WBGO Partners with the Jazz Foundation of America to Help Musicians Impacted by COVID-19
Now in its 32nd year, the Jazz Foundation of America is a national non-profit providing compassionate, personalized and discreet support to jazz, blues and roots musicians in need, as a result of age, illness or circumstance. Support includes emergency financial, pro-bono medical, rent and mortgage assistance, disaster relief, counseling, instrument repair and replacement, and much more.
JFA Executive Director Joe Petrucelli and co-artistic Director and Grammy award-winning drummer, producer and composer Steve Jordan spoke with WBGO News Director Doug Doyle to talk about a special fundraising.partnership.
Persistent economic uncertainty, dwindling work opportunities, and limited options for relief have devastated the lives of many working musicians. In response, the Jazz Foundation created the COVID-19 Musicians' Emergency Fund to provide direct and urgent financial assistance to jazz and blues musicians and their families, reeling from the impact of the pandemic.
The JFA's COVID-19 Musicians' Emergency Fund was established last March. Petrucelli stressed that's when the need to help musicians really expanded.
"It's an extension of our core program The Musicians' Emergency Fund which provides direct and flexible assistance for whatever circumstances our artists are confronting. We have been continuously processing new applications for service. It was only a couple of weeks ago that we observed the milestone of not have any new cases in the cue. Up to that point it was just steady need for this emergency relief. We basically doubled our client load. This is all one-on-one direct assistance with our social workers and case managers, not hands-on like we are traditionally are but connecting by phone or video chat, trying to customize solutions."
Petrucelli says despite the major obstacles and restrictions, the Jazz Foundation of Americas hasn't stop planning.
"We're looking forward to a few major events and activities in the spring. One is that we're encouraged to see a lot of musicians get vaccinated and we're doing what we can to support that effort. So another part of getting back to work is resuming our live programming and outdoor programming. We have the "Jazz in the Schools" program and another one called the "Gig Fund". These programs are cornerstones of what the JFA does, but for the past year have not been an option for us. These programs provide gigs to musicians in schools, hospitals, nursing home, all kinds of places that are extreme high-risk, but we also do outdoor programming in parks, museums and community centers. We're really excited to get musicians back to gigging. This will be largely in New York a partnership with NYC Parks and in New Orleans with the Mint Museum (New Orleans Jazz Museum at the Old U.S. Mint) and elsewhere throughout the country, midwest, Detroit, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Chicago where we have pockets of clients and California as well."
Steve Jordan and his wife Megan Voss, creators of the group "The Verbs", are the Artistic Directors for the JFA. Jordan says they once they found out about what the JFA was doing, they couldn't wait to help.
"Part of the JFA initiative, which is so wonderful, and their mission is the idea of discretion, which is very important for artists who are very proud and have gotten into the field because they have no choice. I like to say that being an artist is a pre-existing condition. You can't help it. This is what you're going to do. There are a lot of people that we take care of that you would never think would need help Some people that you've listened to your entire life. That's something that really grabbed my attention when I first started working with the Foundation. People can keep their dignity."
Jordan says others have been willing to share their stories about how the Jazz Foundation has helped them like Abbe Lincoln, Clark Terry, Roberta Flack and other legends.
"This a foundation that my wife Meegan Voss and I are very proud to be associated with and I couldn't be happier with the collaboration."
The fundraising partnership announced during the interview is a way of heightening the need for helping musicians during this difficult time.
When you make a contribution starting today to support the music you love on WBGO, you can also help musicians in need by giving an extra $5 which will go to the Jazz Foundation of America’s COVID-19 Musicians’ Emergency Fund. Those who want to help can make a financial contribution at www.wbgo.org/support.
Petrucelli is excited about the partnership between the JFA and WBGO and thanked the radio station for its support.
"I've mentioned over the years, it's such a common occurrence for me or one of my colleagues to call a musician to check in with them and the first thing they say is 'Let me turn down WBGO (laughs) and let's chat. You feel that between the artists, JFA and the radio and WBGO specifically it's a key triangle."
Founding Director and Vice Chairman Jazz Foundation of America Wendy Oxenhorn created JFA's first "A Great Night in Harlem" gala concert in 2001. Oxenhorn has worked closely with WBGO morning host Gary Walker through the years to help create awareness and garner support for the JFA.
Steve Jordan has worked with so many top performer and groups of the past and present, including Keith Richards, B.B. King, Patti Austin, Booker T. & the M.G.'s, Roberta Flack, George Benson, John Mayer, Mark Ronson, Bruno Mars, Bruce Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Don Henley, Sheryl Crow, Alicia Keys, Stevie Nicks, Cat Stevens, The Blues Brothers, Late Night with David Letterman and Saturday Night Live bands.
Why has Jordan been able to connect with so many different musicians through the years?
"I think the connection is basically based on the truth. That's how I approach music and that's how I ultimately how I'd like to approach my life. If you make the right choices, you're fortunate to be put in the right spots so you can carry on the truth as you see it. That will make you relevant and not date you. You're not a fad, you're not a trend. So when I made a connection spiritually with my playing, what was important, the right balance between head and heart, I then tapped into what the truth was for me as a musician. That goes across every genre, every age group, whatever, because music, good music in my opinion, is timeless."
When asked, hypothetically, what three musicians he would select if he only had one more opportunity to plan for a JFA fundraising concert, Jordan admitted that it's tough question. The drummer eventually picked Herbie Hancock, Paul McCartney and Alicia Keys as the artists he would reach out to perform. He would have Sonny Rollins be a guest of honor (since he's no longer playing in public) along with JFA board member Quincy Jones.
You can hear the entire conversation with Steve Jordan and Joe Petrucelli below.