Jazzman Betton Receives Alumni Medallion

Posted July 01, 1988

A nationally known musician has received the alumni association's most prestigious honor, the Alumni Medallion.

Matt Betton, Manhattan, Kan., executive director emeritus of the National Association of Jazz Educators (NAJE) and founder of Manhattan Enterprises, Betton's Family Music Center and Jazz Education Press, has been an outstanding figure in music since the 1930s.

A 1938 graduate in music education, Betton is a veritable K-State institution. Nearly 150 students worked their way through K-State between 1933 and 1963 playing with the Betton orchestras. Two and even three generations of K-State students fondly recall the pleasure of his music and its impact on their lives. Because Betton still performs in special groups of musicians in and around Manhattan, even more people continue to enjoy his musical talents.

He was a founder of the NAJE and served as founding editor of Jazz Educators Journal from 1968 to 1981. The organization now is 20 years old and has approximately 6,000 members worldwide.

As executive director of the NAJE national headquarters Betton brought significant recognition to Manhattan. He has contributed many educational articles to jazz magazines and is co-author of the best-selling "Take One" series of elementary instrumental teaching books.

The numerous awards Betton has earned over four decades include recognition from Billboard magazine, which named the Matt Betton Orchestra the #1 College Dance Band in the U.S. in 1941; from the Manhattan High School senior class as Most Helpful Teacher 1957; from the Kansas Federation of Music Clubs as Outstanding Musical Family of Kansas in 1968; from the High Plains Music Camp for 22 Years of Outstanding Service in 1972; from the Kansas Bandmasters Association for Outstanding Contributions to Bands in 1975; and from K-State for Distinguished Service in the Field of Music Education in 1978.

Additional awards include honors earned at the Wichita Jazz Festival in 1979 (Homer Osborne Jazz Excellence Award); the 1986 Achievement Award from the Black Caucus of Jazz Educators; and Grand Award, Head Adjudicator from the 1986 Chabot Dixieland Classic Festival. Betton has also been named to the Halls of Fame of both the NAJE and the Kansas Music Educators Association.

He was one of 400 invited to the White House by President Reagan in "A Tribute to Lionel Hampton," and was conferred an Honorary Doctorate of Music in 1987 from the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

Betton was founder of the American Federation of Musicians Local #169, Manhattan; co-founder of the K-State Summer Band Camp, and co-founder of the National Stage Band Camps, Inc. He was co-founder and director of the Stan Kenton Jazz Clinics; musical director of NBC's "Joan Fairfax Show," NAJE National Convention Director from 1968 to 1986; and served as adjunct professor in the K-State music department in 1983. He and his wife, Betty, established the Matt Betton Jazz Orchestra Scholarship at K-State in 1978.

He said he is always willing to bring jazz music to the attention of the country because "it is a form of music that is uniquely creative. It offers the player a chance to express his or her individual feelings and helps to emphasize the fact that self-discipline, study and musical awareness are necessary for the artistic performance of jazz."

Betton said his 55-year dedication to the promotion and development of jazz was completely justified when the U.S. Congress on Dec. 11, 1987, passed a resolution stating that jazz was indeed an American art form worthy of study, understanding and performance.

"It is totally fitting that Matt be recognized by his alma mater," said Dr. Robert Steinbauer, K-State music department chairman emeritus. "I was present in Los Angeles when Stan Kenton introduced Matt to the general membership of the Music Educators National Conference. Ten thousand people jumped to their feet in recognition of this giant among educators and this leader in the special field of jazz education."

Doc Severinsen of NBC's "Tonight Show" said "I'm sure that the growth and presence of NAJE in today's music programs has succeeded because of Matt and Betty Betton."

Dr. M.E. Hall, international jazz authority, said "Without Matt Betton there would be no National Association of Jazz Educators," and Dr. William Lee, provost at the University of Miami, Coral Gables, said of the Bettons, "They are two of the greatest people I've ever known -- extremely dedicated, unselfish, giving and talented."