First Northern California Jazz Musicians Healthcare Benefit Concert

Bill Leikam By

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Few jazz musicians can afford health insurance much less pay for rent, unless there's a spouse with a paying job and insurance.
First Northern California Healthcare Benefit Concert
Velma's Jazz and Blues Club
Saf Francisco, California
April 23, 2009

On April 23rd, 2009 at Velma's Jazz and Blues Club, in San Francisco, California jazz trumpeter Eddie Gale launched the First Northern California charity concert to support healthcare for jazz musicians through the California Jazz Foundation. The Foundation's mission statement reads, "The California Jazz Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable organization formed to provide assistance to musicians and to others in need who have made substantial contributions to America's only indigenous art form - JAZZ." The last thing that many people think of when they see a sizzling jazz band is how the musicians take care of their medical needs. What happens to them as they age and need medical care? What's available?

The same might be asked about many musicians across the board—unless they happen to be million-record selling pop/rock musicians who can afford to pay for their medical care or are given health care by their label. In contrast to successful pop musicians supported by the mass media, jazz musicians simply don't have that level of support, if any at all. Few jazz musicians can afford health insurance much less pay for rent, unless there's a spouse with a paying job and insurance. Little known to many—even to musicians themselves—is the healthcare and other assistance made available through such organizations as the new Northern California branch of the California Jazz Foundation, based in Southern California and a branch of The Jazz Foundation of America.

More often than not, jazz musicians just have to wing it and hope for the best (or pray to stay healthy). For instance, standing outside of Velma's that evening before the festivities began, we talked with a young musician who had known nothing about such assistance. As a full-time jazz musician he said that he had eight hundred dollars worth of dental work needed but he couldn't afford it although he regularly played with Doug Ellington's band. Added to that, his bad teeth were beginning to affect his ability to play. At Velma's that night he was introduced to a solution and will be getting the dental care he needs. Another case was when the California Jazz Foundation paid for sax-man Prince Lasha's dental work so that he could continue to perform. The dental care saved his career, enabling him to go on to record his last album and, according to many who have heard it, his best. (Prince unexpectedly passed away December 2008. The album is yet to be released.) Such stories are becoming legion as the Foundation directs its efforts to helping needful musicians.

It was Prince's healthcare needs that spurred Eddie Gale to begin to think about putting on a charity event for the Northern California Jazz Foundation. We talked about musicians' healthcare, and he decided to pull together a benefit concert because it was so important to take care of all jazz musicians, especially those who are aging. So it was that the concert not only took place but jelled as an outpouring of 38 Bay Area jazz musicians gathered on this Thursday night to entertain a substantial audience with a variety of jazz music and some wonderful soul food.

The evening's masters of ceremony were Ramona Dennis and Rochelle Metcalfe. Ramona promoted the event, and Rochelle has been a jazz advocate for many years in the San Francisco Bay Area. In no uncertain terms she announced, "Jazz is an endangered species." Excited to see Pete Douglas and Linda Goetz of the Douglas Beach House (aka Bach Dynamite and Dancing Society) when they walked in, she urged Pete to take the mike to say a few words about healthcare for musicians.

Numerous bands proceeded to take the stage that night. Sometimes it was a mix and match situation. For instance, pianist Valerie Mih brought in her own trio but also played with Eddie Gale's band, which consisted of Marcus Shelby (bass), Sandi Poindexter (violin), Destiny Muhammad (harp), Dante James (drums), Wayne Wallace (trombone), and Andrew Currier on a second bass. Others present were Kash Killion (cello), India Cooke (violinist), JD Parran (sax), Manny Cruz's Latin Jazz Band and Duke Ellington's nephew Doug Ellington and his group. Will Nichols (piano) and his trio wrapped up the night with a stellar performance.

Looking ahead, Eddie Gale's band will kick off a series of Thursday Evening Jazz Concerts at Velma's, with some of the proceeds going to the Foundation. Velma Landers, who owns the club, is truly a cultured supporter of Afro-American culture. She believes very strongly in jazz, blues, and gospel and feels that her club is an open arena for the presentation of the music. In fact, she believes in it so strongly that she has a web cam streaming all shows from her club so that people who cannot be there in person may enjoy the music on the Internet. She is looking forward to streaming jazz shows every Thursday, beginning in June.

In addition to the Eddie Gale Band, scheduled for the June event will be Will Nichols, Doug Ellington, and Manny Cruz. Gale said, "My goal is to raise one million dollars for the San Francisco Bay Area musician's healthcare no matter how long it takes. In April next year, we will have four nights of the Jazz Musicians' Healthcare Fundraiser, making it a festival instead of a performance or concert. We chose April because it's Jazz Appreciation Month. We also hope that the younger musicians will gain insight into the importance of starting to build toward their own healthcare while they are still able to, by joining in on this annual program."

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