May 26, 2006
New Orleans comes to Harlem for fund-raising concert
By Dan Ouellette
NEW YORK (Billboard) - The Jazz Foundation of America may
have started as a homespun organization to help elderly jazz
and blues musicians pay their rent and medical expenses, but
the New York-based group has blossomed into a major force in
the musical community's response to Hurricane Katrina's
devastation in New Orleans.
Case in point: After Fats Domino's prized piano was
destroyed by the floods, JFA supplied him with a new one. It
also raised more than a quarter-million dollars to buy
instruments to help unemployed musicians get back on their
At JFA's fifth annual A Great Night in Harlem benefit
concert May 4 at the Apollo Theater, New Orleans came to New
York. Arriving that morning from its appearance at Jazz Fest,
the Newbirth Brass Band opened the show with a slow funerary
march through the aisles that erupted into a rousing
Later, clarinetist Dr. Michael White and his traditional
jazz Liberty Band, also flown in from the Big Easy, played
music from the city's jazz repertoire, including the legendary
Buddy Bolden's "My Bucket's Got a Hole in It." Keyboardist
Davell Crawford, dubbed the Prince of New Orleans, performed
with trumpeter Kermit Ruffins.
JFA founder/executive director Wendy Oxenhorn welcomed the
crowd by acknowledging the plight of displaced New Orleans
musicians who have "given us an amazing gift in their music."
She added, "Not too long ago, the JFA was helping 35 musicians
a year. (Since Katrina), it's been 35 a week."
MCs included comedian Bill Cosby, actor Danny Glover and
pianist Dr. Billy Taylor, who introduced such guests as folk
icon Odetta, jazz guitarist James Blood Ulmer and pianist
Harold Mabern's band featuring saxophonist Gary Bartz, bassist
Ron Carter and drummer Ben Riley.
The highlight of the evening came at the end, when spunky
Chicago blues singer Johnnie Mae Dunson Smith, a JFA recipient
who wrote songs for Muddy Waters and Elvis Presley, ripped into
a short set from her wheelchair. Her band? Her son, guitarist
Jimi Prime Time Smith, pianist Henry Butler, drummer Will
Calhoun and on guitar, Elvis Costello, who earlier sang his
song, "River in Reverse," the title track from his upcoming
album with Allen Toussaint, set for release June 6 on Verve
The event raised $1 million, which Oxenhorn says will
continue to help New Orleans musicians find housing,
instruments and employment.