Jazz Foundation Honors Greats, Calls for Assistance


Albert “Tootie” Heath, as well as his brother Jimmy Heath, were honored April 20 at The Apollo Theater in Harlem with lifetime achievement awards from the Jazz Foundation of America.

(Photo: Udo Salters)

The Jazz Foundation of America has issued a call to offer assistance to musicians who have fallen on hard times.

The foundation held its 16th annual gala concert, dubbed “A Great Night In Harlem,” on April 20 at The Apollo Theater. The event featured a star-studded red carpet, esteemed revelers and a pre-concert supper for VIP guests. Since 1989, the foundation has sought to provide jazz, r&b and blues musicians with emergency funding, pro-bono health services and other forms of assistance during critical times.

In August 2017, singer Sinead O’Connor made a post to social media that caught the foundation’s attention. The foundation not only helped O’Connor find medical treatment, but also connected her with a new manager—Anna M. Sala, of AB Artists—who helped the singer get back on her feet and return to Ireland to reunite with her children. Sala was honored at the top of the evening by Wendy Oxenhorn, executive director and vice chairman of the foundation.

“If the business of music took care of the musicians the way that [Sala] does, we wouldn’t need a jazz foundation,” Oxenhorn said. “We’re the ones who have to face someone when we hear someone was in an accident; or we hear someone had something happen to one of their children. ... When you get this room of all of you together, and we get this moment where we can actually just say, ‘Thank you,’ that’s why we make this concert. It’s for you to see the very people you’ve been helping and give them the chance to give back, doing what they do best.”

Backed by a full choir, New Orleans-bred Davell Crawford kicked off the evening’s concert. The pianist tapped into his spiritual side, drawing from an eclectic repertoire. Matthew Whitaker, a pianist who performed during Stevie Wonder’s induction into the Apollo’s hall of fame, took the stage not long after.

Saxophonist Jimmy Heath and drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath—91 and 82, respectively—were honored with lifetime achievement awards from the foundation. The brothers were joined by pianist Harold Mabern, bassist Rufus Reid and trumpeter Jon Faddis for a rendition of Blue Mitchell’s “Fungii Mama.” With about a century’s worth of performance history on stage, the vibe between players felt like a jam—cool, laid-back. Perhaps the most surprising moment during their performance, though, was when awards presenter Chevy Chase joined the group, sitting in on piano for Miles Davis’ “Nardis.”

Roberta Flack helped define a generation of singers/songwriters whose music challenged worldviews and dealt with matters of the heart, simultaneously. Arriving on the red carpet in a wheelchair, it was hard to imagine the 81-year-old Flack as anything but timeless, having crafted hits like “Killing Me Softly With His Song” and “The Closer I Get To You,” which was co-written by Reggie Lucas and James Mtume (who is Jimmy Heath’s son).

As actor Danny Glover prepared to present Flack with the gala’s Clark and Gwen Terry Courage Award, Oxenhorn returned to the stage, announcing that Flack had been transported to the hospital after becoming ill in the green room.

The evening came to a close with a tribute to blues icon Otis Rush. Vocalist Diunna Greenleaf’s take on the guitarist’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby” was nothing short of revelatory. In her short set, Greenleaf reminded listeners that much like life, the blues is about going through the depths of pain and despair in order to find catharsis on the other side.

To support the Musicians’ Emergency Fund, text “JFA” to 41444 or visit jazzfoundationofamerica.org for additional information. DB

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