The engaging Betty Liste knows how to make people feel good. Just listen to this multi-talented pianist and composer at her twice-weekly engagement at the Stony Hill Inn in Hackensack - or leading the monthly Singer's Jam at Trumpet's Jazz Club in Montclair - and you'll hear a jazz artist whose warm interpretations of songs, spot-on accompaniments, and smoothly swinging, richly melodic solos bring smiles to her listeners and her colleagues. New Jersey native Liste, a lifelong pianist, now demonstrates her alluring gifts on Pensive Moments, her debut CD. It's a first-rate recording that will introduce her winning musical ways to a wealth of new admirers. ----------------- While she was teaching keyboard harmony and music theory at Montclair State University, Betty met piano giant Kenny Barron. She took occasional lessons for about a year. "His insights were a treasure in my musical progression, and helped me to move forward,' she states. Liste began to work in jazz clubs in 1978. She played her first gigs at two renowned Jersey rooms - Gulliver's and Three Sisters, both in West Paterson. Then she began to appear in New York City. First, there was the Surfmaid, a well-known duo club in Greenwich Village where she teamed with such bassists as Rick Crane and Andy McCloud. Later came appearances at such notable rooms as the Village Gate, Arthur's, The Angry Squire, and the Chelsea Bar and Grill - where she often performed with vocalist Betty Shirley, who has written lyrics for some of her compositions In more recent years, Liste has appeared at Shanghai Jazz in Madison, Trumpets, and since the spring of 2005, at the Stony Hill Inn. For Pensive Moments, Betty gathered a fine cast: trumpeter Ted Curson, known for his work with Charles Mingus and others; bassist Kevin McCarthy, who has played with Cyrus Chestnut and Diana Krall; and drummer Billy Hart, who has played with everyone from Herbie Hancock to McCoy Tyner. Liste talks about her formidable cohorts: "Ted Curson and I played a weekly Sunday Brunch at Trumpets. He's a wonderful player with a great style. I've played with Kevin McCarthy for many years. He is a gifted improviser and plays some nice solos on this CD. I met Billy Hart in the early 1980s, while performing in Greenwich Village. He's a superb drummer and a terrific person, and adds the perfect rhythmic complement to the group." For the program, Betty picked several jazz classics by the masters, some evergreen standards, plus one of her originals. On the opener, Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments," Liste exhibits her appealing touch, and deft improvisational approach via flowing lines and chordal melody. Curson offers a warm, muted-horn solo, and McCarthy offers choice thoughts. Throughout, Hart's brush work adds snap. "I've always loved the mood of this song," Betty says. Ted's quasi-funky vocal on "Summertime," where Liste contributes some tasty remarks, leads to Charles Mingus' "Goodbye Porkpie Hat," written for Lester Young and a superb ballad with a blues touch. Liste delivers it with consummate feeling. "This tune has deep soulfulness," she rightly notes. Betty next offers two Thelonious Monk classics. "I always feel the Monk mystique when performing his tunes," she says. First up is the vibrant "Well, You Needn't," which boasts a smart improv from the pianist. Then there's " 'Round Midnight," which remains Monk's most famous composition. Betty's introduction leads to Curson's warm treatment of the timeless theme. Liste follows with a thoughtful piano solo. "Billy Hart's drums complete the interpretation of this incredible composition," she says. The subsequent "Goodbye Mr. Evans," a tender Phil Woods' ballad dedicated to pianist Bill Evans, has long been a favorite of Betty's. She plays it eloquently. "It's such a beautiful song," she relates. Then there's Jules Styne's "Time after Time." Betty's perky solo leads to another muted Curson outing. Liste's mellow "Jazz Waltz" has both a beguiling melody and enticing harmony. "I wrote it some years ago," Betty states. "Ted, Kevin and Billy play it wonderfully." Ditto the composer. Jobim's poignant bossa, "How Insensitive," is given an outstanding exposition. Betty and Ted, on flugelhorn, both offer telling improvisations. Then there's the perfect closer, Curson's zesty vocal on "Out Of Nowhere," with a radiant piano solo, then solid trumpet statements in trades with the always-impressive Hart. Betty Liste is pleased with Pensive Moments and she has every reason to be. It's packed with memorable music. -Zan Stewart.
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