[Dixielandjazz] Striking Up The Band - Nat Hentoff / Wendy Oxenhorn

Steve barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Wed Oct 12 07:23:11 PDT 2005

There are those who talk, and and those who act. Wendy Oxenhorn is one of
the activists in the Jazz world. Who she is and what she does for jazz
musicians via the Jazz Foundation of America is legendary. Cheers to Nat
Hentoff for this write-up about her and JFA.


Striking Up a Band In Katrina's Wake, Wendy comes to the jazzmen's rescue.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005 12:01 a.m. EDT

When Hurricane Katrina forced the New Orleans Musicians Clinic to
temporarily relocate to Lafayette (2 1/2 hours away), Bethany Bultman, its
co-founder, told me from there: "New Orleans is the cradle of American music
and we're not going to an early grave!"

The night before (Sept. 7), she continued, "150 New Orleans musicians came
together at Grant Street, one of Lafayette's music clubs. They had no
instruments. It was as if they were naked. But word began to get out that
Wendy Oxenhorn of the Jazz Foundation of America in New York had gotten them
new instruments, and a roster of local clubs were adding extra gigs so these
musicians could perform again." By the end of the evening, the men were
standing taller and smiling.

Soon Ms. Oxenhorn had come to Lafayette. The Jazz Foundation, of which she
is executive director, has been keeping hundreds of musicians from
homelessness and enabling them to get free medical care for 16 years--not
only in New York but elsewhere in the country. Before Katrina, the
foundation was helping 35 musicians a week, but now there are many more.

By Sept. 16, Ms. Oxenhorn emailed me from Lafayette, "We made funding
possible for 150 gigs for displaced musicians to play in the local shelters
and the schools." (The funds for the new instruments she had obtained had
come from the Music and Arts Center in Frederick, Md.)

Moreover, Jarrett Lilien, president of E*Trade Financial Group, already a
major donor to the Jazz Foundation, has announced that E*Trade will be
giving $100,000 to the foundation to give New Orleans musicians, wherever
they are in the diaspora, a chance to get a place of their own with cooking
facilities by providing the first month's rent. He urges "100 more to step
up in a similar manner in order to make a real difference."

With offers of help for the musicians arriving from around this nation and
the world, Wendy Oxenhorn has set up a comprehensive directory of resources
for musicians in need of assistance, and for those who want to help these
musicians. At the foundation's Web site (www.jazzfoundation.org
<http://www.jazzfoundation.org/> ), click on the "Help Musicians Now" link.

In his speech to the nation on Sept. 15, George W. Bush also gave impetus to
the restoration of New Orleans jazz at its roots: "In this place, there is a
custom for the funerals of jazz musicians. The funeral procession parades
slowly through the streets, followed by a band playing a mournful dirge as
it moves to the cemetery. Once the casket has been laid in place, the band
breaks into a joyful second line [of youngsters and strutting older
citizens], symbolizing the triumph of the spirit over death. Tonight the
Gulf Coast is still coming through the dirge, yet we will live to see the
second line." And, as the New York Times reported Sunday, the Hot 8 Brass
Band, playing "Just a Closer Walk With Thee," reunited from across the
country, led off the first jazz funeral in New Orleans since Katrina.

Further exemplifying that spirit is Earl J. ("The African Cowboy") Turbinton
Jr., 63, who played saxophone with B.B. King but stopped playing after two
strokes and bypass surgery. Wendy had often called him on the phone at the
New Orleans Musicians Clinic before Hurricane Katrina; and when she told him
she was coming to Lafayette and asked him what he needed her to bring him
from New York, he said: "I'd like some seeds. I just want to plant some

He added: "I want to plant something in the ground in New Orleans so we'll
see something growing there."

>From Lafayette, Wendy sent me a report and a photo of her meeting with Mr.
Turbinton: "He and his portable oxygen tank danced over to me and we started
to swing dance while he was hooked-up to the tank. We must have been jumpin'
for a full five minutes."

Wendy had previously helped Mr. Turbinton become part of a program for free
medication, and had also sent him a harmonica to get the rhythms moving in
his lungs. Wendy herself, as she has demonstrated during Jazz Foundation
benefit concerts at the storied Apollo Theater, plays powerful down home
blues harmonica. 

Another dispatch from Wendy told of "Eddie Bo, a great musician
(piano/keyboards), about 70 years old, coming down the street in Lafayette.
When I yelled to him that we had found a Wurlitzer Keyboard with removable
legs, 5 octave range, and an amp, he started to run toward me down the
street like a ten-year-old kid. I got a hug like I'd just come home from a

I also have a photo of Wendy with, she writes in the caption, "James
Andrews, one of New Orleans most celebrated trumpetists, whom we were able
to give a very special new horn thanks to Music and Arts Center (which gave
$70,000 worth of instruments and never once asked for any credit for their
beautiful deed). James lost his house and his horns. But his children are
okay. The Jazz Foundation was able to set him up in a new home thanks to the
folks at E*Trade Financial Housing Emergency Fund."

A world-renowned latter-day son of New Orleans, Wynton Marsalis, has been
active raising funds for the city's musicians. He told me he's trying to get
the word out to those New Orleans musicians who own any property to not be
quick to sell it, because developers are rushing in to grab as much land as
they can get and will take advantage of these owners.

As for the poor residents without property, Mr. Marsalis told the Sept. 8
New York Times, "For some of them, playing in the clubs was the only means
of earning any money. If those musicians come back and don't have an
affordable home, that's a big blow."

This is also of concern to Wendy. "With all the money that will be set aside
to rebuild New Orleans," she said to me, "let's not forget the most
important requirement of all: a complex of low-income housing for the
musicians. We all know what happens when developers move in, the way they
have taken over parts of Harlem. Before you know it, a new New Orleans could
have no affordable place for musicians to live. Already they are having a
tough time staying in Louisiana because housing is not readily available and
surrounding areas are very expensive. And with not enough clubs to play in,
they can't support themselves."

Pertinently, she adds: "Let's not forget one of the biggest tourist
attractions of all--the street musicians who made their living on corners
passing hats while tourists stood or sat on the sidewalk listening for hours
as the streets were filled with some of the most memorable blues and jazz
ever played. What a sad day that would be to find New Orleans was
rebuilt--yet the streets were silent."

 Many years ago, for a book Nat Shapiro and I were editing, "Hear Me Talkin'
to Ya: The Story of Jazz as Told by the Men Who Made It," guitarist-singer
Danny Barker, long a musical mentor to New Orleans youngsters, including
Wynton Marsalis, told us:

"One of my pleasantest memories as a kid growing up in New Orleans was how a
bunch of us kids, playing, would suddenly hear sounds. It was like a
phenomenon, like the Aurora Borealis, maybe. The sounds of men playing would
be so clear, but we wouldn't be sure where they were coming from. So we'd
start trotting, start running--'It's this way!' 'It's that way!' And
sometimes, after running for a while, you'd find you'd be nowhere near that
music. But that music could come on you any time like that. The city was
full of the sounds of music."

And I've never forgotten walking down certain New Orleans streets--with
music coming at me from all sides. I'd go into club after club. I figured
that if there's a heaven, I was already there.

Mr. Hentoff writes about jazz for The Wall Street Journal.

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