It was the day before Christmas Eve, 1962, a cold and snow-filled day. Elmer Snowden had scrambled up a booking for a concert at Scranton's Everhart Museum of Natural Science and gathered together a small band, a vocalist, and an emcee—yours truly. We were going there in Ray Bryant's station wagon, seven of us plus a set of drums, a tenor sax, banjo, and upright bass. Fortunately, the singer, Pearl's sister, Eura Bailey, came in from Philly, so nobody suffocated, but it was tight like that, as Thomas Dorsey sang before he became heavenly and rich. This was before the law required seat belts, but they would hardly have been necessary—by the time we had piled in and managed to close the doors, there was no room in which to move.
In order to be in Scranton by noon, we had to get an early start, so we figured we'd pick up some breakfast along the way, but that was before we squeezed ourselves into Ray's wagon. If you have ever taken a cigarette from a full pack and tried to put it back, you get the idea: stopping along the way would have been insane. Apart from that, Ray was not finding it easy to negotiate the icy road, so we wouldn't have had time to stop for anything anyway.
The place was packed and, of course, there had been no rehearsals, nor had anybody made up a list of tunes to be played. It really didn't matter, this was a band of seasoned individuals who all spoke the same language, and by the time Elmer stomped the intro to the first number, the audience, too, seemed to be up there with us.
The first set went well, the people applauded enthusiastically—perhaps too much so—and our little backstage "breakfast" table had frequent visitors. There was a man going around with a microphone, interviewing us and getting slurred, happy responses. When he came to me, I wondered why I didn't see a tape recorder, but Eura's liquid breakfast had shortened my attention span considerably, so I only wondered for a fleeting moment.
We had not been told that our audience would extended far beyond the museum auditorium, nor had we agreed to any such arrangement. Even the intermission interviews were being broadcast live and without any of us being told that fact.
By the time of this discovery, I was well on my way to a more careless state of being, so I put it aside, but on the following day, when I was back in New York, I allowed myself to become sufficiently angry to dash off a letter to the concert's producer, let him know how he had placed himself and the station in jeopardy, and demand a copy of the tapes. I received an apology to all and two reels of tape.
Having not seen the tapes in a few years, I was glad to find an aircheck of one of my WBAI jazz shows that contains, in full, the concert's closing number. You can hear it here, preceded by the lovely ending Budd Johnson gave to "Talk of the Town" and followed by a bit of my show's theme and a plug for the following week. When I find the tapes, you will hear it all, including Eura and sans my voice.
After the concert, we headed home to New York, still on an empty stomach. As you can hear on the tape, I was still standing when I announced the final number,but barely so. I believe I passed out in the car, regaining consciousness as Ray Bryant literally carried me through the chilly air and into a diner, Frankenstein style. Strong black coffee brought me back and allowed me to walk on my own into the building where I still reside and where, in some dark corner of a closet, the rest of the concert is tightly wrapped around two reels. Odd to think that I am the sole survivors at this point.