Monday, April 12, 2010

Helping here, helping there

It’s time to open your wallets, jazz fans, for two great, intertwined causes.

The Jazz Foundation of America is getting ready to present its 9th annual “A Great Night in Harlem” gala concert May 9 at The Apollo Theater to benefit the organization’s amazing Jazz Musicians Emergency Fund. The concert is a principal fundraiser for JEMF, run by jazz angel Wendy Oxenhorn, the JFA’s executive director, who year after year finds innovative ways to help with medical bills, eviction threats, stolen instruments and myriad other challenges faced by principally older jazz and blues musicians.

The gala entertainment includes Roberta Flack, Jimmy Scott and four-dozen others. The hosts include Chevy Chase, Danny Glover, Michael Imperioli and David Johansen. Part of the evening will also celebrate the 100th birthday of Max "The Saxman" Lucas, who played with Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Muddy Waters, and, Oxenhorn says, still rides the subway to get to his gigs.

For several years, JEMF’s outreach support has also landed in New Orleans, where music is the heart and soul of the community, and there was much need among musicians post-Katrina. And there still is. Since Katrina, the Jazz Foundation has housed and created work for more than 1,000 musicians and keeps displaced musicians across the U.S. working to this day.

In recent weeks, there has come word that the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic, effective this August, will see a stopgap federal grant run out, cutting its overall budget by 90 percent. Some 800 area musicians and their families rely on the clinic for the medical gamut – from checkups to major surgery.

The clinic’s work, and its need for a helping hand have not gone unnoticed. In late March, the cast and crew of the new HBO series “Treme” held an auction fundraiser (with music) at Generations Hall to benefit the clinic. As actor Wendell Pierce told the Times-Picayune: “Musicians are the heartbeat of New Orleans. We have to take care of them. We actually don’t do a good job of it sometimes. The Musicians’ Clinic is a lifeline to so many people. You couldn’t do a show like ‘Treme’ here in New Orleans without identifying a group to create a charity partnership with, and we couldn’t pick a better group than the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic.”

It is nice to see people stepping up to help music’s makers, no matter where they are. And I get the feeling JEMF will be right there in the thick of saving the clinic and its essential work.

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