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George W. Botts Sr., a mainstay of the D.C. jazz scene since the 1940s, died last week at age 83. While Botts played seemingly every jazz venue in the District over his 60-plus years as a performer, and went out on tour with singer Dinah Washington, he never entered a recording studio—neither to make his own records nor anybody else’s. What jazz lovers are left with are three video recordings from the Kennedy Center’s archive of its own Millennium Stage performances. Watching these, here’s the legacy that Botts left behind.
Feb. 3, 2004 This clip captures what might be the central tenet of Botts’ style: ?ess is more. It’s in his playing: straight, unembellished renditions of the melodies, short, well-spaced phrases in his solos. But it filters down to his between-song speech, too. He introduces his band only by name and instruments, and his songs with equal simplicity: “Right now we’d like to do a composition by the great Duke Ellington: ‘All Too Soon.’”
Feb. 3, 2005 Botts loved the Great American Songbook, and it’s evident here not just in his choice of tunes (part of a KenCen “songs of the ’40s” theme) but in the quotes he sneaks into his improvisations. “The Way You Look Tonight” references “I Was Doing All Right” and “Shave and a Haircut”; “Laura” has snatches of “These Foolish Things” and “Misty”; and “Candy” contains a very sly echo of “I’m Beginning to See the Light.”
June 23, 2005 This clip compounds a lot of the hallmarks of the previous two, given both the concise playing and the quotations of “Tea for Two” and “All the Things You Are” in opening number “Tangerine.” But what it really shows is 1) Bott’s hipness, even in formal dress (check out that suit, down to the silk handkerchief in the pocket!); and 2) Botts’ generosity of spirit—in the space he gives his bandmates for soloing, in the extra tune he allots “the trio,” and in his sweet dedication of “There Is No Greater Love” to “you, just to let you know how we feel about you.”