Friday, May 23, 2008

Great Night, Great Cause

When I write about how the Jazz Foundation of America helps musicians in need, I write of that which I know of first-hand. I have been involved with the organization as a volunteer and supporter for a number of years, but during the months following Hurricane Katrina that involvement became particularly intense, as I coordinated the independent instrument donation offers that poured in from around the country. I heard directly from musicians how much the Foundation had done for them, paying their bills and providing housing and work opportunities. As a result, I have no reservations recommending their annual Great Night in Harlem benefit concert on May 29th.

Even before Katrina, JFA kept plenty busy. They had provided emergency housing for hundreds of musicians a year and formed a special relationship with the Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in New Jersey to grant completely free treatment to uninsured jazz musicians. Of course, Katrina dramatically increased JFA’s caseload.

JFA gets a lot of just attention for the emergency housing and medical assistance they provide, and the employment they offer through their Agnes Varis Jazz in the Schools Program. Less recognized is the community infrastructure they supply, like the weekly jam session they produce in the Local 802 hall. It’s open to anyone, including participating musicians as well as polite listeners, starting around 7:00. It is a jam session, so you never know, but there are some rock-solid regulars in the rhythm section who play most of the night, and it is hosted Okaru Lovelace, a fantastic vocalist. It is a rare opportunity for people new to the City to jam—just one of the many services provided by JFA.

The Great Night concerts are always cool shows in the historic Apollo Theater. The line-ups are always subject to change right up to the last moment, but this year’s invitation lists: Randy Weston, Frank Foster, Jimmy Heath, Phil Woods, James “Blood” Ulmer, Nnenna Freelon, Jason Marsalis, Frank Wess, and Dr. Michael White. Whatever the program, it will be well worth the price of admission. The show is on Thursday the 29th at 8:00. Visit their website to buy a ticket (or make a donation).