harold Betters: When he told ... when I got on the Bill Watrous Show, Merv Griffin had come to Pittsburgh for some kind of a heart sing. And he heard me playing. And he waved for me to come up front. He said, “Man, I’d like to have you on the show.” I said, “I tried to get on your show.” He said, “You’ll be on next week.”
File 2 – 00:15:22 Harold Betters: So he put me on the next week. You know? And when he ... we’d come on, he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, you’ll never hear this guy, he’s so great. He plays so loud, he’ll blow the roof off,” you know? So I played one song. And they (Claps) clapped. And then he said, Merv said to Bill Watrous, “Bill, go up there and do something with him.” And Bill (Dramatic) was ten years younger than me. So he come up, I guess he was a little shaky, or something. But we did a blues number. It was called B-Flat __(Inaud?) and then we went to __(Inaud?) later to F.
File 2 – 00:15:49 Harold Betters: Anyway, I played all over him. Well, today, he is (Laughing) the Number One trombonist. So that’s the experience I had with Bill Watrous. And when I heard him, and knew who he was, I went, (Dramatic) “Wow!” You know?
File 2 – 00:16:00 Harold Betters: It’s just like a guy said to me, uh, he was training as a boxer, and he, he did ... he’d come out first in the Olympics. And then when he came out in life, he was boxing this guy, you know, and when he went out, they were talking about how great he was, you know? And what you call it, so he ... the first round, when he come back, he said, “Damn,” he said, “you told me, uh, you know, does he know who I am?” And the guy said, “He can’t speak English.” (Laughing)
File 2 – 00:16:27 Harold Betters: So (Claps) it was like that with Bill Watrous. I never heard of him, (Laughing) so I figured, “another trombone player.” You know, “I’ll blow him down.” But, no, it didn’t happen that way. You know? Yeah. It’s, it’s been ... I had fun in life, playing with musicians and, uh, joking with them. You know?
File 2 – 00:16:42 Harold Betters: I’d have laughed ... Well, no, and then it was like my friend, Al Zal (Spelling?), everytime Slide comes up to Pittsburgh, we run out, all the trombonists run out to get information from him. (Laughing) And Al said, “Hey, Slide, what key is the hardest for you?” Slide said, “None of them.” (Laughing) I laughed, you know?
File 2 – 00:17:01 Harold Betters: And then he would, Al would say, “What kind of horn do you play?” Al went out to ...bought a horn just like, uh, Slide Hampton. I said, ‘Hey, it ain’t the horn. It’s the man behind the horn.” You know what I mean? So we had fun like that. Oh. I had good times.
Interviewer: So you became “Mr. Trombone” ... that’s got to be a ...
File 2 – 00:17:20 Harold Betters: Well, that was an honor to me, everytime, “Here comes Mr. Trombone.” I don’t know how I got that name. A guy said to me at the Encore, “You’re Mr. Trombone, buddy,” you know? And ever since that, that carried with me, you know? Yeah. ‘Cause, uh, well, the, the big guy in Pittsburgh was Tommy Turk, a very fine trombonist. You know, now I got my socks knocked off there. I had never heard of him and I went down to Pittsburgh. A guy says, “Would you go down and here him?” I said, ‘Yeah.” He said, “Take your horn.”
File 2 – 00:17:46 Harold Betters: So I took my horn. So when I get down ... I heard him play, he was playing with a fine saxophone player named, uh, Johnny Walton, and he was on the road with big bands. But Tommy was a real find trombonist. So when I heard Tom when I walked in, he didn’t impress me. So I couldn’t wait to get up there.
File 2 – 00:18:03 Harold Betters: So, when I got up there, they said, “Tommy can Harold sit in with you? He’s a trombone player.” “Yeah. Come on, he can come up.” So when I got up, he changed (Snaps Fingers) like night and day.
File 2 – 00:18:11 Harold Betters: (Emphatic!) He played higher than me, faster than me, you know, prettier than me. Man, when I got done, I said, ‘Mr. Turk, you’re terrific.” He said, “You’re pretty good yourself, sonny.” So that was the attitudes, you know what I mean?
File 2 – 00:18:23 Harold Betters: But, uh, I got ... Yes, they’d call like, “Comb your hair,” (?) and stuff like that, you know? A good friend of mine, a young trombone player, he had __(Inaud?) ... was Nelson Harris. You know, and he wanted to be a trombone player. So he’d come down and sit in with me. You know, shaking, “Can I sit in?” I’d say, ‘Yeah.” So his knees were knocking. I said, “What’s that noise?” (Laughing) And it was his knee, he was scared to death, you know?
File 2 – 00:18:46 Harold Betters: So, after that, he said, (Dramatic) ‘I played with Harold Betters,” you know? And it’s, it’s nice. And the trombone players today in Pittsburgh, uh, they have some good trombone players here, a lot of good trombone players.
Interviewer: Of all the instruments, your brothers ... (Betters Affirms) why trombone?
File 2 – 00:19:05 Harold Betters: Well, you know, I love trombone. When we were coming up, my fathter said to Jim, what, what do you want to play? And my oldest brother said, “I want the trumpet,” you know? And then my other brother wanted the sax. You know? Now I wanted the trumpet. But I didn’t want to compete with my older brother. He was good. He played hard, fast, and everything like that.
File 2 – 00:19:21 Harold Betters: So I went to a circus and I saw (Demos Trombone Playing) this guy playing the trombone. And I said, ‘What’s that?” “That’s a trombone.” I said, “Dad, that’s what I want.” So he bought me the trombone. So that’s how I got the trombone, and picked that, you know?
File 2 – 00:19:32 Harold Betters: I, you know, I think what I don’t like about the schools today, the band teacher picks the trombone for them, or the trumpet, or the French horn, and I think they should have a choice of what they like. I love the trombone. I like the looks of the trombone. You know? I like the sound of the French horn, you know, as far as tone, you know? I want to make a trombone sound like a French horn, you know?
File 2 – 00:19:56 Harold Betters: You know, and the flugelhorn trumpet I like better than a, than a trumpet, soundwise. Okay? But that’s why I picked the trombone. And then because of Tommy Dorsey. You know, when I saw that and heard that sound, I said, “That’s what I want,” you know?
Interviewer: What was the cultural shift like for you, coming from Connellsville to Pittsburgh in those days? Major differences? Similarities?
File 2 – 00:20:21 Harold Betters: Wow. You know, I had no problem. I mean competing with them musically, you know, it was just they were from Pittsburgh, the big city, and I was from a town, a small town. You know what I mean? But that, that was the difference for me there. It was, you know, no problem, you know? I’d challenge any of the trombone players in Pittsburgh as much as I would in a small town. Yeah.
Interviewer: You seem very competitive ... where did that come from? Tell me about that.
File 2 – 00:20:52 Harold Betters: Yeah. I always wanted to be the best. I always wanted to be the best. If a guy goes high, I wanted to go higher than him. You know, if a guy played fast, I wanted to play faster than him. You know? You know, I’d play all these like “Bluebells of Scotland” with a trombone solo everybody had to learn, you know? And I would learn that. And then memorize it and play it, you know?
File 2 – 00:21:10 Harold Betters: But, I like to compete. You know? When I hear the guys, uh, when, when I see trombone players and I never heard them, and they play a couple of notes, I can almost tell you where they’re at, you know, and so forth. Yeah.
File 2 – 00:21:26 Harold Betters: But, uh, to compete, like they’ll bring a Slide Hampton to town. I wouldn’t want to play with him, he plays too much. You know, but the public doesn’t understand that. See, when I first heard Dizzy Gillespie, they said, “The world’s greatest trumpet player is coming to Ithaca.” When I went to hear him, you had to pay twenty-five dollars for the ticket. I figured he’s terrible. And only because when I was brought up, they said, “Never blow your cheeks out.” (Demos) “It’s incorrect.” Okay?
File 2 – 00:21:54 Harold Betters: So, I’m like, “He’s playing wrong. Look at his cheeks.” You see what I mean? But I find out they can’t set a thing and say you, you can’t do this, or you can’t do that. If you can do it and make it work, make it work. You know?
File 2 – 00:22:09 Harold Betters: And that ... but, again, I didn’t understand bebop. And a lot of people that aren’t musicians don’t understand bebop. For instance, you’ve got a trumpet player here in Pittsburgh now that teaches out at Pitt. Oh, fabulous, fabulous, you know? And, uh, but the people that can’t understand bop, understand what he’s doing, playing so high, playing so fast. Then they go like, “Wow!” (Claps) You know what I mean?
File 2 – 00:22:39 Harold Betters: But, me, I don’t care about the speed. I want to hear sound. I want to hear melodic sound. You know? And I like a tight band. When I see a tight band, when I play, I like to tell the drummer what I want. I like to tell the piano player (Demos Playing) how to play chords that I, that I can hear. ‘Cause I play after, I play after I hear the bass player play. You know, they, “Boom!” I go ... (Claps) I run off of that, okay?
File 2 – 00:23:01 Harold Betters: Not necessarily, “Play an A-Flat Seven.” “Play a D-Flat Minor.” Now it’s getting too computerized now, you know? I play what I feel. You know, what I hear. And I think, to me, it’s just like if you went to an opera and you don’t know what the opera’s about. You’re not going to understand it. If you go to the symphony, you know, and they play some songs like, uh, let’s say, you hear a symphony that plays, uh, what’s his name, Elton John, “The Lion King.” It’s such a beautiful song, you know what I mean? And you can understand it.
File 2 – 00:23:37 Harold Betters: But if you go to an opera, you know, and it’s (Demos Sound) ... and all that, you don’t understand it. But if they tell you the story, you know, then you know it.
File 2 – 00:23:47 Harold Betters: You know, now when I hear these guys, I watch how fast they go; I’ll watch Watrous and I’ll see how he warms up. I’ll watch him, I always tell what, what positions he’s doing, alternate positions, you know? You know, and that’s where I’m going like (Dramatic), “Wow!” “Wow!” He knocks me out ‘cause I know it’s difficult to do. When I hear Slide Hampton, oh my goodness, he set ... he played a riff for me (Demos Sound) ... you know, and I went like, “Damn!” I said, “How did you do that?” And he said, “Betters, all it is,” (Demos Sound) ... “Slow.” And you, you practice and then you build up the speed.
File 2 – 00:24:19 Harold Betters: (Demos Sound) ... . But when you first hear it, I get ... knocking in down like if you ‘re a trombone player. Some people don’t even go ... (Dramatic) (Demos Expression) ... They’re sitting there like, “Did he do something?” “Did you hear that,” I said, you know?
File 2 – 00:24:29 Harold Betters: So that’s that. You know? Anything else? (Laughing) (Interviewer Affirms) Okay.
Interviewer: Your enthusiasm ... tell me, when you perform, what it is like when you perform? Where do you go?
File 2 – 00:24:44 Harold Betters: Mentally? Yeah. I look at my audience. Okay? And I figure, if they’re older people, “I know you know this guy,” and I play Dorsey’s theme song. So I got them won already. You know? And then, then someone says, “Play, uh, ‘All the Things You Are.’” That number doesn’t knock me out. But it’s hard. ‘Cause I don’t hear what they call ‘changes.” I hear what’s behind me. If the bass player played something, I play off of him. You see what I mean?
File 2 – 00:25:12 Harold Betters: And I don’t like to play what I don’t do well. You know? One of my favorites that I do is called “Through the Eyes of Love,” “Ice Castles.” I think I have a nice sound, you know, of all the trombone players, you know, I can tell my ... and then, again, which is very flattering, a lot of people said, “I can understand when it’s you playing.” If the radio’s on, “That’s Harold Betters.” So that’s called “you know his style and you know his sound.”
File 2 – 00:25:38 Harold Betters: I could tell you when Harry James is playing if it wasn’t on ... “That’s Harry James.” I ... “That’s Tommy Dorsey.” You know? “That’s J.J. Johnson.” I can tell his style. See what I mean? So I think it’s (Claps) style, you know? And style is what you feel. You know? I love to play ballads. You know, a pretty ballad like you’re falling in love. You know?
File 2 – 00:25:59 Harold Betters: Some guy, one guy said he was teaching this trumpet player, a very good trumpet player named Bob McCoy. He come out of high school with me. He was on the “Tonight Show,” very ebullient. He was a brilliant kid to begin with. And I wasn’t that brilliant in school. But, (Laughing) anyway, he was get ... taking lessons. And he said to this trumpet player, “How am I doing?” And he said, “You ain’t got no feeling. You ain’t got no feeling about you.”
File 2 – 00:26:23 Harold Betters: And he said, “Well, how will I get that?” And (Laughing) he said, “You got a girlfriend?” He said, ‘No.” “Get a girlfriend.” And he said, “Okay.” He went and got a girlfriend and come back. (Laughing) And he said, “Do this.” (Demos Playing) “You still ain’t got ... You got a girlfriend?” He said, “Yes.” “How come you ain’t got no soul?” “I don’t know.” “Well what do I do now?” (Laughing) (Dramatic) “Quit her and you’ll ... “ (Big laugh!) (Claps) You know?
File 2 – 00:26:42 Harold Betters: But we had a ball. Yeah. I’ll tell you. I had a very ... well, my friends, musician friends, were very, very nice. You know, we’re all competitive, but very nice. You know?
Interviewer: So why do you think ... your opinion ...
Interviewer: Why do you think jazz, Pittsburgh developed such an incredible reputation for jazz musicians?
File 2 – 00:27:11 Harold Betters: That’s a good question. I don’t know that. It’s the people. You know? And it’s, I guess, from the steel mills, you know, they’re, they’re low key. People in, in Pittsburgh, they’re low key. Very nice, you know? So I think that’s why it is. You had a good point when you had Erroll Garner; you had Billy Eckstein; you’ve got, uh, the drummer, what’s his name now, Art Blakey, you know? You’ve got a lot of people from Pittsburgh. You know?
File 2 – 00:27:38 Harold Betters: And that’s a good question, what makes ... they weren’t that ... they weren’t that friendly in New York. I was so used, in Connellsville, if I didn’t know you and we passed each other walking, like, “How are you doing?” “Hi.” And I don’t even know you. In New York, “Hi.” They look at you like you’re crazy, you know what I mean? It’s not warm.
File 2 – 00:27:55 Harold Betters: You know? When I went to Ithaca College up there, I liked it. The people were nice. When I went to New York, the people were nice. You know, but they were a little ‘ritzy.’ You know, and so forth.
Interviewer: So Pittsburgh had a different feel for you when you came? (Betters Affirms)
File 2 – 00:28:10 Harold Betters: Yeah. The people. It’s the people.
File 2 – 00:28:16 Harold Betters: In Pittsburgh ... I would just have to say they’ve been very wonderful to me. You know, they ... when I, when I went out to Palo Alto, and played out there, uh, first I got there, I told the guys to play real soft and cocktailish. And I was so ‘plush.” And four nurses came in from Pittsburgh, (Dramatic) “Harold Betters. Hey, Harold Betters.” And I said __rambunctious (?) (Inaud?). “Forget ‘em, forget ‘em. Just keep playing soft,” you know?
File 2 – 00:28:40 Harold Betters: Then they kept yelling, and I said, “Oh, hell, let’s play it.” So I went (Demos Playing, Sound) ... . Man, the people from all over were jumping up, “Yeah, (Claps) yeah.” So I figured, that’s low key. In other words, it’s not difficult to understand. You know? I think anything that’s simple to understand will ... uh, you know, you can understand it. Like bebop is hard for me to understand, you know?
File 2 – 00:29:03 Harold Betters: I’d see a guy who went (Demos Playing, Sound) ... all over the ... I’d say what kind of pictures is he trying to picture, you know? He’s playing too fast, you know? So that was me. You know? And the guy said, ‘Betters, you’re crazy.” He’s not an artist, or, uh, a painter, or something like that. Hey, you’ve got to live and you’ve got to listen to a guy, you know? When you listen to a band, if I hear a big band, a seventeen piece band, I listen to the third trombone player as well as the first trombone player. You can hear how they blend. You know what I mean?
File 2 – 00:29:34 Harold Betters: So it’s how much training you’ve got, you know, listening to music. And I think that I found out, when I play a song and they’re leaving the club, I hear them humming a song I played, (Demos Sound) ... . I said, “I got him.” You see what I mean?
File 2 – 00:29:55 Harold Betters: But it’s easy. But if I give you something like (Demos Playing, sound) ... a technical player will understand it. The average layman isn’t going to understand like what did he do that’s so great, you know? That’s what I think. That’s just my feeling.
Interviewer: Was there any kind of definable sound that you think eminated from Pittsburgh as opposed to New York or Kansas City, or ... ?
File 2 – 00:30:24 Harold Betters: No. They’re all the same. They’re all the same. It’s just ... I don’t know. Higher culture, the people understanding things, you know? That’s the main thing. Yeah. I would say that.
Interviewer: When you say in Pittsburgh, you say “low key,” (Betters Affirms)
File 2 – 00:30:49 Harold Betters: Right. Right. I use that expression, yeah, like they’re not “airable.”. You know, they come in, “Hey, hi, how you doing?” Where let’s say it’s New York, or San Fransciso, they want to be more proper and, you know, “airable” (?), you know, really, really like phony, like, like, “I’m asking you to do this,” boom, boom, boom. You know? I just ... I think that’s what it is. I think a ... the people of Pittsburgh are more real. You know, true. I mean they tell you what they think. They tell you if they don’t like it. You now? Or you’re okay. You know?
File 2 – 00:31:26 Harold Betters: And I like that. Where, in New York, I guess, more ‘high falutin’” people, I say, you know? Could be...
Interviewer: It’s funny because somebody told me the other day that in Pittsburgh, you get ... it’s a pretty good complient, about the best you can hope for, is to say, “Harold Betters, he’s pretty good.” (Betters Laughs, Affirms)
File 2 – 00:31:47 Harold Betters: Yeah. (Laughing) It’s something __(Inaud?), right, you know? Oh, boy. You’re right. That’s it. You know? Down to earth. Yup.
Interviewer: So how do you feel now that you’re looking back, your life in jazz?
File 2 – 00:32:02 Harold Betters: Let me say this. I did a lot of different things. Uh. It’s a rough life making a living as a jazz artist. Small clubs. But now they’re getting breaks because now they put them in halls. Before they used to play in just clubs. Now Mile Davis would come to town, you put him in Heinz Hall. You know? Dizzy, Heinz Hall. So you’re going up a level. You see what I mean?
File 2 – 00:32:29 Harold Betters: Where, I don’t know what else to say about that. Give me another question on that.
Interviewer: Jazz, in and of itself, has got to be a ... it’s a tough way to make a living. (Betters Affirms) There are easier ways. (Betters Affirms) Running a beer garden or something is ... that’s definable ... you develop that clientele and they keep coming. But you went out there in one of the most competitive fields. (Betters Affirms) And you survived. What made other people not able to do that? Is it simply how good they are? Promoting yourself?
File 2 – 00:33:13 Harold Betters: Sellable, yeah, being sellable. You know, entertaining. I’m starting to entertain a bit now, as I play. You know? I tell the people, “This is that, that, that ... this is that, that, that.” I tell them about, “Here you see me counting off four bars.” And one guy used to to say, “How does he know when to come in at the bridge?” You know?
File 2 – 00:33:29 Harold Betters: And I’d say, “Well, that’s study,” you know. “It’s like music is (Gestures) ... root like, “’A, A, B, A,’” and all that stuff like that. And I would have the drummer start first. I said, “Now you ... he’s going to play a backbeat.” And then I’d tell him, “Now you play the backbeat for them,” see? So, you know, and, “Now just play the sock cymbal.” So they get the feel (fill?). I said, “Now we’re going to put the bass with them.” And then you can hear it growing. The, the drums and the bass line. And then I said, “Now the piano’s going to come in.”
File 2 – 00:33:55 Harold Betters: __(Inaud?) So I said, “Now I’m coming in.” And you can hear it as a group. Where some people would just listen to the bass line or listen to that ... musicians, usually would pick out a certain thing they want to watch, or they’d say it’s a “good bass man.” Or the drummer was excellent. You know? I played a party, it ... well they threw a party for me Thursday, last, last week.
File 2 – 00:34:17 Harold Betters: The drummer, I never heard of him. Super! (Emphatic) I got his name. I said, “Man, I want to use you” because he, he backed ... it’s, me, okay, sometimes I can get a piano player better than the other guy but this guy fits me better. But if I had to say who was the most talented, I’d say that guy is the most talented. But he didn’t back me as well as this guy.
File 2 – 00:34:44 Harold Betters: And some people can’t understand that. You see what I mean? Like you’ll have heard of my band one time and, man, it’s, it’s tight. Remember we said it was tight (Claps), everybody’s like right together. You know? Then you could hear it not ... loose, maybe the drummer’s a little loose. He’s not really there or really there. You know? Now that’s me, okay? And it’s funny like that. I ... and I like ballads, like I told you. Uh. I use three different piano players.
File 2 – 00:35:11 Harold Betters: If I want to play a concert thing, I pick this one guy, John Burgh. And then if I play another one, I use, uh, Kevin Moore. Kevin Moore is a little better, talented than John Burgh. See? But he gives me what I want laying it down. That’s my expression. Okay?
Interviewer: When you perform, what is that you’re ... what is it from inside of you that you’re expressing through this music?
File 2 – 00:35:40 Harold Betters: You know what? It’s just like I don’t believe you can teach jazz because jazz has to be you, when I say, “What you feel.” You know what I mean? Uh. Flavor, you know, it’s just like eating food, flavor, and stuff like that. Uh. I got a, a record I’m playing named “Dick Morgan.” Oh, the feeling he had. Oh, the dynamics. I use a lot of dynamics. Okay? (Gestures) That’s going up and down and swelling, you know what I mean? Oh, I use a lot of that. And the people ... and then they ... I don’t put it on as a show. I fill (feel?) the gestures as I’m playing, (Demos Movement) You know? If I want to play loud, I’ll go up in the air (Demos) ‘cause it’s too loud, you know, hitting a high note like that.
File 2 – 00:36:24 Harold Betters: I feel that. So if another person plays it and doesn’t play the feeling, then he’s playing it but you don’t feel it. Does that make sense to you? Okay. You know, it’s ... when I hear a guy play a ballad, he has to feel it. When I hear a guy play fast, he’s thinking technique. And I’ve got to go, “Wow! Look at him.” Well, (Demos Playing) ... he went all over the horn, you know?
File 2 – 00:36:46 Harold Betters: But I give him an “A” for technique. But maybe I didn’t ... it left me just, ‘Well, he’s fast.” And that’s it, you know what I mean?
File 2 – 00:36:56 Harold Betters: I think of it as like a football game, like I’m the quarterback. And when I play, if I get applause, I made a touchdown. Okay? If they just look at me like (Demos Face) ... I’ve got to find something else. I didn’t hit that guy, you know what I mean? That’s me. That’s me. You know?
Interviewer: You mentioned a couple of clubs. (Betters Affirms) Tell me about the clubs, the most famous clubs you played in Pittsburgh and what ... describe the atmosphere, the audience ... (Betters Affirms) Who made up the audience ... (Betters Affirms) The Crawford Grill ... downtown.
File 2 – 00:37:45 Harold Betters: Okay. The first big club was the Midway Lounge. And if you make the __(Inaud?) Lounge, like everybody that’s somebody is at the Midway Lounge. And, mainly, the people that understood music came there. Not the people that just come because it’s something to do and, “We’ll go to that club.” You know what I mean?
File 2 – 00:38:07 Harold Betters: When I played, uh, when I play a concert at Heinz Hall, I figured, man, I’ve got to be up. I’ve got to be up, you know, ‘cause it’s big. You know, people are coming to see you. Okay? But I have to pick the numbers that I think would go over. So that’s being a football form (?) of player, whatever you want to do. “They’re going to like this.” “They’re going to like that.” You know?
File 2 – 00:38:29 Harold Betters: That, that’s the way I look at it. You know? The styles, it comes back to your style. You know? There was, uh, I ...
Interviewer: How about the Grill ... (Repeats Question) The Grill up in the Hill?
File 2 – 00:38:48 Harold Betters: Oh! When you ... You made it. I played Crawford Grill, when you make Crawford Grill, boom! You made it. You know what I mean? Cr ... Midway Lounge, you made it! (Snaps Fingers) Okay? Hurricane? You made it. ‘Cause people are ... that understand music visits them clubs. And you better be good, you know what I mean? Or they’ll walk out on you. You know? (Laughing) I like how Roger Humphries said, he plays every Thursday, (Laughing) and he says, “If you want to sit in, you better know what you’re doing ‘cause they may throw tomatoes at you,” or something like that. (Laughing) You know what I mean? That was cute.
File 2 – 00:39:22 Harold Betters: Oh, boy.
Interviewer: I sense in you, unlike a lot of people I’ve talked to, that you have a great mixture of the art and also the show business? (Betters Affirms) You’ve got to play to the audience (Betters Affirms).
File 2 – 00:39:56 Harold Betters: Right. That’s me.
Interviewer: And that’s what grows. Tell me about that.
File 2 – 00:39:59 Harold Betters: Well, right. Right now, I’m starting to be more of an entertainer. And because of my age, I don’t play as well as I did ten years ago. And I know that. So I have to entertain. You know what I mean? Entertaining is, uh, telling jokes, you know, uh, the gestures of the horn. Now a lot of that is not all show business, that’s me. I feel that. (Demos Playing Motion). You know, they see like, (Demos) oh, I’m doing all that.
File 2 – 00:40:24 Harold Betters: But that’s still showmanship. Okay? A lot of people will tell you, ‘Oh, I enjoy watching him.” You know? You know. And a lot of them say, “Man, you’ve got so much drive at your age.” You know, I do have drive like, you know, (Dramatic) “Give it to me. Give it to me.” You know?
File 2 – 00:40:41 Harold Betters: So that, that’s me. In other words, I can’t think of saying it any other way. I’m glad you said well you people say like, “Well, Betters, he’s good,” you know? Or, “Oh, Betters, he’s, he’s just a showman,” you know? And that, that doesn’t bother me. You know what I mean because I do have a nice sound. If I had to analyze me, analyze me and say, “What’s good about you musically Harold?” You listen to me play the same ballad that another trombone player and I think you’ll choose me, only because of my sound.
File 2 – 00:41:13 Harold Betters: I think that. But I could be wrong. You know?
Interviewer: One thing I didn’t touch on with some people yesterday is that in the world of jazz, one of the things that came up is you see so many talented people and then there was this period when drugs and alcohol became very ..
(Pause/Technical/”Spots on jacket”)
Interviewer: And we were talking about that yesterday and how is it you’ve, obviously, to be as energetic as you are (Betters Affirms, Laughs) ... People I’m talking to are survivors ... (Betters Affirms) Tell me a bit about that within the jazz culture ... Did you see much of that?
File 2 – 00:42:28 Harold Betters: Yes I did. That’s one reason why I admire, uh, Slide Hampton. He’s a vegetarian. He practices every day. You know what I mean? So, he’s really interested in it. When he played with me at the Encore, (Excuse Me/Burp) we’d take a break. He’d go it the kitchen and practice and then come back out and I’d say, “Oh, we’re on again Slide.” And Slide would come out. You know, very dedicated.
File 2 – 00:42:52 Harold Betters: He’s very dedicated. And then, again, he tells me, he reads about classical players. You know, and like his life is free. Now, when I was with Ray Charles, it was different. I went to go in the bathroom and __(Inaud?) (?) (Dramatic) “Get out of here, Betters.” You know, “Okay.” And, man, I was scared to death. I never did smoke than take a needle, okay?
File 2 – 00:43:11 Harold Betters: So, why, I don’t know. A lot of the great guys, I understand Byrd took, took ... took it. I don’t know if Dizzy took it. I really don’t know. Usually, if you’re a musician, and you go to the doctors, they figure, “You smoke?” “You take drugs?” You know? Because it was that wild life, you know?
File 2 – 00:43:32 Harold Betters: I had a laugh. I played in a local (Laughing) a drummer, Inaud?) I hate to mention names, but a nice friend, a good friend of mine. He was a drummer. You know, so, uh, well, it was Spider. And he ... (Laughing) Anyway, we were playing at the Capitol, in Harrisburg, for some Congressmen. And when it was time to come on, I had to find him. I ran upstairs to the bathroom. He opens the door (Laughing) and there’s coke all over his face. (Dramatic) “What do you want Betters?” I said, ‘Oh, my God. Take a ... .” “You want some?” I said, “No.” (Laughing) “I don’t take it,” you know?
File 2 – 00:44:01 Harold Betters: But, uh, (Laughing) (Dramatic) “Okay, we’ll be right back.” (Wiping face). So he said to me, “Betters, what do you get high on?” I said, “On life.” (Laughing, Claps). You know, and (Laughing), and then, uh, Ray Charles, when I got him shooting the needle, and I said, (Dramatic) “Oh, I’m sorry!” (Laughing) You know? No. I was clean livable. You know? Now my brother Jerry that’s another thing.
File 2 – 00:44:20 Harold Betters: You know, he said he saw a missile out of space and (Laughing) and this guy said, “Your brother said he saw it and if Jerry said it, it’s true.” And I said, “Oh, yeah?” (Laughing) He could have been high. (Claps) You know? But that’s one thing that’s ... but it’s not that much now, I, I heard. They, they ... they’re not on drugs much. But before, when you’d meet some of the jazz artists, Miles, Dizzy, or ... it was like, they get high.
File 2 – 00:44:44 Harold Betters: You know what I mean? But I know Slide Hampton don’t get high, you know? And, again, do they need that? I don’t know. If they need that to relax or to think faster, or the better, then okay. You know?
Interviewer: I wonder how much that has to do with your upbringing? (Betters Affirms)
File 2 – 00:45:08 Harold Betters: Well, we weren’t allowed to smoke, yeah. I wanted the smoke to come out of my nose and we used to pick up cigarette butts when we were seven and eigth. (Demos Smoking) When like he said, “Harold suck in and then swallow it.” Man, I almost choked to death, see, to let smoke come out of my nose. But then we never smoked. My, my mother, yeah, she smoked, but my dad didn’t. You know?
File 2 – 00:45:32 Harold Betters: And, uh, we ... and we had a beer garden. And, uh, where he said, “Give them a little bit of whiskey. So they’d give us whiskey to ... we were small, but choked, you know? So we never drank a beer. You know? I don’t drink. Maybe a beer, at the most. You know? That doesn’t say I’m a nice guy. You know what I mean, but, uh, I enjoy people. I enjoy musicians ‘cause we talk the same stories, you know, and so forth. And, and, uh, I had a job on New Year’s Eve and forgot my mouthpiece. You know, and that’s a big job.
File 2 – 00:46:09 Harold Betters: So, luckily, someone in the audience played trombone and they called him and they gave me his mouthpiece. But it wasn’t mine and it was hard to play. And I thought I had packed it. You know?
File 2 – 00:46:20 Harold Betters: Those are things that they say, “What happened to you? That was a bad one.” You know, and then one job, I went, lucky I can play the valve trombone. The other guy in the band had a valve trombone. I lost ... left my trombone. And then I played the valve trombone. You know, but it wasn’t that good, you know?
File 2 – 00:46:36 Harold Betters: Yup.
Interviewer: So what do you think about what’s going on in the jazz world today? Have a chance to rebound and ... will it never get to where it was in the heyday here in Pittsburgh when people could play six nights a week ... after-hours clubs ... (Betters Affirms)
File 2 – 00:46:57 Harold Betters: Right, right. Now, years ago, they had a lot after-hour clubs. I loved them. Like, two in the morning, three in the morning, you know? My brother had an after-hours club. And the musicians would all go there and jam and everything like that. That was fun. You know, I enjoyed that.
File 2 – 00:47:11 Harold Betters: But, uh, nowadays, which is nice, like these guys make a nice living like Slide, uh, Bill Watrous, like schools pick them up, you know, and they play concerts. See what I mean? Slide writes for the high school band and they play it and they (Demos Playing) feature themselve. You know, I can’t arrange or write.
File 2 – 00:47:32 Harold Betters: See, I never took ... oh, when I went to ... I was going to the music school, you know, to get a degree. I started off right (writing?) and then I said, “I don’t want this.” You know, playing for little kids and I wanted to express myself. I was very well known in Ohio. I’ll never forget one night I played here, the lady was coming to Pittsburgh to hear me play. It was the Pink Cloud, it was club where I played every weekend. The Encore, I played all, all the weeks. When she come to hear me, they come down and I come over and said, “How are you doing?” And she says, “You’re not good.” She says, “You’re excellent.” And I went, “Wow!” You know? “Could you play my club?” Every year, I’d go down there for two weeks, five nights a week. Jammed, people outside.
File 2 – 00:48:17 Harold Betters: And, uh, Slide Hampton said, uh, not Slide Hampton, Kai Winding, “Betters ...,” I said, “What do you think Kai, should I travel?” And Kai said, “Betters, you’re the big kingfish in the trombone in Pittsburgh. It’s better to be the big kingfish than a whole lot of other little __(Inaud?),” okay? And then Dick Gregory said I should travel.
File 2 – 00:48:37 Harold Betters: He come in town and I backed him and (Claps) I give him my record. He had never heard me. And he come to Florida and called me and said, “Betters, will you be my house band?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Man, you’ve got to travel. People don’t, don’t know about you.” He played my record. I backed him in Washington, D.C., and I backed him in New York City, at the Apollo Theatre. You know?
File 2 – 00:48:55 Harold Betters: So, it was nice. You know, I ... and then, when I went with Ray Charles, I really liked it, you know?
Interviewer: What was it like working with Ray Charles?
File 2 – 00:49:03 Harold Betters: “Pshew!” He was, like always ...
(Say his name)
File 2 – 00:49:05 Harold Betters: ... I thought he was maybe high, when I first met him, in a room. You know, I heard say that, “Hey, Betters, is that guy clean?” “Edgar ...,” Edgar Wilson, the bass player from Pittsburgh. He called me up and said, “Harold, you need experience. Come on and play with Ray Charles.” You know? It was okay. It wasn’t ... I liked him, you know, and his music. But, uh, I didn’t get to play too much. (Demos Playing) You know, behind him. He was featured, you know what I mean?
File 2 – 00:49:30 Harold Betters: But I liked to hear him. Every show, I enjoyed it, listening to him play. You know, very nice. The movie was false. You know, just to make humor, you know? Yeah. Yeah, it was experience. For instance, like, uh, Mickey and Sylvia was on the bill. And that was that record, I don’t know if you remember, (Sings) “Baby, oh baby, you’re the one ... .” That’s what she sang. Mickey, (Sings) “Oh, baby ... .” So Mickey got in an argument with the girl. The guy wouldn’t go on. So Ray Charles had to play that part.
File 2 – 00:50:06 Harold Betters: So Ray Charles went out with a guitar and sang, (Sings) “Baby, oh, baby.” I figured, “Damn.” And (Small Laugh) then another experience I got, playing with the guys, we played two shows at the Apollo Theatre. They wanted a third show. So the band wasn’t getting paid for that. So Rick, the man ... the trumpet manager of the band, said, “Hey, fellas, we should get paid for this show. So we should just say if we’re not going to get paid, we’re not going to play for it.”
File 2 – 00:50:33 Harold Betters: So he called Ray’s manager and he said, ‘Hey,” it’s Brown. His last name was Brown. Uh. “What do you ... you guys ain’t want to play? Well I’ll go ask Ray.” So he went upstairs. I heard Ray coming down (Demos) walking with someone ... (Dramatic) ‘I hear you guys don’t want to play the job?” And he said, “Yeah.” “Well then go home.” (Stands Up, Dramatic) We left.
File 2 – 00:50:55 Harold Betters: That was it. I went, “What’s happening?” (Laughing) “That’s it. You’re going to play it,” (Claps) You know? (Laughing) So, uh, that was the experience I got with Ray Charles. (Laughing) Okay? But, uh, running a big band and all that stuff. He was a mess.
Interviewer: Tell me that last story without getting up ... (Betters Affirms)
File 2 – 00:51:29 Harold Betters: Oh, Ray Charles. Yeah. Well, he was upstairs. There was a downstairs where the band would rest and play. And you’d go up to play. You know, and they said there’s another show. And then it was Ricky, the trumpet player. He said, “Hey, fellas, you know, we ain’t getting this because of ‘boom, boom, boom, boom, boom,” the money wise. “We’re only supposed to do two shows.” And that was it.
File 2 – 00:51:50 Harold Betters: They wanted a third. So they said, “Hey, Ricky, you better talk to Jeff Brown and say come down here ‘cause they ain’t going to play if they don’t get no pay.” So Ray comes down (Laughing), (Dramatic) “Yeah, what’s happening? You guys ain’t going to play?” “How you doing Rick, what’s happening?” Like nothing’s the matter. Okay?
File 2 – 00:52:07 Harold Betters: Uh. “Well, Ray, we, we were only booked for two shows.” “Yeah, aha. What, what’s the matter?” “Well we can’t play the third one. It wasn’t in the contract.” “Well, you don’t want to play, just go home. Just go home.” Got up, walked out. I figured, “Is that it?” (Laughing) You see what I mean? So I learned __(Inaud?) (Laughing) sometimes the agents (Gestures?) and Ray had about three managers.
File 2 – 00:52:30 Harold Betters: One was a personal manager; another manager for the band; another manager, you know? And I said ... that’s the first time I’d been on the road. The first time I ran into prejudice. I got off to meet the band in Arizona, and I had to stop off in South Carolina, or something. When I got off the bus, I walked into the bus station to wait. And I saw a sign ... I ... it was clean over there (Points), so I got in the clean part and sat there and waited.
File 2 – 00:52:56 Harold Betters: I looked up and I saw “Blacks” restroom and I looked up (Points) and it said “Whites.” So I went, ‘Oh, God,” and I get over, ‘cause I had never had been South. You know? And you hear about that. In fact, I went down and played somewhere and a guy said, “Harold, don’t go over fifty miles an hour when you go through this town there, or they’ll pull you over.’ You know, it was South. So I figured like (Demos Driving) ... it was frightening, very frightening.
File 2 – 00:53:21 Harold Betters: If you read the story about the, uh, the old musicians, how they would walk to a job ... or go into a job and see maybe a black hanging, you know what I mean? So the racial thing bothered me a lot. You know, I was used to ... well, I brought this ... raised very well. You know, and then they had sec, second class, and all that stuff in my hometown, you know, well known, and so forth. But then when you get out, I remember here in Pittsburgh, yeah. They took me to a club and we did a record and the guy who did the record for us, was, uh, Gateway Record Store, he said, “We’ll stop off at this place and get a lunch.”
File 2 – 00:53:59 Harold Betters: And they peeked through the hole and said, “He can’t come in.” You know? That, uh, that’s destroying, you know? __(Inaud?) that bothered me a lot, a lot. How far we’ve come, you know? I just ... it just ... why, you want to know. Why? You know?
File 2 – 00:54:20 Harold Betters: Well, my daughter just come from ... I’m well known in Connellsville. Okay, they’re all like, “He’s the man.” And she went to the Board meeting, or something, and they were talking about they didn’t want to serve gays. And my daughter said, “I got so upset, Dad, I stood up and you know I’m shy, and I said, ‘I’m Harold Betters’s daughter and we’ve had a hard time coming up, the racial thing. And it seems like the gays are going through what our black brothers went through years ago.’”
File 2 – 00:54:53 Harold Betters: And it’s truthful, you know? I’ve got friends, one of my best friends was gay in, uh, New Jersey, Warren Vaughan (Spelling?), a fine ... well, he’s the one that ... we were the only two blacks in the Army. I didn’t want to go over to Korea because a friend of mine was there when I was with a black group. Okay? And shooting on the range, I said to Herman, “Herman, why are you shooting a bullseye?” “I got two bullseyes, Harold.” I’m shooting all (Demos) up in the air, (Demos Sound) ... . So the guy, “Sergeant Skeeter” (?) come by and said to me, “Betters, let me see your gun. Something wrong with your gun?” I said, “I don’t know,” you know, (Demos shooting), “Pow, pow ... .” “It’s okay.” And I went ... Herman’s bragging, “I got a bullseye.” I say, “You’re qualifying to go over to Korea. I don’t want to fight nobody. I ain’t mad.”
File 2 – 00:55:38 Harold Betters: So, then they said ... I wanted to get in the ... white band. They wouldn’t let me get in the band so I had to protest. Good, I just come out of Ithaca College. So I said, “I’ll give a class.” I pulled the blinds down. I said, “Okay. The first thing is you put together everybody. I said, “I’m going to tell you what you’re going to know when you leave this job and what you don’t know.”
File 2 – 00:55:57 Harold Betters: “And I’m going to pick on anybody to make sure.” Then the first question was, like, “__(Inaud?) in harmonics?” “What do you mean by in ‘harmonics?’” Come on. Come on, you know. I was sharp. (Claps) Okay? So they, they voted for me but three voted not to have me. The best friend I had was one of them. When he got out, he busts out crying and said, “Harold, I’ve got to tell you something.” I said, “What?” He said, “I voted you shouldn’t get in the band.”
File 2 – 00:56:22 Harold Betters: He’s from Binghamton, New York. He said, “You ended up being my best friend.” So you see how racialism plays a part, you know what I mean? Robert Dickerson, we’d become close, close friends. You know? (Dramatic) “How did you do that Harold?” “Play that for me.” “How do you do this?” You know? We got close. You know, but, anyway, then they got another guy in the band, black, Warren Vaughn (Spelling?). He was gay. A good piano player. He backed, uh, Liza Minnelli. And whatever time we’d play for the, the captains and the lieutenants, they’d call, (Dramatic) “Hey, Harold and, uh, Warren, get a band together to play for these guys.”
File 2 – 00:56:58 Harold Betters: So then we got the bands, you know, and everything. We had our Army suits hanging up, like we was in normal clothes. And that’s where I met my wife, in New Bedford, Massachusetts. God love her, you know, I had a beautiful wife, a beautiful wife. You know?
Interviewer: Did you ever question the fact that ... the whole idea of traveling, have you ever looked back on that and thought you should have maybe traveled more?
File 2 – 00:57:20 Harold Betters: I wish, you know, it’s, it’s ... I made a nice living. I made nice money at the Encore. There’s not too many musicians who can say they worked seven nights a week at a club, steady, for fourteen years. I did better at that, you know, then a lot of the other guys. You know? The guys that traveled. You know, I made as much as they did, you know?
File 2 – 00:57:45 Harold Betters: I was fortunate. I was fortunate that people enjoyed me. You know? I have a lot of friends, you know, they’re ... having a birthday party for me on this Wednesday. A lot of my friends will be there. I don’t worry about, “Am I going to get a crowd,” you know what I mean? I know they’re going to come, you know?
Interviewer: ... an amazing life story ...
File 2 – 00:58:07 Harold Betters: Yeah. I think it is. I was very happy. If I’d invested more, I didn’t invest. I’ll tell you that. (Small Laugh)
Interviewer: Your parents must have been very proud of you?
File 2 – 00:58:21 Harold Betters: They ... oh, they were proud of me. Yeah. Proud of me. Very proud. Yeah. He ... I told you my dad said, ‘You keep practicing.” You know? “I’ll get you the best horn you got.” We went down there and he said, “I’ll buy you a diamond ring to put on your little finger when you slide it out.” You know? (Demos Playing) I’d get home and practice and practice. You know? And my dad would get to ... I’ll never forget, there’s a stand, a music stand, he’d have a pencil. (Demos Sound) ... . __(Inaud?) ... would say, “Watch it. You didn’t hold that note long enough.” I’d go, “Okay.” You know, I was scared, you know?
File 2 – 00:58:50 Harold Betters: __(Inaud?) ... then we played for a Polish hall, we had to play polkas. And I played polkas. But my brother George didn’t like polka. He wanted to be a ... like a “Charlie Parker.” So when I called the number up, (Dramatic) “Hey, play a polka.” I said, “Number Six, fellows.” So we started to play and my brother George said, “I ain’t playing it. I ain’t playing it.” I said, “George, I’m going to call Dad if you don’t ... .’ “No, I ain’t playing that.”
File 2 – 00:59:08 Harold Betters: I went and got the phone. “Dad.” “What do you want Harold?” “George won’t play Number Six in the book.” “I’ll be right out.” And then I hung up and my brother George said, “I’ll play it. I just don’t like it.” And he pulled the horn out, you know? So it was a fun life, I had. Really, really nice. Yeah.
Interviewer: Can you think of anything else Nelson?
File 2 – 00:59:36 Harold Betters: Oh, (Laughing) Nelson, he come there with a trombone bigger than him. “Can I sit in Mr. Betters?” I said, “Yeah, get your horn out.” (Laughing) “Come on.” His knees shaking. You know? I don’t even (Turns to Nelson?) know what song he played. (Laughing)
Paul: Quick question, when you did travel, and people said, ‘What’s it like in Pittsburgh?”
File 2 – 01:00:02 Harold Betters: If the people said that?
File 2 – 01:00:13 Harold Betters: At that time? (Interviewer Affirms) Oh, I’d tell them like Pittsburgh was ...
(Talk to Jeff) (Betters Affirms)
File 2 – 01:00:23 Harold Betters: People, you mean people say, “What’s it like in Pittsburgh?” (Interviewer Affirms) Yeah. I had it made. As, as Nelson Harris said once, I was walking down the street, (Laughing) he put the window down and said, (Dramatic) “There’s the man that owns Shady Side.” (Big Laugh, Clap) (Laughing)
File 2 – 01:00:37 Harold Betters: I was crazy, you know? Driving my convertible Mercedes (Laughing) and everything. Oh, I had it made, really. I ... I played the, uh, Pink Cloud first. And then I went to the Encore. I played the Pitt Pot before that. People outside, lined around the corner. I was fortunate, you know, that they liked me. They had to like me to come, to come, you know?
File 2 – 01:01:00 Harold Betters: But I’ll tell you what I did wrong when I was younger. I would be very, uh, not rude to the boys that backed me, cuss them out on the stage. You know, it was bad. I know I cussed my drummer out in Cleveland but he wouldn’t give me the backbeat. You know, and all that stuff, and I was yelling at him onstage, which was very bad.
File 2 – 01:01:16 Harold Betters: So when I got off, this lady said, (Dramatic) “I heard you, Mr. Betters, that wasn’t nice of you, uh, uh, bawling out ... .” I said, before I could say anything to her, the husband said, “You shut your Goddamn mouth. I paid twenty-five dollars to get up front.” (Laughing) (Clap) (Laughter) You know? I’d see __(Inaud?)(Laughing) going on, you know?
File 2 – 01:01:36 Harold Betters: But they loved me. I’ll tell you. Oh, boy.
Man: He hired me to be his sub. (Betters Affirms) I learned all his hit tunes, right? So when I got up on the bandstand with the trombone, in Harold Betters’ territory, and I looked around and all I saw was a ‘hate stare.’ So the first thing I had to play was “Rambunctious.” (Betters Affirms) (Discussion) And then J.J. Johnson took his place for two weeks. Tell him that story.
File 2 – 01:02:43 Harold Betters: Oh, yeah. Oh, J.J., he come out there to play. And, uh, they said ...
File 2 – 01:02:50 Harold Betters: J.J., okay. They said, said to J.J., you know, like, “Rambunctious.”
File 2 – 01:02:53 Harold Betters: J.J. Johnson, the “King,” okay? So they said to J.J., (Dramatic) “Play ‘Rambunctious.’ J.J.” And J. had never heard it. I was out there listening to him and I said, “What?” I said, “Oh, don’t play it. It’s a simple blues song I did.” (Laughing) I was embarrassed, you know? But, uh, it, it was, hey, I ... musicians like that ... and J.J. said to me, “Harold, can he afford to pay me?” I said, “Oh, don’t worry. He’s a millionaire.” You know, it was a small club, as small as this (Points around), you know?
File 2 – 01:03:20 Harold Betters: Half of this. And he ... and then, uh, Dizzy Gillespie was scared. “Hey, Harold,” they’d come to me when I walked us in, ‘Can this guy pay me?” I said, (Laughing) “Don’t worry. He’s got some money.” You know? Oh, boy. Yeah. It was ... and then, a funny thing, Kai Winding, when he’d come to town, I was playing in Cleveland. I took off a week. So when I come back, they had him to play. And I went out to see him.
File 2 – 01:03:44 Harold Betters: And I was sitting right by the stage. You know, to, to meet him, and so forth when he come in. He looked around and he says, “Oh, did you bring my trombone?” Well I thought he was joking with me. I said, “Yeah, how about that?” He said, “Are you the cab driver?” I said, “No.” He said, “I sent a cab driver to get my trombone.” I said, “I’m Harold Betters.” “Oh, (Claps) hi Harold. How are you doing? Good to meet you.” (Demos Handshake) You know?
File 2 – 01:04:03 Harold Betters: I went, “How are you doing?” And when he ... when I ... I think I told you, uh, for the King Company, uh, he was at the King Company getting his trombone __(Inaud?). When he called me ... when I went in, the guy said, “Do you know him?” I said, “I think I met him once at the Encore.” As soon as I walked in, Kai Winding says, “Harold Betters (Claps). __(Inaud?) ... one of your top trombone players.” And they give me a trombone.
File 2 – 01:04:24 Harold Betters: And I told Kai Winding, who was playing down at the club, that jazz club in Pittsburgh, I mean in Cleveland, and I said, “Thanks so much. Maybe we’ve got to stick together.” I thought that was so nice, you know what I mean?
File 2 – 01:04:35 Harold Betters: Musicians are nice, I mean, friendly (Turns from camera) to each other, you know what I mean? Yeah.
Interviewer: Tell him the Urbie Green story ... (Betters Affirms)
File 2 – 01:04:43 Harold Betters: Oh, Urbie Green. That’s another trombone player. He was supposed to come to the Encore. But the guy said, “Ervis Green.” He said, “Harold, you know an Ervis Green?” And I said, “No.” He said, “Well, I booked him to come in.” And I said, “Okay.” You know, “I’ll play with him.”
File 2 – 01:04:57 Harold Betters: When I found out it was “Urbie Green,” I said, “Oh,” I, I didn’t want to play with him. I’ve heard him. He’s good. So I said, “No, I won’t, won’t play unless you give me more money.”
File 2 – 01:05:07 Harold Betters: And the guy said, “I can’t pay ... .” “I want more money and I’ll play with him.” I didn’t want to play with him. Just like I didn’t want to play with Watrous and, uh, Dave brought (Laughing) him up, you know?
File 2 – 01:05:16 Harold Betters: So, when I ... when Urbie come in, Urbie called me at home and said, “Hey, Harold, how you doing? Urbie Green.” I go, “Hi, Urbie. How you been?” “Uh. I thought you were going to play with me?” I said, “No, they won’t pay me the money.” He said, ‘Oh, they’ll pay you the money. I told them.”
File 2 – 01:05:30 Harold Betters: So they paid me money. I walked in, (Dramatic) all the trombone players from Pittsburgh lined up. You know? “Harold, are you scared?” I said, ‘You want my horn?” You know what I mean? And then we went upstairs to warm up. Man, Urbie did some kind of a lick. (Demos Sound) ...
File 2 – 01:05:46 Harold Betters: I said, “Don’t do that down there.” You know what I mean? (Turns from camera) I said, “Don’t do that stuff,” you know? But, uh, it was, it was great. And, uh, he said ... I’ll, I’ll tell you where I thought I had him. I played real hard, a big sound. He didn’t ... they didn’t play as hard as me. So, or loud. So it was Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, now it’s Thursday. And we’re playing and I’m (Demos Sound) ... and he said, “Take it easy, man. We’ve got two more days to go.”
File 2 – 01:06:14 Harold Betters: I figured, “Oh, I’m getting him now,” if you know what I mean. It’s about time I got the guy, (Slams Fist) you know what I mean? But, uh, he was fun. Then he said to me, (Laughing) they wanted to hear “Funny Valentine.” And he said, “I don’t know that song.” Everybody knows “Funny Valentine.” I said, ‘Oh, okay.” So I figured, “Good, you don’t know it.” __(Inaud?) mess up.
File 2 – 01:06:32 Harold Betters: So I’m playing and, man, when he come in, he come up in Triple-D, a high D, and everything I’ve ... “I thought you didn’t know that song.” And he busts out laughing. You know? (Laughing)
File 2 – 01:06:43 Harold Betters: And, uh, oh, boy, they’re fun. They’re ... I had fun.
Interviewer: That’s interesting, this sort of ... who you’re going to be onstage with ... (Betters Affirms) really matters?
File 2 – 01:06:55 Harold Betters: It does. Yeah. I, I watched the big guys. When you ... when I saw Slide and Urbie play, I mean, and, uh, Watrous play, you know, a funny thing about it, a friend of mine Al, Al “Dowls” (Spelling?), a trombone player, we went out. And they were rehearsing at the Bidwell Center. And Urbie is sitting down in his chair, like this (Leans Back, Demos Position), you know? And, I mean, yeah, Watrous. So Al said, “Look at Urbie. He’s sitting down there and everybody else is on the stage. Why?”
File 2 – 01:07:25 Harold Betters: I said, “He doesn’t have to be up there. He’s the feature. You watch. When he gets up there.” And then Slide said, “Okay Urb,” uh, “Come on up.” You know? And they did a number like this (Slapping Hands), “Cherokee.” Very difficult. (Demos Sound) ... And I went, “Oh, my God.” When I heard Urbie play, I could see why he was not there, you know? All of them trombone players respected Urbie and ... I mean Bill Watrous and Slide Hampton.
File 2 – 01:07:51 Harold Betters: You know? And when you see your idols like that, “Pshew!” You know.
Interviewer: Can you tell that story again ... slow it down a bit. Where was this?
File 2 – 01:08:07 Harold Betters: This was at the Bidwell Center. They were going to have the concert the next day. And they said Bill Watrous is playing with Slide Hampton and eight more trombones, I think. There were ten of them.
File 2 – 01:08:19 Harold Betters: So I figured, “Man, they’re all the best.” So we go over to see them. And when we go over, Urbie Green’s ... I mean Bill Watrous, I get mixed up.
(Start Again )
File 2 – 01:08:32 Harold Betters: Bill Watrous is sitting in a chair, outside, inside. And we walk in, Al Dowl (Spelling?) says, to me, “Where is, uh, Bill Watrous?” I said, “Oh, he’s sitting over there.” “How come he’s not on the stage?” I said, “He don’t have to be on the stage,” meaning he’s one of the boys. Okay?
File 2 – 01:08:51 Harold Betters: So then, as Slide is rehearsing them, I see Slide telling this guy to play that part, and that part, and boom, boom, boom. Then he says, “Okay. Bill, come on up.” Bill walks up. Puts his trombone out. I didn’t hear him blow just like (Demos Sound) a couple of notes. (Slaps Hands) “Alright, we’re going to do this number, whatcha call it,” you know, “fast, like that.”
File 2 – 01:09:09 Harold Betters: Man, when Bill Watrous and Slide started off, bam! (Slams Fist) And then Slide comes in (Demos Sound) ... . That technique stuff, you know? Now I like it. An average person may just figure, “Eh,” you know, “It’s not that good,” you know? And things like that. ‘Cause they don’t know music. And you don’t expect them to know music. You know?
File 2 – 01:09:34 Harold Betters: But, uh, Urbie Green was fine. I met, uh, a nice guy and he “yodeled” a lot, __(Inaud?) on a Mike Douglas Show, Frankie Rosolino. And he said, (Dramatic) “Hey, Betters, how you doing, baby?” You know, and he yodels, (Demos Yodel). And I figure like, “Man, he’s yodeling like a hick.” But, man, when he played that jazz, man, they featured him, you know? He was one of my idols.
File 2 – 01:09:58 Harold Betters: Carl Fontana is one of my idols. You know what I mean? They have different styles, though. See, they’re different styles. I don’t know how ... You know, when they ask me, “Who’s your idol?” I’ve got to say J.J. Johnson ‘cause he’s the one that was the first, I would say, brought the trombone into the bop field.
File 2 – 01:10:15 Harold Betters: You know, bebop’s a style. You know, and you can, uh, find out that when you see musicians. I get carried away sometimes, you know? (Laughing)
Interviewer: I want to see if you can make some kind of definitive, declarative statement about jazz in Pittsburgh. What did you get out of your experiences in Pittsburgh that enabled you to do other things? The club world? (Betters Affirms)
File 2 – 01:10:55 Harold Betters: From the musicians, what I got? Okay. I heard a lot of the ... the young players, when I was coming up, it was an era of swing. Swing jazz. When you say jazz, there’s a lot of different type of ... there’s contemporary jazz. There’s Latin jazz. Okay? So a lot of them, I didn’t particular ... like I don’t care for Dixieland. You know, it’s too (Demos Sound) ... I can’t, I can’t feel that, you know?
File 2 – 01:11:21 Harold Betters: (Demos Sound) ... You know, and to see a trombone years ago, was a ‘tailgate.” The tailgate because the trombones sit right in the back and they’d drop the tailgate. And (Demos Movement) seeing the slide out, okay? Now Jack Teagarden, I call come in that era, but he wasn’t Dixieland. He was “Jack Teagarden” and a very fine jazz man. Okay?
File 2 – 01:11:45 Harold Betters: I’ll never forget, when he come to Pittsburgh, my dad took me down and they had, I forget the other trombone player’s name, he’s real good, and Jack Teagarden. So I went to ask the other trombone player, and he said, “Hey, I’m busy right now, please, you know ... .” Now I know he was getting ready to play with Jack Teagarden. And probably he’s going to feel a little pressure. (Slams Fist)
File 2 – 01:12:07 Harold Betters: So my dad takes me over to see Jack Teagarden. And Jack Teagarden says, “Come on in.” He said, “My son plays trombone,” and would he ... “Oh, good.” And Jack says, “He’s got to take that, uh, oil out of his slide and put cold cream on it.” He’s the first guy that told me that.
File 2 – 01:12:22 Harold Betters: I went, “Oh.’ So he said, “Now you play (Demos Movement) like that, and then there’s ___(?) position.” And then when I got done, I said, “Thanks so much Jack Teagarden, Mr. Teagarden. You’re almost as good as Tommy Dorsey.” Seven (Snaps Fingers), I said that when I was seven years old. So he said, “Pack your Goddamn horn and get out of here.” You know? And my dad said, “Why did you say that?” Well, I liked Dorsey. Dorsey was like ... When I heard that pretty solo stuff, man, that was my man. Okay?
File 2 – 01:12:47 Harold Betters: And then Jack Teagarden, I liked him as a jazz player. I said a “jazz” player. Now there’s bebop players. Nelson’s (Points backwards) a bebop player. Okay? Uh. I’m not a ... I’m a jazz swing, okay? And I enjoy the technique that the guys do in ... bop is more technical. And now you ... it’s technical, but you’ve got to see how the guy puts it in the song, how ... the patterns he does, okay?
File 2 – 01:13:15 Harold Betters: Mine ain’t like that. I like to do ... get all over. But I am a ... like the girl said (Laughing) to Nelson once, she said, ‘When Harold plays a ballad, he, he puts soul, soul to it,” you know? He plays it to you. (Turns from camera) Remember that Nelson? (Laughing) Claps.
File 2 – 01:13:31 Harold Betters: I make ... I love to play for the women. You know what I mean (Laughing). And they would love the feeling. You know, you’ve got to have feeling playing. But that was shtick. And in jazz, I told you, the first experience was Dizzy Gillespie, and I was in Ithaca College. And I figured, “Christ, this guy is playing wrong.” You know? Thinking of my old teacher, you know, you’ve got to keep your cheek ... thing, and so forth. You know, he’s going all over the horn.
File 2 – 01:13:52 Harold Betters: And then when you hear these guys like Miles Davis, I said, “Wow!” I listened to it. Then I went, “Man, that is nice.” And I heard J.J. Johnson, he floored me. He come up to Uniontown, twelve miles from Connellsville, I went to hear Illinois Jacquet and J.J. Johnson. We got up there. Uh. Illi ... Illi ... uh, Illinois Jacquet was late, a half-hour late. Just Slide Hampton. I mean, uh, who am I talking about?
File 2 – 01:14:21 Harold Betters: J ... J.J. Johnson. And the public said, (Dramatic) “Hey, Harold, get your horn and kill him. Go get your horn and kill him.” I figured, like, I can blow more than him. I said, “No.” When I heard him play, he sounded like he was playing the trumpet. That fast on the trombone, you know? And I said, “Boy, this is the guy.” And then I read more about him and I knew why he was “the man.” You know?
File 2 – 01:14:43 Harold Betters: And then they all got in line after that. You know, but they’re all good. They all play different styles. You know? I’m not a good bop player. You know?
Interviewer: Okay, one more ...
Man: Being Harold’s substitute and having traveled around afterwards ... everywhere I went in the United States, or out of the United States, when people found out I was from Pittsburgh, the first thing that came out was, “Harold Betters is from there.” (Betters Laughs) I never told you this Harold, a lady told me, in the Encore days, he made the trombone “sexy.” He was the sexiest trombone player. (Betters Laughs)
Interviewer: I’m still trying to get you to say something about the experience of playing in Pittsburgh. (Betters Affirms) And then we’ll get to the sexy part. (Betters Affirms)
File 2 – 01:15:54 Harold Betters: Yeah. Uh. I love the people that enjoyed me. I always played in a packed house. So that had to say something to me, you know? And, uh, they were appreciative. Uh. The thing that you mentioned, there was a guy that stopped in Pittsburgh to ask where I was playing, he called me up at home, and said, “I’m here on my way to New York. And I just wanted to know if you’re playing around. I want to see you.” You know?
File 2 – 01:16:24 Harold Betters: That makes me feel like a, a ‘billion,” you know what I mean. I was honored that they, they liked my, really, sincerely like ... I’m still get ... selling my records. You’d be surprised. You know, I have seven CDs out. And they still, my daughter takes care of it, you know? And I’ve got a friend in France that heard me. He ... he writes me a Christmas card every year. He loves my records. He said, “I never heard a trombone player play like that.”
File 2 – 01:16:52 Harold Betters: I went to, uh, Toronto, Canada, and the guy says, “You play the bloodiest trombone I’ve ever heard.” You know? And I said, “Thank you.” You know what I mean? It made ... but it’s different. I think that’s what they like. I’m loud ‘cause I know I was playing with, uh, Slide Hampton did something for me, Al and him to play. But he kept saying, “Harold, you’re playing a little bit too loud.” I wanted to say, “I ain’t playing too loud. You guys are too weak.” You know (Laughing), that’s what I wanted to say.
File 2 – 01:17:17 Harold Betters: But, uh, I have ... it’s nice to be known. When I go to any club, “That’s Harold Betters,” you know? And it’s flattering. It’s very flattering. You know, I’ve slipped a lot, you know, and I know that. But, hey, I’m still be ... I’m able to play, yet, and, and I’m, uh, eighty-five. And Thursday, I’ll be eighty-six. But it’s taken a little toll on my lips, really.
File 2 – 01:17:47 Harold Betters: And I think I’d blow too hard when I was younger, you know? I loved the marching band. I, I’d like to play an octave higher. If the guys who were playing in the marching band, I’d play an oct, an octave higher. You know? And things like that.
Interviewer: What is it about your sound that ...?
File 2 – 01:18:06 Harold Betters: I’d have to, you know what, good question. Why is it, it must be nice, why does Nelson Harris say, “Harold’s got the sound.” Why does, uh, Al Dowl (Spelling?) say, “Boy, that sound you’ve got.” It has to be something. Okay? You know, I mean, they all say it. Every ... uh, what you call it, said it, Bill Watrous. “Man, you’ve got a big sound.” Another guy said, “Man, you fill the horn up.”
File 2 – 01:18:31 Harold Betters: You know what I mean? So I don’t know if it’s volume (Turns from camera) or what, you know? It’s a ‘airable” (?) sound. I like my sound for a ballad. You know, I like my phrasing style. You know, I don’t like to be technical. I like to be flowing and, and ... and loveable, you know what I mean?
File 2 – 01:18:50 Harold Betters: And that, that’s my, that’s my thing. (Small Laugh) You know? The girls love me! (Big Laugh) (Clap)
Interviewer: Do you love Pittsburgh?
File 2 – 01:19:00 Harold Betters: I love Pittsburgh.
File 2 – 01:19:03 Harold Betters: Do love Pittsburgh? Well, I wouldn’t move out. I wouldn’t move ... but, uh, I wouldn’t move out of Connellsville to live in Pittsb ... in Pittsburgh, the City. You know? Too much violence going on, you know? I’ll say that. But, uh, the Pittsburgh ... I’ve got more fans in Pittsburgh than anywhere. Then the next place I’ve got, is Ohio. I’m very well known in Ohio. And that’s when I stop to think what Dick Gregory said, “You should travel. The only people that know you are Pittsburgh and Connellsville.” You know, or had been from Pittsburgh and moved to California, or whatnot. You know?
Interviewer: That’s it. I think we have it. (Betters Affirms)
File 2 – 01:19:40 Harold Betters: Okay. Thank you so much. Jeff.
Interviewer: That was fine.
File 2 – 01:19:43 Harold Betters: Alright. Thank you.
File 2 – 01:19:45 (File 2 Ends)
End of Harold Betters Interview