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Betz Storey is the jazz queen of Sacramento

Betz Storey acknowledges her fans as she is introduced at Sauce’d last week by musician Jerry Martini. Next to her is keyboard player Bill Chiechi.
Betz Storey acknowledges her fans as she is introduced at Sauce’d last week by musician Jerry Martini. Next to her is keyboard player Bill Chiechi. jvillegas@sacbee.com

As the the blue-eyed redhead in the red Stetson sashays into the Thursday Night Jazz Party at Sauce’d Cocktail House, she’s mobbed like a rock star. Betz Storey, the Jazz Queen of Sacramento, is in the house. The headliners at the club in El Dorado Hills – Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame saxman Jerry Martini and keyboard king Frankie Sorci – are all over her, along with half a dozen other local musicians.

“She’s done so much for us,” Sorci said. “She’s a special girl. Music is her life, and she writes about everybody without getting paid for it. Sometimes, we wouldn’t know where and when we were playing next without her.”

Every month about 1,000 local music fans eagerly anticipate the new issue of Jazz R us, her hip, comprehensive guide to the region’s live music gigs. “This duo play everything from jazz to funk and rock ’n roll,” it says about the Sorci-Martini show as it includes their websites, location, time of show, address and cost.

Jazz R us Issue No. 123 lists more than 50 local gigs between Dec. 3 and Jan. 15, and you can bet Betz Storey will turn up at more than a dozen of them in one of her 26 colorful hats – cowboy hats, fedoras, top hats, straw hats and caps she’s picked up at jazz festivals worldwide and adorned with bows, beads and sparkles.

She’s also equipped with a purple parasol and matching jacket she describes as “flamboyant.” “I’m a jazzy girl,” she says with a shimmy. Her robin’s egg blue trailer in Gold River’s Mobil Country Club is filled with memorabilia from her many travels, along with 500 cassettes, 100 vinyl albums and 100 compact discs.

Storey, who has published Jazz R us since 2009, said she goes to more than 100 gigs a year in her silver Ford Taurus. “Jazz is what you want it to be,” she explains. “I love the freedom of it. It can be anything that’s upbeat, from ragtime to Latin jazz and progressive jazz where you don’t hear the melody, you just hear the music they’re making up as they’re playing it.”

She launched Jazz R us when she moved back to Sacramento from San Jose in 2008, and “I didn’t know where to go for any jazz.” So she hit the road, discovered Martini, Sorci and Bill Chiechi and began adding venues and musicians until the one-page newsletter grew to seven, pieced together from Internet research and working the phone.

Sorci recalled, “When Betz started Jazz R us, some jazz snobs who had their little cliques and gave her a lot of grief, saying ‘This is what jazz has to be!’ They were very conservative, but Betz stuck with it, she’s very insightful, and now she’s busted loose.”

Charlie Hull of the Country Swing Playboys, who anxiously awaits every issue, called Storey an angel “sent by God, who created jazz to balance out the mundane and ridiculous.”

She won’t disclose her age because “people have a tendency to look down on older people,” but said she recalls FDR’s famous “a date which will live in infamy” speech after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 73 years ago.

She has been an international flight attendant, run a travel agency, taught English in China, operated a frozen food business and a flight-attendant school in Bermuda, qualified as one of the first women to fly on a jet fighter while working for the Air Force in Hawaii, lived in Venezuela and Portugal and raised four daughters. Jazz has run through it all.

A third-generation Californian, Storey was born with the jazz bug. Her mother was a flapper, one of the many rebellious young libertines in the Roaring ’20s who drank, smoked, wore their skirts short and listened to jazz. As a teenager in Oakland, Storey learned to do the Balboa, “a real fast dance that was 1-2-3 hop, 1-2-3 hop.” She fell in love with gospel music, from which jazz is derived, and when her mother screamed “Turn off that terrible sound,” Storey would dive under the covers with a radio.

By the time she was 20, “Stan The Jazz Man” Harter, a San Francisco radio personality, took her to the Barbary Coast, the Black Hawk and the Say When Club in San Francisco, where she heard Harry “The Hipster” Gibson play jazz and boogie-woogie.

Storey trained as a classical pianist and still enjoys Rachmaninoff and Ravel. In her 20s, she continued to broaden her musical tastes, dating the piano player for Bill Haley and the Comets for six months. She has seen Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, and was in the third row for Elvis’ famous 1973 Aloha In Hawaii performance, her favorite live concert of all time.

Her long list of favorites includes George Shearing, Earl Garner, Herbie Hancock, Stan Getz, the Benny Goodman Sextet, Miles Davis, Tito Puente, Cal Tjader, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Jose Feliciano and Santana. “Sacramento’s jazz scene is very active, but it’s declining because Dixieland’s declining as the older fans are dying off,” she said. “Now they’ve got zydeco, bebop, funk and Latin jazz, which is what it should be.” Sacramento does have a wealth of fine female jazz vocalists such as Vivian Lee, Margie Ruiz and Brady McKay, Storey said.

At Sauce’s, when she wasn’t nursing a Coors Light and eating sparingly – “I don’t want to let food get in the way of a good buzz” – she was keeping the beat. Drummer Russ Martinez, who was in the house, said, “She keeps such good time, I gave her a pair of drum sticks.”

Storey never stopped moving while Martin, Sorci and baritone saxophonist Bobby Jones covered a full range of styles – “Black Magic Woman,” “Brick House,” “Play That Funky Music,” “Superstition,” “God Bless The Child,” “Dance To The Music,” “Europa” and “Makin’ Whoopie,” which they dedicated to Betz. When Martini uncorked a gut-busting saxophone solo, she practically swooned. “You ask me why I like jazz? Need I say more?”

To sign up for JazzRus, contact Betz Storey at jazzrus@sbcglobal.net

Call The Bee’s Stephen Magagnini, (916) 321-1072.

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