Jazz Foundation Moves Gigs to the Future

October 9, 2013

By Nat Hentoff

As a longtime reporter, when a story is living and valuable, I update it. So here is more about The Jazz Foundation of America, which keeps this regenerative music alive by focusing on the physical and financial well being of its creators.

Both its continuing programs and its burgeoning innovations provide incentives to local and regional jazz support groups to go farther and also can be of use to jazz educators.

As Jazz Foundation executive director Wendy Oxenhorn notes in “Lectures from Living Legends”:

“There is a treasure house of remaining original jazz/blues pioneers who are still able to travel and lecture and tell stories that any jazz educators would dream for their students, so that the message could be carried into this century.

“There’s a wealth of history that would make the legends we all know and love come alive and become real to any audience. The Jazz Foundation can connect them to universities and lecture halls while they are still with us to tell the tales.”

Also being planned by the Foundation is “The Gig Fund.” This has to do with the recognition that “in the past five years we have seen significant change in the profile of the kinds of musicians coming to us for help.”

The plan is “to create free concerts for the public – who are all in need for some healing, too. The Gig Fund would be a source of steady reliable income and re-establish live music as part of our cityscape.” Again, Oxenhorn:

“Our goal would be a million dollar annual fund that could create monthly gigs for more than 500 musicians (to start with) around the country to reach an audience of over 100,000 listeners.”

Meanwhile, the Foundation hasn’t forgotten musicians it has aided to find out their present state of being and playing. Dig this:

In March of this year, five staff members “went to New Orleans to connect with some of the musicians we have helped since Hurricane Katrina. It had been three years since The Jazz Foundation made a staff trip to New Orleans, though we have had a staffer there for the past two years.

“We made home visits to several musicians and found out things we could never have discovered over the phone. One musician had a storehouse of music on an external hard drive, but no computer with which to attach it. Another musician is now 76 years old and has been playing on a broken trombone.“We visited a musician whose spinal chord was severed three years ago and, although he is unable to speak, his eyes lit up when we came in and spoke to him about music and his friends. We shared a wonderful lunch with a musician who had a stroke last November and is now on the road to recovery.

“The experience of going down to New Orleans and reconnecting with musicians who are so proud, yet still struggling showed us that it is very important to continue to be a presence in the region.

“It’s amazing what comes up in an atmosphere of love and laughter and while enabling musicians to retain their integrity we are able to find out what is needed and make miracles happen.”

I often speak and write of “the jazz family” and this account of The Jazz Foundation’s visit to its family members in New Orleans gives that depiction and warmth and depth that I’ve experienced in many other gatherings of jazz musicians.

A longtime member of The Jazz Foundation’s jazz family is one of my oldest and dearest friends, Clark Terry. In the Winter 2012 Jazz Foundation’s newsletter, we learn:

“In recent years, Clark has had many serious health problems, including the amputation of both of his legs and a surgery to remove his stomach. He is undergoing physical therapy and needs 24-hour health care. His amazing wife Gwen never left his side and has kept him from the nursing home by devoting her life to him.

“Jazz Foundation of America has been helping Clark now for years by providing home health aides and paying for his oxygen.”

A final note about the reach of The Jazz Foundation. At one of its annual “A Great Day in Harlem” concerts at the Apollo Theater, Tad Hendrickson told of hearing this from that evening’s musical director, Steven Bernstein:

“I was talking to someone at the JFA and happened to mention a legendary jazz musician – who does not live in NYC, but is going through some financial problems – and he said [The Jazz Foundation] were already on it. That’s amazing.”

Every day at The Jazz Foundation.

To be a member of The Jazz Foundation’s family, the address for contributions is:
322 West 48th Street
6th Floor
New York, N.Y. 10036

Nat Hentoff is one of the foremost authorities on jazz culture and history.  He joined DownBeat magazine as a columnist in 1952 and served as that publication’s associate editor from 1953-57.  Hentoff was a columnist and staff writer with The Village Voice for 51 years, from 1957 until 2008, and has written for The Wall Street Journal, Jazz Times, The Atlantic, and The New Yorker, among many other publications.

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