Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation Launches Emergency Fund For Jazz Musicians

Apr 14, 2020

The Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation has created the Louis Armstrong Emergency Fund for Jazz Musicians to provide much needed support to vocalists and instrumentalists in the New York metropolitan area.

The fund will award one-time grants of $1,000 to assist individual jazz musicians who live in the New York City region and work with regularity in the five boroughs. Applications must be received by midnight on Monday, April 20; they can be submitted via the organization's website.

Wynton Marsalis — who is president of the Armstrong Foundation as well as a trumpeter, composer, and managing and artistic director at Jazz at Lincoln Center — spoke with WBGO News Director Doug Doyle about the fund.

Credit Clay Patrick McBride / Jazz at Lincoln Center

"We were contemplating what could we do in the spirit of Pops in such a devastating time," Marsalis says. "We all decided that this would be good, even though this is a large fund for us because we're a grassroots educational organization, but we have a tradition of serving the community. We decided it was worth this type of expenditure of Louis Armstrong's resources because we felt it was what he would do."

Marsalis says the healing power of music is even more important in this crisis:

This epidemic is interesting, because it forces us to shelter in place and be socially distant, so it puts us in closer contact with our own internal lives. I'm sure people are taking solace in music that they love and they're listening to recordings, checking things out online and looking at people perform live. So I always want to encourage those who have the means and whose resources have not been absolutely depleted by this: If you know musicians or artists that you love and you know they're out here playing, find some way to donate to them and help them. We're put in an environment where we have to reach out to our friends and neighbors and we have to ask for help, and many times it's hard if you've worked your entire life and you're self-reliant, you don't want to prevail upon people. So many people are struggling, but it's important for us to reach out and ask, and it's important for those who can give, to give.

Helping out freelance musicians is something that comes naturally to Marsalis, who lost his father, Ellis, to complications from COVID-19 earlier this month.

"My father was a freelance jazz musician," he says. "If we were stuck in this situation — there was very little money coming in anyway — it would be catastrophic. I just think we got a keep the faith. This is kind of survival time. A lot of musicians are delivering groceries in New Orleans and are exposing themselves to the virus because they just do not see a way to make ends meet. So there's no way to put a happy face on this situation but only the optimism that comes with being proactive about seeking some type of financial help. That's all we can do. You have to be able to eat in order to fight for another day. Collective action is always important."

Marsalis says that in addition to musicians losing work because of the coronavirus pandemic, arts organizations like Jazz at Lincoln Center have been devastated.

"We lost all ability to work," he says. "So all of our revenue, this institution instantly had an enormous budget gap. We lost $10 million, right off the bat. It wrecked our budget for this year and put us in a deficit position. We were put in a position of having to figure out how to scramble and get online and save our season and still be in front of people and be viable and work together as a team."

Credit courtesy of the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation

Speaking of teams, Marsalis says he loves working with LAEF's Executive Director Jackie Harris.  

"I love Jackie.  I know her, being from New Orleans.  We can go all the way back to Katrina and the Higher Ground Fund.  Jackie and I sat up and went through hundreds if not thousands of applications.  She's a person of such integrity, such belief in the community and love for musicians.  Our panel who is going to review the applications, they are the same.  They have a love of jazz and I love working with the Foundation."

Why did Wynton get involved with the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation?

"Well, I love Louis Armstrong. I'm from New Orleans. I'm a trumpet player. He represents so much to anyone who played jazz. Also he sacrificed so many years for musicians, just teaching us how to play and sing the music that all the years he was out there representing people in America. The fundamental principles were compromised when he was growing up and certainly through his life, and he still believed in those who represented him. Then he left his money to the foundation for the education of younger people and musicians, for those who teach, for organizations that teach kids of all strengths all over the world. It's a mission I always loved. The late Phoebe Jacobs, who was a great friend of Louis Armstrong, was the driving force behind the Foundation. In the first years I came in contact with it. I loved her. So I believe very deeply and passionately in our mission."

For more information about the Louis Armstrong Emergency Fund, visit the Foundation website.