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.