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Jeff Duperon: Building a Jazz Bridge for Musicians and the Community

Victor L. Schermer By

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[For almost fifteen years, Philadelphia's Jazz Bridge has been providing funds and services to professional jazz and blues musicians in need. On Sunday, June 3, 2018, Jazz Bridge will hold its annual fundraiser at the Independence Seaport Museum at Penn's Landing. There will be food, drink, fun, and an opportunity to meet the musicians. The honorary chairperson for the event will be former Mayor Michael Nutter. Duane Eubanks will be providing the music. Jazz Bridge depends primarily on individual donations for so much of its work, so come on out and support this outstanding organization.]

As Jazz Bridge continues in its fourteenth year of lighting up the jazz scene in Philadelphia, Jeff Duperon is succeeding Suzanne Cloud as its Executive Director. Duperon, a New Orleans born and bred disc jockey and man about town, is revered in the Philadelphia region as the long time host of the eclectic jazz shows "In a Mellow Tone," "Jukebox Jazz," and "Nouveau Jazz Showcase" on Temple University's WRTI, 90.1 and affiliated radio stations as well as live streaming on wrti.org. As acknowledgment of his prodigies of service, he recently received the 2018 "Philly Celebrates Jazz Award" from the city's Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy.

Duperon gives unstintingly of his off-the-air time to help the jazz community and musicians. When he begins serving as Executive Director on June 3, he will succeed Suzanne Cloud, who has unstintingly brought it great achievements providing funding and services to struggling musicians. She has also curated ongoing concerts that feature the best musicians from Philadelphia and around the world at affordable ticket costs that make them accessible to everyone. Most recently, the "Philadelphia Real Book" concerts featuring musicians of Philadelphia background performing their original compositions has brought attention to how much of the music we cherish had come out of the City of Brotherly Love. Jazz Bridge has published a Real Book of these compositions for musicians to use on their gigs, and a second is on its way. Now that Cloud is pursuing other life goals, she will continue to participate in Jazz Bridge in less time-consuming capacities. We all wish Jeff Duperon great success in his new position. Jazz Bridge plays a vital role in the Philadelphia community and is a model for other organizations helping musicians in need. All About Jazz felt it would be important to speak with him about his new job, his intentions for the future of Jazz Bridge, and his thoughts about the jazz scene in Philadelphia today.

Getting Acquainted with Jazz Bridge

All About Jazz: For those who may be less familiar with Jazz Bridge, tells us about its purpose and a bit about its history and current status.

Jeff Duperon: The Jazz Bridge Project is a 501-C3 non-profit organization which started about 14 years ago with the primary purpose of helping professional jazz and blues musicians in crisis. Whether it's financial difficulties, health care and dental needs, housing, and so on, we try to assist musicians who have fallen on difficult times. Particularly for musicians who have been ill, we establish funds for them and ask the community to contribute to help them and their families in those trying times. Most of our funding comes from individual donations.

Many jazz musicians struggle financially. They work from gig to gig and may not have enough work to make ends meet. They don't have access to a 401K plan and often have no health care insurance. Like anyone else, they can encounter tough times. We help them with their expenses and serve as an advocate for them to gain access to services. Often, our musicians don't even know about the many services that are available, so we connect them with someone who can help. Often, we just need to point them in the right direction and enable them to independently find what's available in the community. We want them to have a sense of dignity in their lives.

AAJ: Tell us about some of the musicians in distress who have been helped by Jazz Bridge.

JD: We must maintain confidentiality for most of our long list of clients, but several of them have given us permission to familiarize the public with their stories. I can tell you, for example, about one of our first Jazz Bridge musicians, the late drummer Charlie Rice. Charlie was caught up in a state grand jury probe and they cast a wide net, catching an innocent man. The Jazz Bridge got him the best criminal defense attorney in South Jersey and we raised over $26,000 for his defense. We have also helped singer Barbara Walker with utility payments and dental care.

An interesting situation arose when legendary guitarist Charles Ellerbee's home was endangered by adjacent houses that were collapsing! Jazz Bridge advocated for him with the city to tear down the abandoned houses. We also helped with the necessary repairs on his home and got him a laptop to help him get some gigs by networking on the internet. We created a fund for singer Michelle Lordi and raised thousands of dollars for her after her house burned down. Guitarist Monette Sudler had a severe respiratory disease, and we helped defray some of her medical costs. Monette has made a full recovery. Not too long ago, guitarist Jimmy Bruno took a serious fall at his home, suffered a head trauma, and went into a coma. Jazz Bridge set up a fund to raise thousands of dollars to aid Jimmy and his family with medical costs, extended hospitalization, and loss of income.

We're grateful to have had the opportunity to help these wonderful musicians, and I'm going to do all I can to make such assistance available to many more musicians.

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