Jazz players — especially improvisers — are used to performing onstage without a net.
Offstage, many of them need one.
A bad tooth. A bad rap. Your instrument is in hock and there’s a gig coming up. Sometimes the money isn’t there when you need it, and for a lot of jazz musicians, money is rarely there.
That’s why Suzanne Cloud started Jazz Bridge, an non-profit organization that raises money for regional jazz musicians in a tight spot. “A lot of times there’s no security check when they get older,” Cloud said. “It’s an underground economy; no dental plan. You’re pretty much on your own.”
Cloud is a singer who earned a doctorate in American Studies from the University of Pennsylvania for her dissertation on the jazz community. She was mentored by pianist Eddie Green, who ultimately developed pancreatic cancer. “At the same time he was dying, Muse Records came out with a box set of all of his music,” said Cloud. “He never saw a dime of that.”
When drummer Charlie Rice was 89-years old, he was maintaining public school buses in Camden when the school board had him arrested under suspicion of stealing gas. His pension was on the line. Jazz Bridge raised money for the lawyer that cleared him.
When drummer Edgar Bateman died in 2010, there wasn’t enough money for a proper burial. Jazz Bridge paid for his family to come up from North Carolina and contributed to the cost of funeral services.
“No matter what artistic pursuit you’re doing, in order to keep the creators creating, they can’t live in abject poverty,” said Cloud. “They can’t worry that they can’t go to a doctor if they find a lump in their breast, or if they need a lawyer, and they have no money to hire a lawyer. Living an unstable life like that for a creator – it takes away from the whole society, and leaves us wanting.”