Betty Bryant shows how it’s done on “Project 88”


Betty Bryant is a musical phenomenon. Her new album, “Project 88” is a reference to the 88 keys of the piano, and Bryant’s age. Bryant plays with a cool intensity and sings with a verve and style that makes her engaging to watch and hear.

“Project 88” is due for release Jan. 11, 2019. The album is Bryant’s ninth. Known as “Cool Miss B,” “Project 88” shows audiences how Bryant has earned her name. “Cool” is an idea that exudes through each note. One of the best examples of Bryant’s vibe is the song “Catfish Man.”

About Betty Bryant

Bryant grew up in the Great Depression. Information about her formative years reads like a heartwarming novel. Because of the nation’s economy, Bryant’s parents took in two piano teachers who had fallen on hard times. The economically challenged lodgers taught the then-4-year-old Bryant to play the piano. From that point, Bryant continued to grow as a musician. She played the clubs around her hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. Eventually the segregated clubs of St. Louis took their toll on Bryant. She noticed that black performers could play white clubs, but they could not sit in the audience.

By 1956, Bryant moved to Los Angeles to seek more opportunities. After 30 years of making a name for herself as a pianist and vocalist in Los Angeles, Bryant caught the attention of representatives of her hometown. In 1987, “Betty Bryant Day” was declared, and Bryant was given the keys to the city. Bryant’s picture hangs in the American Jazz Museum in St. Louis.

“Catfish Man” by Betty Bryant

All elements of the song work together to make this bluesy tune work. Both the lyrics and the instrumentation are engaging. There is no denying the blues-orientation of the bass, piano and horns – – here, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, alto saxophone and trombone, and even the drums.

While the soundscape is all old-school music, the lyrics describe a contemporary problem, especially for those who look for love online. Not to make too much of Bryant’s age, but her wisdom and wisecracks all point to a woman who knows her worth and her lived experience. She is too smart to fall for a profile picture that a “catfish” dater offers.

“Catfish man/ catch me if you can/ your lying ways have got to stop/you look so fine/when I saw you online/ then I found out/ it was just photoshop/” her humor, her wisdom shine through. Bryant is not done telling this online lothario about her standards. “Catfish man/you’re just an also-ran/and it’s just frontrunners for me.”

The lines are laugh-out-loud funny. The lyrics help Bryant connect to audiences. But the instrumentation stands out. The bluesy piano is Bryant’s handiwork, as well. The song is given texture by a saxophone solo in the middle that recalls small bars and late nights of yesteryear. It is supported by the persistent, but not overbearing drumming that has just a hint of shimmer. The drums and bass pick up their nuanced approaches as Bryant works through a well-paced piano showcase. This song sounds like a classic for the 21st century.

“Project 88” will be available online and in stores.


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