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The Outstanding Contributions of Beryl Booker

Ava Louise By

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Beryl Booker was a highly respected and successful jazz musician, and she was outstanding in many progressive ways throughout her short career.

Born in Philadelphia in 1922, Beryl was a largely self-taught musician and vocalist. She created a distinctive style of swing piano which was very bold and confident. Listening to her performances, one can feel the sincerity and emotion driving each piece. She had a keen sense of timing and used the shortening and lengthening of notes to create a very successful swing style of her own.

Beryl broke down a very large barrier in being accepted as a jazz musician in the male-centric genre. Jazz has been notoriously male-dominated, with most exceptions to that rule being vocalists rather than instrumentalists. Beryl most notably played with the Slam Stewart Trio from 1946-1952. She also collaborated with Miles Davis and Don Byas, among many others. Some highlights from her collaborations include: "Oh Me, Oh My, Oh My Gosh," "Beryl Booker's Byased Blues," and Miles Davis with Beryl Booker—Birdland Live Recordings.

Not long after linking up with Slam Stewart, Beryl formed her own Beryl Booker Trio. The trio featured all female musicians: Beryl on Piano, Bonnie Wetzel on bass, and Elaine Leighton on drums. To this day, all female instrumental groups are rare and even more rare are those that are commercially successful. Beryl's trio was impeccable and was very well known by the late 1940's. Her trio was also racially diverse, featuring both African-American and Caucasian musicians. In the age of segregation this was unusual and certainly controversial, but her progressive efforts led to the creation of one of the best-known female musical groups of her time. Some highlights of her trio, including vocals and piano are: "Easy to Love," "Polka Dots and Moonbeams," "I Should Care," "What Have I to Live For." Some purely instrumental gems are: "Don't Blame Me" and "Low Ceiling."

Beryl suffered from bad health most of her life and this, along with other set backs, led to the premature end of her musical career. Although her career was short, she left a strong legacy of quality musicianship and forward thinking. During a shorter career than many musicians enjoy, Beryl became a self-taught pianist who broke into the male-centric genre of jazz, performed with all male groups, and also formed her own successful all female trio.
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