We were just notified that Jazz Bridge was named Humanities Partner of the Year by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, and we were invited to attend a dinner honoring us and our achievements at the capitol building in Harrisburg on October 7th. It is a wonderful honor, and it wouldn’t have been realized if not for the beautiful nomination Rhenda Fearrington wrote. I’d like to share it with you in this update. Please take a minute to read it and you’ll see why the panel could have only made one decision!
To understand The Humanities is to embrace our own humanity. Jazz Bridge was born out of a need to help an artist sustain his or her wellness to create something beautiful for the community. For the world. As a non-profit organization that has provided confidential assistance for our local Jazz & Blues Artists in crisis for nearly ten years, the MISSION has become stronger and has reached out to hundreds of musicians over the years.
The Dalai Lama once explained that, “When “I” is replaced with “We”, even Illness becomes Wellness.” That illness isn’t always physical, but can be one of spirit that grows out of despair when one cannot create their art, for a myriad of reasons.
Jazz Bridge’s Mission is to “bridge” the gap between despair and hope. The more opportunity we give our locals artists to tell their stories, the more people that can be connected and uplifted. Poets, painters, singers, musicians are the “architects” of culture; without them laboring humanity would perish. Jazz Bridge has provided many conduits for connecting the Philadelphia Jazz culture to its contribution in history and art, through its people.
Evidence of this was when Jazz Bridge partnered with the Pennsylvania Humanities Council to bring about the story circle, “Philly Jazz Stories – Back In the Day,” in conjunction with Temple University Radio in 2011. On one afternoon, six heralded Jazz musicians & advocates bore witness to a shared legacy to which only Philadelphia can claim. They shared the experience of working in a multitude of Jazz clubs that no longer exist. A culture that has vastly changed and to some extent, disappeared, but combining the best of both worlds, through oral history as well digital technology, it is preserved forever. While this documentation can be used as an educational tool for further studies in our most prestigious schools providing a rich curriculum in Jazz Studies, it has also provided fodder for great dialogue in reclaiming that legacy. The subsequent broadcast on WRTI-Temple Radio and circulation through social media (e.g. YouTube) has cast an even wider net for an audience that wants to learn about the human condition in all its depth and range of meaning, in addition to serving many more musicians.
The clamoring for a Renaissance has resonated throughout the entire city, due in part to Jazz Bridge’s ceaseless partnering with many of Philadelphia’s historical spaces that have provided the landscape for their eight-month Concert Series that launches from October to May, with a Summer Concert series “bridging the gap” until each new season begins. This series employs approximately 200 musicians for equitable wages, providing over 40 concerts in which to do this.
Jazz Bridge partnered again with the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and The Society Hill Playhouse to stage Last Call at the Downbeat, an original production that was chosen to be part of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts in April 2013. A one-man show, wherein a young actor portraying Bebop pioneer, Dizzy Gillespie told “his story,” of a night in November, 1941 at the famous Downbeat Club located at 11th and Ludlow, in Philadelphia. As an 18 year old Philadelphian, Dizzy’s life was changed during those years at The Downbeat and other Jazz Clubs. His experience drew a timeline and a deeper look into the cultural and racial backdrop of Philadelphia, as well as the advent of a World War in the United States. But perhaps what served to connect the audience even more were the local musicians (trumpeter Duane Eubanks) hired to perform on stage, portraying Dizzy’s band at the Downbeat. These musicians, who discovered a wider scope of their own talents, brought anaudience of inspired family, friends, and peers to two consecutive weekends of standing room only crowds!
Providing jobs 12 months a year certainly makes a difference. Launching fundraisers to provide assistance in getting an instrument out of a pawn shop to which it was sold to pay a month’s rent, providing lodging after a resident’s fire, or transportation to an engagement when a car breaks down, is a very real part of the Human Condition. However, the Founders, Board Members and volunteers of Jazz Bridge are keenly aware that the real mission is providing continuous opportunities for the artist to learn, grow and develop their own sustainability and artistic “wellness,” because this is a Human Necessity. And it is with ceaseless importunity and an abundance of human kindness that Jazz Bridge makes that Human Reality!