Musicians from Puerto Rico receive help from The Jazz Foundation (El Nuevo Dia, 5/8/18)
Directors from the Jazz Foundation of America (JFA), an American non-profit organization that helps legendary musicians of jazz, blues and roots and other musical genres, who cannot work because of illness, accident, old age or natural disaster, visited the island to get up close and help the musicians of Puerto Rico affected by Hurricane Maria.
Wendy Oxenhorn, Executive Director of the JFA, which was created in 1989 and based in New York, explained that after Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico those in the JFA, as well as many Americans, were dismayed by the way the federal government has managed the recovery of the island and has severely affected it’s fellow Puerto Rican citizens.
“What we felt was shame when we saw the president of the United States, Donald Trump, during his initial visit to Puerto Rico, saying comments and doing inappropriate things in the middle of the catastrophe. We want to emphasize that these comments and actions do not represent the American people,” Oxenhorn emphasized.
As Executive Director she felt the obligation to offer all the help they could to the musicians of Puerto Rico. “The lives of the Puerto Rican musicians were greatly affected after María. For months, there was no work for these professionals. There was no electricity and the establishments where they work – theaters, hotels, restaurants, plazas and other places- remain closed. This is why we want to help them,” she said.
The first donation received by the JFA to help the musicians of the island, was from Bobby Sanabria, a Latin jazz musician of Puerto Rican descent living in New York. Along with other musicians, he held a benefit concert for Puerto Rico where they raised $10,000. That money was donated to the JFA so that they could help the musicians of Puerto Rico affected by the hurricane, she said.
The aid has already been arriving, as in a chain, to musicians from Puerto Rico. “The first one we contacted for a reference was Carli Muñoz, jazz musician and owner of Carli’s Fine Bistro & Piano, in Old San Juan.
“They sent me an email after the hurricane, when the business was closed and without electricity, at our worst moment,” Muñoz said.
As soon as his phone was working again, Muñoz called the JFA. “They explained to me who they were and their intention to help the musicians of the island. They sent me some papers and they approved the help. I connected them with other musicians from Puerto Rico,” he observed.
In December, Muñoz went to New York and met the JFA staff. “There I saw the dedication that these people have; the extraordinary support they give musicians and their families,” he said.
Over the past six months, the JFA has provided direct financial support to more than 50 Puerto Rican musicians and their families to recover from the damage caused by the hurricane. The aid has focused on financial support (monthly) for basic expenses, food, rent and fuel.
One of those who has received this help is Tommy Villariny, trumpeter and arranger. “I was desperate, there was no work, no light or anything. On a Facebook page I read about the JFA and how they wanted to help the musicians of Puerto Rico. I gathered up the courage and I wrote to them. Since then, the foundation has helped me financially and I have been able to pay the rent, which I am very grateful for,” he said.
Meeting in Puerto Rico
Last week, JFA executives, along with a group of social workers, traveled to Puerto Rico to meet more musicians and hear the needs of each one first-hand.
Joseph Petrucelli, Executive Co-Director of JFA, explained that this visit is the second step of the initial help they have already given. “We invited about 120 musicians to the meeting at the Intercontinental Hotel in Isla Verde, so that together with our social workers they could fill out our application about their particular needs. This way we can better understand the particular situation and identify the problems of each one. The way we want to help is individualized,” said Petrucelli.
Many musicians came to the meeting, among them pianist and professor Brenda Hopkins; Jose and Jorge Colón de Almas Band, singer Josy Latorre, singer and trumpeter Jerry Medina and Edgar García, known as “Black Rhythm, “soloist of the Beat Box”, among many others.
“The plans are to continue helping. The biggest problem of all the musicians is that there is almost no work yet. We want to create decent opportunities for work, where musicians receive a salary from us to play free concerts that people can enjoy,” said Petrucelli.
According to the Executive Director of JFA, the help they can continue to provide to the musicians of the island will depend on the money they can raise.