November 22, 2007


Keeping Jazz Musicians Alive: Many world-renowned jazz musicians have no pensions, no medical plans, no hope (Nat Hentoff, November 19th, 2006, Village Voice)

Jazz musicians do not have pensions, and very few have medical plans or other resources. Pianist Wynton Kelly, for example -- a vital sideman for Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie -- died penniless. I was at the first recording session of pianist Phineas Newborn, whose mastery of the instrument was astonishing. As jazz musicians say, he told a story. His ended in a pauper's grave in Memphis.

At last, 17 years ago, in New York, a group of musicians and jazz enthusiasts for whom the music had become essential to their lives formed the Jazz Foundation of America. Its mission is to regenerate the lives of abandoned players -- paying the rents before they're evicted, taking care of their medical needs, and providing emergency living expenses.

Because of Dizzy Gillespie -- who had such a strong will to live and more generosity of spirit than anyone I've ever known -- the Jazz Foundation has been able to send musicians to New Jersey's Englewood Hospital and Medical Center and its Dizzy Gillespie Memorial Fund.

In 1993, Dizzy, dying of cancer at Englewood Hospital, said to his oncologist and hematologist, Dr. Frank Forte, a jazz guitarist by night, "Can you find a way to get the medical care I'm getting for musicians who can't afford it?" Since then, at no cost, jazz makers have received a wide range of treatment there -- from cancer care to hip replacements.

A very active Jazz Foundation board -- including musicians and extraordinarily generous donors -- has continuously expanded the foundation's reach to musicians in this area and elsewhere. (I'm an inactive member of the board. All I do is write about what it does.)

The indispensable driving force at the Jazz Foundation is its executive director, Wendy Oxenhorn. I've known a number of people who gave their all to keep others alive -- death penalty lawyers and human rights workers, for example -- but I've never come across anyone who is so continually on call as Wendy, at all hours, even when she herself is not well. [...]

If you want to be part of this essential branch of the jazz family, you can donate to the Jazz Foundation of America, 322 West 48th Street, 6th floor, New York, NY 10036; 212-245-3999, ext. 21; or The life from this music encircles the globe.

A donation seems especially appropriate as a way of giving Thanks for all these guys have given us.

(originally posted: 11/24/006)

A Displaced Jazz Musician Rebuilds in New York (VINCENT M. MALLOZZI, 11/22/07, NY Times)

The musical Prince of New Orleans has been touring New York in vagabond shoes.

“I’ve been walking around at night looking at all the clubs and the restaurants, just trying to figure out a new beginning for myself,” said Davell Crawford, 32, sitting on a piano bench recently at Roth’s Westside Steakhouse on the Upper West Side, where he practices. “I’m just thankful to be given another chance in a great city like this, a chance to fit in somewhere and entertain the people.”

Mr. Crawford, a jazz artist who is as well known in New Orleans as Mardi Gras, lost everything but his melodious soul in 2005 to Hurricane Katrina, which caused many musicians to leave and try to find work in other cities.

His career ruined by the storm, the man who once opened for Etta James, jammed with Lionel Hampton and thrilled audiences on four continents lives in a tiny Manhattan apartment provided by the Jazz Foundation of America, which has aided in more than 3,000 emergency cases involving musicians and their families affected by Katrina.

“Davell is a cross between Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, a male Billie Holiday,” said Wendy Oxenhorn, the executive director of the Jazz Foundation. “He is way too talented to be going through hard times.”

Posted by at November 22, 2007 12:21 AM
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