"Take on sizzling violin, add one
sensuous voice ... and you have the essence of the stylish talents of
Woodstock's Betty MacDonald."
Mike Raab, Poughkeepsie Journal
“One of the brightest flowers in the
music garden, now or ever“
Joe Beck, guitarist, recording artist, composer, producer
“Her music and her celebration of life gets better and better with no end in
Warren Bernhardt, pianist, composer, recording artist
“Musical magic that turns into love right before your eyes”
Ruth Simpson, author
"Betty is musician as priestess ~playing jazz violin in the tradition
Smith and Stephane Grappelli; singing and scatting
in her elegant heart-felt
voice; inviting her audience to make music with her; and connecting us to the
source. She reminds
us that one of the
great gifts of being alive is the opportunity to share in the feast that is music.”
Burrill Crohn, Jazz Historian, Documentary Film Maker
"Betty's music is like fine wine -
seasoned to the peak of perfection, elegantly smooth and heart warming."
Marilyn Zych, Film Exec.
‘And Here’s To You’ ... stunning
By David Malachowski
Friday, April 30, 2010
Jazz great Betty MacDonald has released a stunning new CD recorded
with the late Joe Beck, her friend and colleague and a master
guitarist, who sadly died before the release of this recording.
Posthumously, Pete Levin rescued the tracks from Joe’s hard drive to
finalize them with Beck’s vision, and then Levin mixed them.
Well loved and well respected, Beck had played with Miles Davis, Gil
Evans, Buddy Rich, Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon and James Brown, as
well as releasing his own compelling recordings. A local light
singer and violinist, Hudson Valley-based MacDonald has played with
Fathead Newman, Jimmy Cobb, Kenny Burrell and has released CDs on
Joining this dynamic duo are other regional treasures — Warren
Bernhardt, Mike Mainieri and Pete Levin, so you get the idea.
This kicks off with Beck’s lovely inversions in the intro of “So
Nice To Come Home To” with MacDonald’s warm soulful voice drawing
you in closer. Soon a meaty violin solo gives it some edge, and
finally Beck chimes in with a harmonically perfect solo.
Chestnut “Georgia On My Mind” is sung and played like it was brand
new, with spirit and verve. MacDonald sinks her teeth into it, while
Beck floats above it with spare but elegant comping and inventive
“Stella By Starlight” and “My Funny Valentine” are done in the same
manner, well-known compositions reinvented refreshingly. Levin’s
lovely melodica solo in “September in the Rain” is just priceless
(and gives the other regional melodica slinger Donald Fagen a run
for his money).
Joe Beck’s composition “And Here’s To You” is simply stunning.
Bernhardt’s evocative playing is brilliant, but MacDonald’s thick
vibrato steals the show with its emotive depth. They stretch out a
bit with Leon Russell’s “This Masquerade” to great success.
Mainieri’s haunting “In Remembrance” closes out this disc
respectfully and beautifully.
The polar opposite of “smooth jazz,” this is an exquisite album of
emotional depth and grace that can only be made by master musicians
who have lived a good life. Brilliant musicians should never be
neglected or taken for granted.
violinist Betty MacDonald dies at 72
By Kyle Wind
The Freeman, Kingston, NY
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
WOODSTOCK — Jazz musician Betty MacDonald died Monday at her
Woodstock home, serenaded by friends and colleagues who remembered
her as a leading figure of the Hudson Valley music scene. She was
Later Monday night, hundreds of people gathered at the Village Green
to “sing to the heavens” in her memory for about two and a half
hours, said Ms. MacDonald’s younger sister, Chris Crawford.
The MacDonald family called it “a glorious send-off.”
“We were all as one with her, celebrating her great escape from the
illness that held her down,” the family said in a statement.
“Woodstock is kind of in a state of shock right now,” said pianist
Peter Tomlinson of West Hurley, who recorded a Billie Holiday
tribute with Ms. MacDonald in 2006.
“Virtually everyone knew her, played with her, and looked up to
her,” said Tomlinson. “She always made people want to play music, be
around music, and appreciate the soulfulness of music. She believed
music should really emote.”
Several people familiar with Ms. MacDonald’s work, including
Maverick Concerts Chairwoman Susan Rizwani, described her as
“tremendously talented” as a performer, both with her violin and
vocals, and as a composer.
During her performances, Ms. MacDonald liked to include the audience
and often passed out rattles and tambourines, Tomlinson said.
“Sometimes the audience can keep a good beat; sometimes they can’t,”
he said. “She didn’t care.”
Ms. MacDonald recently released the album, “And Here’s to You,”
recorded with her friend, the late guitarist Joe Beck. She had
performed all over the world, including Red Square in Moscow as well
as Belgium, India, and Turkey, according to her family.
Tomlinson said Ms. MacDonald was the “go-to person” when it came to
promoting jazz in the Hudson Valley. Many in the region remember her
as the host of WDST-FM’s jazz show for the past15 years.
Ms. MacDonald was also engaged with her community. Both Crawford and
Rizwani called her “the benefit queen,” saying she constantly
volunteered to perform at concerts to benefit charitable causes.
“Whenever there was a benefit, she was always the first person to
stop and say, ‘I’m in,’” said Jeff Moran, the Woodstock town
Ms. MacDonald was also “involved in the beginnings” of the nonprofit
Family of Woodstock, said Michael Berg, the the agency’s executive
director. Ms. MacDonald’s son, Evan, said Family still operates the
free store she started in 1969.
Family members said Ms. MacDonald taught music to and inspired
hundreds of youths in the region, many of whom visited her while she
was under Hospice care.
Betty's son Evan MacDonald quoted a friend as describing his mother
as “an irreplacable jewel of the Hudson Valley.”
Tomlinson said he will remember her as “warm, inspirational, and
Welcome to the internet home of
If you'd like to share a story or pay tribute to Betty, please visit the
guest book at
You're listening to an excerpt
Betty's latest CD
"AND HERE'S TO YOU"
The new duo CD with Joe Beck
"AND HERE'S TO YOU"
collection of jazz standards and original tunes that are right from
the heart. Intimate, sensitive, classic, inventive, unpretentious,
and with an easy groove. The duo idea was conceived by Joe
Beck, but his time with us was over before it could be completed.
There are added tracks in remembrance by long-time friends Pete
Levin, Warren Bernhardt and Mike Mainieri.
available online at
thrilled audiences from Santa Fe to India
with her intimate and energetic stage presence."
Salt Lake City Jazz
Newburgh Jazz Festival on the Waterfront
Bitej International Song Festival
Jazz String Summit, NYC
Kansas City Women's Jazz Festival
Red Hot Mama Jazz Cruise
Jazz Yatra India
Tulip Festival, Albany, NY
Pepsi Jazz Fest in the Park, Western NY
Jazz Up the Hudson, Catskill, NY
Peter O'Brien, Rich Syracuse & Pete Levin
Joyous Lake, Woodstock, NY
Warren Bernhardt & Jimmy Cobb
Betty has performed with ...
David "Fathead" Newman
as a solo artist:
"And Here's To You" CD release 2010
Duets with Joe Beck and additional performances by Mike
Mainieri, Warren Bernhardt & Pete Levin
"Billie Holiday Tribute" CD release 2008
recorded live in concert at The Unison Arts Center
Featuring Peter Tomlinson (piano) & Jim Curtin (bass)
"Dream Come True"
CD release 2005
Co-produced with Joe Beck
Featuring Warren Bernhardt, Mike Mainieri, Jay Anderson, Dennis Mackrel & Peter O'Brien
"Soulful" CD and Cassette release 1996
Co-produced with Warren Bernhardt
"Waltzing In The Sagebrush"
Marc Black. Joyous Lake, Woodstock, NY
The Peace Church Concerts,
Woodstock Moods & Moments
3/4 For Piano & Orchestra, Carla Bley
Three Gypsies, Casse Culver
I Sing My Songs For You, Philip Jarrell
Debutante, Willie Tyson
American Stranger, Happy Traum
Sweet Sorcery, Cathy Winter/Betsy Rose
Gravity, Joe Giardullo
The Marc Black Band, Marc Black
And I Love You, Abraham Wilson
Flying On The Wings Of Heaven, Judi Bachrach
Beautiful Animal Run, Marc Black
Come Home: Landscapes Of The Heart, Andy Bryner
Feel It, Ritual Motion
Alternative Woodstock & Pillowface, Abba Rage
Iabas Traditional Brasilian Band, Emilia
The Shadow Of The Moon, Eric Erickson
Veil Of Fog, Marc Black
Stroke of Genius, Marc Black
MacDonald is well known throughout the Hudson Valley as a jazz
performer and for her many years as host of jazz radio programs on
WDST and WAMC. In her 16 years as a programmer she had
opportunity to interview jazz legends Dave Brubeck, Sonny Rollins,
Dizzy Gillespie, Carmen McRae, Jack DeJohnette, Pat Metheny, Joe
Williams, Marian McPartland, and Nancy Wilson.
Betty’s eclectic spirit has made her part of the Marc Black Band,
Iabas, (Brazilian music), Winston Grennan’s Ska Rock Band, Critical
Theory, (world music group), and Peggy Stern’s samba/salsa band,
Betty’s music has taken her abroad to jazz festivals in Russia,
India, and Turkey and she was a featured artist in festivals in New
York City, Kansas City, Catskill, and Kingston. She has shared the
stage with Dave Brubeck, David Darling, Ed Summerlin, Maxine
Sullivan, Howard Johnson, Jimmy Cobb, Sheilah Jordan, Roswell Rudd,
and Karl Berger to mention a few.
In addition to spreading the sound of jazz, Betty has a busy
schedule performing in concert, teaching privately, and conducting
workshops teaching improvisation. She was chosen to be a member of
the Wall of Fame at her high school in Olean, NY, as Musician of the
Year by the Ulster County Arts Council, and a documentary of her
career is being made by Joy Hopkins Hausman and eminent film maker,
Davod "Fathead" Newman
Soul sister of
neutral skin playing
strings that sing and syncopate
and stroll with blues-struck voice
and scat-cat abstract melody,
a combination that makes your fingers snap
and toes to tap
and think of better
times and moods.
Soul sister of neutral skin,
A lady of the world where music dwells.
Charlie Kniceley & Joe Beck
Woodstock, NY 5/1/10
In time, in space we share the heartbeat of life
We listen, we engage and smile through the night
There is nothing so intimate as a playful melody
When entangled in singing, in a web of delight.
I, understand the fortunes that are made
When people get tight, tight with the music of life
How does it happen without the spoken lines
Without even a whisper it’s hard to define.
I dance in the moment and trust with no fear
The essence of creation tossed high in the air
Pitches that gliss and glide that are all in stride
It is that moment that brings us together inside.
There is no place on earth that defines the stage
Better than blowing two courses in ¾ time.
Exchanging your love of the song with a friend
We listen forever, again and again and again.
Joe Beck, John Menegon & Pete Levin. Saugerties,
the amazing guitarist Joe Beck collaborated many times, on recordings and in
performance. Their most recent project was the duo
album "And Here's To You." Joe will be remembered as the first guitarist to play for
Miles Davis, as the pioneering guitarist who helped push
jazz into the fusion age with peers such as Michael Brecker and David Sanborn, as well as the studio ace who
did countless sessions for artists like James Brown and
When angels dance upon
The stars above will light the way
In innocence you close your dreamy eyes
I'll sing to you, a lullaby.
Betty MacDonald & Joe
crashes a Cleanhead photo-op.
Betty w. Stuart Breed, Pete Levin & Ira Coleman
Charlie Kniceley & Chris Bowman.
Jack & Luna's Cafe. Stone Ridge, NY
WHEN I’M CALLED HOME,
I will sing a song
And tell them of a beggar’s life,
where everything goes wrong
Where everybody’s hopes and drams
are shattered by the wind
I’ll tell them of a ghostly world,
of us and they and him
I’ll tell them how the shadows fall,
when they call me home
Pete Levin & Jim Curtin
At a party for congressman Maurice Hinchey
Steel House. Kingston, NY 7/19/09
Gretchen Langheld. Kingston, NY
Kleinert/James Gallery. Woodstock, NY
Skylark, have you anything to say to
Won't you tell me where my love can be?
Is there a meadow in the mist
Where someone's waiting to be kissed?
Skylark, have you seen a valley green with spring
Where my heart can go a-jour-ney-ing
Over the shadows and the rain
To a blossom-covered lane?
Tony Levin & Pete Levin.
Halloween concert. Golden Hill Nursing Home.
Touched by love
Betty MacDonald passes on
by Brian Hollander
editor, Woodstock Times
August 9, 2010
It is a tradition in Scotland that when someone is dying, friends
gather and sing for them.
When it became clear that Betty MacDonald had come home to die,
Susan Robinson noted the Scottish tradition on Facebook and the word
“When I pulled up [on Friday, August 6] there were cars on 212 and
Ricks Road. No one knew what to do that first time, but by the third
time, Sunday, Jim Curtin brought his bass, and I had made copies of
a lot of songs, so I passed out lyrics. Alix Dobkin started us off.
After the big singalong, where we did I’ll Fly Away, and Swing Low
Sweet Chariot, we tried to do some good jazz stuff that she would
like, we did OK with All of Me, and Jim, Perry Beekman and Tim Moore
did some beautiful stuff. We were all in the back of her house,
outside the open window, just a few feet from where she lay. And the
family said that all three times that it happened, her breathing
changed because she was listening. It was very sweet.”
Elizabeth Ann Knieser MacDonald, jazz artist, violinist, vocalist,
mother, grandmother, sister, friend, radio personality, teacher, and
much more to the community she loved and that loved her back
equally, died at dawn Monday, August 9. It was a long illness that
finally caught up to her.
She was born January 8, 1938, daughter of the late John and
Josephine Knieser of Olean.
She attended Fredonia State College on a scholarship.
She was married to the late Donald MacDonald and is survived by her
sons Evan MacDonald of Woodstock and Lee J. MacDonald and his wife
Deb, of Kansas; grandchildren Kristin, Connor, Alexis and Madison;
step grandchildren Jordan and Mackenzie, and many nieces and
nephews, all of whom were touched by her music and love.
She is also survived by her brother, James Knieser of Rochester; a
sister, Chris Crawford and her husband Frank, of Olean. She was
predeceased by a brother, Robert Knieser;
her devoted lover of 23 years, Paul Minkoff, and River Light Womoon,
her long time trusted and loving confidant.
Betty arrived in town in the late 1960s, stayed after her marriage
dissolved and became one of the most important, beloved heartbeats
of Woodstock over the last decades of the twentieth century and on
into the twenty-first.
“I don’t remember ever not knowing her,” said Robinson, expressing a
sentiment that could fall from the lips of any Woodstocker, whether
old-timer or new.
She had an enviable career as a musician and only this year finished
a duo CD with the great jazz guitarist, the late Joe Beck. The
recording was her fourth solo CD, after several earlier recordings
and the list of artists with whom she performed was long, including
Jack DeJohnette, Kenny Burrell, Mike Mainieri, David ‘Fathead’
Newman, Dave Holland, Warren Bernhardt, Sheila Jordan, Pete Levin
and on and on.
“I started late in life,” Betty said, when interviewed earlier this
year about the album with Beck. She sighed, then burst into
laughter. “But at least I started…I always had music inside of me
bursting to come out.”
Indeed, she did. As the leader of her own band, she could caress a
jazz standard with a smooth, sweet voice or could spit fire from the
bow of her violin. As a side musician, her savvy with a song would
lead to long flowing lines in her solos, and a sympathetic fill to a
A goodly piece of her musical career was spent onstage beside Marc
Black. For the better part of more than three decades, she played
thousands of shows with the singer, songwriter and guitarist Black
and bassist Michael Esposito. It might have been just the three of
them, or it might have been a bigger band with Bernhardt on piano,
Don Davis on saxophone, Eric Parker on drums. If you’ve spent any
time in Woodstock, you’ve seen them, at Joyous Lake, the Whitewater
Depot, at the Bearsville Theater, the Kleinert, the Expresso, at
Joshua’s where they’d play in the early days.
“I watched her in the last couple of years and as she was getting
weaker she managed her energy so she could play. Everything was
about playing music,” said Black, on the day she passed. “She
couldn’t carry her amplifier, couldn’t walk long distances…she’d
stand on stage like a lost librarian…and I would say to her take it,
Betty, like I had thousands of times and she would light up…that was
the first stage of letting go.
“The next stage was more profound. A month ago I had to do a show
and she couldn’t make it. She made every show for 35 years. It would
come time for her part, time for a lead and she wasn’t there and I
just played the accompanying part…
“Last Thursday morning about 4 a.m. I got a phone call and I got up
to get it. It was Betty calling from her hospital bed. I think she
knew at that point she was going to die. There were things she
wanted to say to me and she did. It was all about gratitude and
appreciation…so we talked for about 20 minutes, it was 4:30 in the
morning…I got dressed and got in the car and drove to Kingston
Hospital. We talked, she was in and out of lucidity, but her leg was
really bothering her, she was in enormous pain. She asked me to rub
her right leg. I did for about an hour and a half…then her sister
and brother and Evan came in, and she made her final wiseass
remark…she pulled me close to her and said, ‘don’t worry Marc Black,
I won’t tell your wife how good you make me feel…’
“I went over on Saturday and we sang outside her window and when
Betty didn’t complain that we played the wrong changes I knew she
was out of it. When we were singing outside, Mike said to me, ‘I
think that Betty can still hear us…’
“And she was such an interesting player…the ability to dig so deep.
She played with masters who appreciated her heart and soul, with Joe
Beck and Fathead Newman, who loved her. She was very opinionated but
could let go of it in a second, and she knew all the best jokes, it
was great hanging out before a show with her…and as a band leader I
had to appreciate how many times she saved me.
“I would say from the bandstand, ‘and now ladies and gentlemen, Miss
Betty MacDonald,’ and it was a real warm feeling. It’s a big hole,
it’s hard to imagine life without her.
“In so many circumstances, it’s like family, the band from way back,
with Mike, Warren…it’s like family.”
To an even wider audience, she was the host of the Sound of Jazz
(she always liked Sound of Jazz instead of the misnomer, Sounds of
Jazz), that aired for decades on WDST radio, from its inception in
1980. For those first two years, we shared the program after I
stepped in following saxophonist Joe Giardullo’s departure from the
airwaves. She found a voice (a beautiful radio voice, if I may say
so), musical, deep in its knowledge and love for the idiom. She
spread wide over the area the gospel of Monk, the soul of Coltrane,
the depth of Lady Day (and whose music she celebrated with her own
tribute show and CD), and was responsible for the airings of the
hard earned recordings of local jazz artists who deserved daylight
in the world. In fact, she connected more musicians with work and
jobs, often performing with them so that they would get more
recognition, draw bigger audiences.
Jerry and Sasha Gillman, who owned the station, loved having
musicians do the programming, and we all delighted in bringing an
esoteric light to the airwaves. I’ll always remember the night Sonny
Rollins visited us from his home in Germantown. He was a regular
Leslie Gerber, who programmed classical music at the station tells
this story: “Betty told a few people about a dream she had while she
was working at WDST. She dreamed she came into work one evening and
couldn’t play any records because the turntables were covered with
broccoli. Jerry Gillman heard this story and made sure that, one day
the following week, when Betty came in the turntables were actually
covered with broccoli. We all laughed over this one for years.”
She stayed at the station long after we had left, when it was down
to once a week and there was not much call for jazz on those
airwaves. Stayed on bringing the truth to the public. They were
heady days. Later, she moved on to WAMC.
“Betty MacDonald probably did more good for more people than anyone
else I’ve known personally,” said Gerber. “She was a wonderful
musician, one of the best jazz violinists I’ve heard…I thought the
sheer beauty of her voice was second only to Ella’s. She was one of
the first people I met after moving to the Hudson Valley in 1970
(our kids went to the same small private school), and in four
decades of friendship I never lost my love for her glowing presence.
I could never summarize in a paragraph, or a book, how much Betty
has meant to me and how much I will miss her.”
The tributes have poured in, illustrating the different facets of
her life, the ways in which she shared. (You can read more at the
website caringbridge.org.) There were more than 200 by Tuesday.
They show Betty, the loving teacher: “All I can say is that you were
such an incredible part of my life. With any other violin teacher, I
might have quit, but you kept me at it, and I am so grateful that
you did because now I have a gift you have given me that will last
forever.” — Marley Claire Alford
“Have I told you today how much I love you? So many of us do. You’ve
always given tirelessly of yourself....to friends, students and
audiences....yet taken so little from us in return. I get dizzy when
I think of all of the student benefits that you’ve played for and
with me. Many of the recipients of the benefits you had never even
laid eyes upon! But that never stopped you from caring.” — Wini
And an acute appreciation of her of her stature: “Here’s to you,
Betty MacDonald. Good for you. Mission accomplished. You brought
your love of music to so many with unswerving dedication, humor, a
strong sense of community, a beautiful lilting voice, and an
articulate way of championing players, singers, composers, and,
especially, promising women musicians. I remember your years on the
air as a jazz apostle. It was in those years that I realized how
much sheer love and appreciation you had for every person and piece
you played.” — Tim Moore
She had a great run and was so proud of her kids and everything she
had endured,” said Black. ‘She was victorious…her husband had left
her but she bought that house and took care of her kids…she had all
those students, that was one of the hardest things for her to give
“She had a smile on her face,” said River Light Womoon. “When she
died this morning, she’d been breathing from her mouth and her face
looked so relaxed and the darkness around her eyes was gone. And her
mouth slowly started to close. She looked better than I had seen her
in months, and I could remember her that way. It was a very peaceful
look. I think maybe Joy and David and Joe came and got her. She
Michael Suib and Nancy Butler-Ross offered this Haiku:
Zings her white violin’s strings
But from heaven now