Jazz Bridge, the Glenside-based non-profit devoted to assisting jazz and blues musicians in need, has received Philadelphia’s 10th Annual Councilman David Cohen Award, presented to arts and culture organizations that demonstrate an outstanding commitment to social and economic justice.
They’re also the outfit responsible for putting on all those great jazz concerts at the Cheltenham Center for the Arts, which run from October through May on the first Wednesday of the month. Jazz Bridge produces a total of five neighborhood concert series, including ones in Media, Center City, and Collingswood and Willingboro, NJ, in addition to Cheltenham.
In a Philadelphia City Hall ceremony, Council President Darrell L. Clarke presented the award, an original print by noted Philadelphia artist Ron Rumford, to Jazz Bridge co-founders Suzanne Cloud and Wendy Simon Sinkler. Jazz Bridge was also awarded a check from the Philadelphia Cultural Fund for the upcoming stage production of Last Call at the Downbeat, a musical theater work about a ground-breaking Philadelphia 1942 appearance of jazz giant Dizzy Gillespie.
The prestigious award was established in 2006 in tribute to the late city councilman, who was beloved by many and a lifelong advocate and supporter of the area’s arts and culture community.
The Philadelphia Cultural Fund was established in 1991 to support and enhance the cultural life and vitality of Philadelphia and its residents. The fund promotes arts and culture as engines of social, educational and economic development and has played a key stabilizing role for numerous organizations by providing much-needed operating funding.
Jazz Bridge, a tax-exempt nonprofit formed in 2004, serves the region’s professional jazz and blues players and vocalists in times of crisis by providing confidential and caring support in ways upholding their personal dignity. Through donations, grants, and the presentation of more than 40 jazz events each year, Jazz Bridge assists those coping with emergencies involving health, legal, financial, personal and professional needs, while building an awareness of the local jazz community’s rich heritage and tradition.
“Our main mission is to focus on the musicians,” explained Glenside resident and Jazz Bridge co-founder Wendy Simon Sinkler. Yet at the same time, Jazz Bridge is getting known for its concerts, which add visibility to the organization and its mission. “We’re one of those weird organizations, said Wendy, who can be found awarding the CD raffle prizes at the Cheltenham concerts. “We’re about all things jazz, really.”
The group is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary promoting the jazz and blues art forms, ” but it’s really the artists we’re taking care of by doing that,” clarifies Sinkler. How do they do it? It’s obviously a labor of love for Sinkler and co-founder Suzanne Cloud, both vocalists, who struggle along with their board to mobilize resources to be there when fellow-artists are in need. They depend on donations and, to some extent, grants for particular components to keep the organization afloat, but one thing they’ve come to grips with over the years: there are no sudden breakthroughs of prosperity in this business, not for a small arts group performing vital community services to an at-risk population that exists more or less in the shadows.
It started out when Suzanne’s mentor, piano player Eddie Green was stricken with pancreatic cancer and needed a range of support. Suzanne soon turned to Wendy and the two of them came to the inescapable conclusion that the needs were ever-expanding among their artist friends and allies and the answers would have to come from somewhere,. All signs were pointing in their direction, so once they established that this was a venture that they would take on, they started expanding the circle by mobilizing respected musicians across the region. And they began the process of learning by doing, serving musicians in all types of crises or tough spots.
“We’ve known so many musicians who have gone through hard times that it just inspired us to do this because we know that there really isn’t anything out there for them,” said Sinkler. Sometimes it’s the oil bill to keep the furnace going, other times car repairs to get to the next gig, or maybe a house fire that melted a drum set that were the tools for a livelihood or dental needs that could no longer be deferred, or simple funeral expenses. Sometimes it’s not even about funds as much as it is guidance and support, such as navigating through the ills of a bewildering health care system. Whatever it is, Jazz Bridge is in the trenches making it happen, somehow, whenever it can.
Suzanne, Jazz Bridge’s executive director, wrote and directed Last Call at the Downbeat, a gem of a theater piece with Duane Eubanks on trumpet that takes you back to Dizzy Gillespie’s stint at the Philadelphia jazz club in 1942. Performances will be at the Society Hill Playhouse the first two week-ends in April.
Cheltenham’s jazz concert season seems to be humming along, according to its local impresario and pianist/ keyboard man Dave Posmontier. In its fifth season, the series gets a little more popular every year, he said. “There’s no end to the amount of talent that we can put on stage,” which has ranged from a variety of jazz and blues artists, even a jazz tap dancer, to a Dixieland band and a mixture of modern and traditional jazz. The emphasis, said Posmontier, is always on the original compositions or arrangements to “showcase” the music and its evolution over time. With its low price of $10 ($5 for students), it’s an opportunity to come out with the family and expose young people to swinging and soulful classical American music. Even an entertaining Q&A session is included in the package, along with free refreshments – a value that’s beyond tough to beat.
The next session is Wednesday, April 2, which features percussionist Craig McIver and his quartet. The venue is the Cheltenham Center for the Arts, 439 Ashbourne Rd., and the music gets underway at 7:30 p.m.