“It’s so much worse than one might have imagined. Aside from the most obvious need of water, warmth, food, and money, hundreds of musicians have lost gigs because of Sandy. Clubs are closed, and musicians haven’t been able to travel out of town for work either. Lost gigs means no money for the rent. No money for the rent means the Jazz Foundation will be providing emergency assistance.” –Wendy Oxenhorn, JFA executive director
When the power went out on the East Coast due to Hurricane Sandy last week, the media focused on the hardest hit communities — called attention to by the loudest politicians — but forgot the musicians. The working jazz musicians of New York dealt with the blow the way they always have, nobly.
While the world forgot about them, the Jazz Foundation of America didn’t. Volunteers trudged onto the flood-ravaged streets, up and down stairs, without benefit of cell phones or the usual assurances of civilization, carrying a list of the names of musicians in need, as well as essential survival supplies. Along the way, they found more needy musicians sitting alone in tiny, freezing, damp apartments living on nothing, gigs canceled or worse, just released from hospitals.
“It’s so much worse than one might have imagined,” according to JFA Executive Director Wendy Oxenhorn. “Aside from the most obvious need of water, warmth, food, and money, hundreds of musicians have lost gigs because of Sandy. Clubs are closed, and musicians haven’t been able to travel out of town for work either. Lost gigs means no money for the rent. No money for the rent means the Jazz Foundation will be providing emergency assistance.”
Working jazz musicians put up with a lot. When help unexpectedly comes, they’re confounded. This is what happened recently when JFA volunteers came to check on an elder jazz statesman living on the Lower East Side. The 70-something jazz musician had slogged from his humble apartment to the 40s in hopes of supplementing his bread and soda for a decent meal, a piece of chicken. But he couldn’t find anything to eat.
He’d always made sure his rent was paid, as it was that day, and was banking on a gig to help with the rest. But because of Hurricane Sandy, that gig fell through.
“When we found our way into his building (we knew which apartment he was in because we could hear him playing his horn), the tears in his eyes when he opened the door and saw that someone came looking for him was overwhelming. When he saw the four of us there with water and food, he said, ‘Who are you? And, I love you,’” Oxenhorn recalled. “We told him we were from the Jazz Foundation and he invited us into his freezing one-room apartment. When we pulled out thermal underwear and gloves, he got choked up and almost cried. I didn’t hold back. I cried. I cried because I saw how he was living before the hurricane – just by looking around.”
He got his chicken by the way, several freshly roasted ones, in addition to more groceries. And a promise from the JFA that they’d take care of him from now on.
This was one of many such stories. The JFA volunteers helped these jazz musicians out, received mini-concerts in gratitude, and more names to add to the needy list. If Hurricane Sandy could be viewed as any sort of blessing, it’s that the JFA was able to learn of other musicians who’ve had to do without. The visibly touched JFA executive director added, “We met musicians with medical issues that we can now send to our amazing partners at Englewood Hospital, who give our musicians nearly half a million dollars worth of free medical care and operations. It made us realize that there are so many who could have used assistance even before the hurricane. Everyone has become so used to being self-sufficient and living ‘without’ for so many years that it doesn’t even occur to them that there is help.”
Tomorrow, a small, but tight community of jazz and jazz-fusion musicians will put on a Hurricane Sandy Jazz Benefit Concert, 9 p.m.-2 a.m., and an after-hours jam session, at Le Poisson Rouge on 158 Bleeker St. between Sullivan and 5th Ave. The benefit concert is sponsored by the JFA, Truth Revolution Records, Revive Music Group, Motéma Music, and DL Media. One hundred percent of proceeds will go toward helping the jazz musicians hit hard by Hurricane Sandy in the outer boroughs.
The line-up includes artists from New York City and some from out of town: David Weiss & Point of Departure, Julian Lage, Gregory Hutchinson, Jesse Fischer, Philip Dizack, Manner Effect, Richie Barshay, Jay Rodriguez, Raydar Ellis, Marcus Strickland, Brianna Thomas Quartet, Jon Davis, Jonathan Michel – LXG, Jorge Roeder, Joe Blaxx Grissett, Johnny Rivero, Steven Oquendo, Joe Dyson, Darryl Yokley – Sound Reformation, Reinaldo DeJesus, Jarrett Cherner, Brandee Younger, Michela Marino Lerman, Ryan Berg Retrospective, Sarah Elizabeth Charles Quartet, Marianne Solivan, Darwin Noguera Trio, Amaury Acosta, Alex Hernandez, and many more to come.
The goal for this benefit concert and jam session is $100,000. People can contribute one of two ways: in person — donations of $20 and up at the door, double that and take home a free digital recording of the event, and online – Le Poisson Rouge will have a live video feed off its website. Those who can’t make tomorrow’s concert can donate online, here. Donations have already poured in from as far away as Germany and London. Musicians and supporters should definitely stay for the after-hours jam session; again, donations of $20 and up are encouraged, same deal with the free digital recording for those doubling their contributions.
The benefit concert is only the start. Sponsors welcome partnerships with corporations and local businesses to match donations, and continued general giving.
Contact Truth Revolution Records at (201) 430-5047 and Le Poisson Rouge (212) 505-3474 for more info.