Mighty Angel of joyful powerful instantaneously healing sound
Clark Terry’s trumpet forever making us feel SO very alive
forgetting our sorrow as we inhale his pure Light
He’s left our world
an everlasting gift of Life
my Father introduced me to this music. his name is Bert Green, he was born in pittsburgh, pennsylvania, in 1928. he played the tenor saxophone with all his heart, and while he consistently showed me throughout my precious time with him a selfless admiration for any cat who could really play the horn, his musical hero and prime inspiration was unquestionably Lester Willis Young, ‘Prez’. recordings like the 1936 Count Basie small group session with ‘shoe shine boy’ and ‘lady be good’, his solos with the Basie orchestra in the late 1930’s into the early ’40’s, and most of all the dreamworld realm of Prez’s recordings with Billie Holiday, formed the core foundation for my Father as a tenor player. you could hear and feel it whenever he put that 1938 lacquer-barren selmer balanced-action tenor in his mouth. my Dad. pretty much my Father’s last words to me years later as he was dying in his bed at home, were ‘you’re a beautiful cat’. that’s what my Dad was; a beautiful cat.
he seemed to understand musical expression profoundly as a listener, be it Bartok or Slim and Slam, and as a player he swung and played the blues. he made no secret that he expected authenticity from me as a Jazz musician, as his ‘son-of-the-righthand-man’, which he explained to me is what my name, Benjamin, means.
he always wanted the very best for me. ‘in our household, music comes before medicine’, i clearly remember him telling me when i was around ten years old. he made sure i understood the importance of being able to read music. years later, in 1984 when i was 21 and on my first commercial recording session, i was thanking my Dad silently in my heart for what he’d shown me. i still thank him inside wherever i go to play or teach, he is right inside of me, more than ever before.
when i kept repeatedly coming back to the garage behind our house at the age of 8 or 9, to sit quietly with my dad as he sculpted and listened with an ear-to-ear grin to his Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and Ray Charles l.p.’s on his portable phonograph, he and i both realized that i was fast getting the ‘bug’. once you have it, nothing can quite get inside you like the feeling of real Jazz, meaning that the improvisation truly swings and has some authentic blues feeling to it, as well as taking chances and spontaneously executing them with virtuosity. there is infinitely more to Jazz than i will ever begin to ‘know’, but i will and DO put my life on the line that with the removal of these essential vertebrae, calling something ‘jazz’ does NOT make it so.
one day, my dear Dad, with such a careful and caring tone which he maintained to me as a musician to the day he died, and honestly i still hear his voice inside me in each day of my life, told me ‘if you’re really interested in this music we’ve been listening to, you should understand that it’s a black people’s music. other people can play it and enjoy it; i do as you can see, but you need to know where it’s coming from’.
Betty Carter is in all truthfulness, whether i remember it in each day or not, effectively my musical mother. Art Blakey, Ray Brown, Oscar Peterson, Milt Jackson and Freddie Hubbard all blessed my life by inviting me to participate in their music, included me on their recordings and live shows, and Art, Ray and Freddie even recorded my original tunes on their records. i have something to share today because i got to play with the hardest swinging bassist and drummer in the history of Jazz; i got to feel this!
i have always wanted to belong and be included and be a part of The Music, black-american music, Jazz. anyone who has ever gotten to know me or been in my home, knows exactly what i’m about. i love classic Blue Note quintet records, and the sound and feeling of a trumpet-saxophone front line like Lee Morgan and Hank Mobley or Kenny Dorham and Jackie McLean, is what i love, and it inspires the music i write. i am a Jazz Messenger, my life is dedicated to Jazz.
we had a wonderful rehearsal one afternoon, things were going well in the band. it was springtime, and it was a lovefest playing in Betty’s band at this time. in this moment, the band was my new family, my reason for being. my life was simple, i was young.
i was making ‘decent’ but quite steady money with Betty, so i splurged (i hadn’t a clue as to how much ultimately so in entering the taxi) and took a cab across the brooklyn bridge back into the village, thompson and bleeker, the intersection where the Village Gate and Lush Life were, for some reason, although in fact i lived on the upper westside.
just as soon as i closed the taxi door (‘don’t’ slam it, the door works fine!’ or a new york cabby will spurt some language in your direction), the driver briskly whooshed away to points unknown for his next fare.
BAM goes my heart. i feel lighter, i am carrying… nothing!
OH NO!! The Music. Betty’s Music. her piano book; her entire piano book of original big band parts from Gigi Gryce, handwritten charts from John Hicks… all of it –
no taxi receipt, no name of the driver, no cab number, no recollection of a logo for the company leasing this particular yellow cab.
there are no words to describe the instantaneous feeling of failure-doom-inability to transcend the outcome of my unforgivable, unredeemable mortal blunder. it was plain and simply not my property to lose in the first place.
I was WRONG, and IT was gone.
nothing, nothing, nothing left to do, but face certain death – firing, some sort of banishment from living in new york, and for that matter, ever continuing my path as a professional musician.
selfish concerns? only that i had never considered that the way my life would end would be Betty Carter physically tearing me limb from limb. this was not going to be a good fate for my life. those were the selfish thoughts, but i honestly felt so overwhelmingly consumed by the worst flood of guilt you can imagine, and i knew that i had to telephone Betty immediately,
face the music of having blown not only my mere life, but of taking Betty Carter’s gift of inclusion in her musical world, and effectively ‘dumped’ all over it, and Her.
oh yes i was shaking. are you kidding?? dropping a quarter into the payphone in the phone booth at Thompson and Bleeker, i reached behind me to partially close the door to filter the noisy traffic.
i dialed 1-718… ‘Hello?’ it’s Her –it’s Betty–, the voice that had become maternal to me.
‘Betty, i’ve done a terrible, terrible thing, i must tell you, it is VERY, very bad and you will not be happy… there is NOTHING i can do, but i must tell you.’ i’m starting to cry a little, but my voice is fairly steady and somehow deeper than usual, from the diaphragm.
Betty: ‘what’s wrong, benny? are you alright?’
me: ‘well, Betty, i’m not alright because i’ve done something terrible that will definitely affect you’. kind of amazing i was able to be this coherent, but you know how things goes to slow motion in a crisis.
now Betty’s silent. ‘i’ve lost your entire piano book. i was in a taxi, i left it in the taxi, and it’s gone, Betty. i have no receipt or cab number, there is NO way for me to get it back. Betty, i am sorry, i know not to say that, but i don’t know what to do, other than to tell you that i am SO, so very sorry and… i don’t know what to do.’ it’s still silent on the other end. ‘i am sorry, Betty. i know there is nothing can say, i know you don’t want to hear my voice now, but i’m sorry. i don’t know’ —
“Are you alright?” says the Enlightened, highest manifestation of universal selfless compassion Betty instantly became. ‘me?’ i say in pure, genuine incredulity. ‘Yes, are You okay, benny?’. ‘well of course i’m NOT okay, because i’ve’ —
“Are you alright physically?”. now i’m the silent one. finally i try to say something in response to this most unexpected response from Betty ‘um, well…’ —
“Listen. if You’re okay, then i’m not worried about those pieces of paper. we’ll put it back together” [we’ll do it, she had said! there was still a ‘we’, oh my God, i’m still in Betty’s life, she’s speaking to me as a son. oh my God, there is salvation for Lois and Bert’s son.]
she continued, she has heeded the call and fully become mother Peace (may i NEVER sign off on another human’s potential character), ‘look, there’s still bass charts, i may have a few things here as copies. you’ll come over to my house, we’ll go case-by-case, and we’ll put the charts back together. as long as you’re alright, benny; Life Goes On’. and she sealed it with a real laugh.
“I Love You, Betty”. first time i’d ever uttered those words. “I Love You too, benny. now you try and relax yourself; go have a nice dinner, okay?’
bless You, Betty. i’m sorry i was not more appreciative of what you gave me. we traveled the world, and you kicked my ass. we played in every tempo and every key. you called me on it if i was falling into a ‘trick bag’ or repeating my licks. you made me THINK. you made me grow. thank you Betty. I Love You, I DO.