Jazz Foundation of America is founded in New York by Dr. Billy Taylor, Phoebe Jacobs, Ann Ruckert, Cy Blank, and Herb Storfer. After the original Jazz Museum in New York City lost its space and was shut down, this group came together to start an organization to preserve and promote the legacy of jazz.
Jamil Nassar, Jimmy Owens, and Vishnu Wood approach Herb and urge JFA to create an emergency fund to address the needs of great musicians who were ill or had suffered from accidents. They explained how legendary musicians were suffering because they never received royalties and were never paid properly for their work.
So, the focus of the organization changes, and these three musicians, later joined by Bob Cranshaw, become JFA’s outreach network. They connect musicians in medical crisis who need rent money or medical payments with Herb who is running JFA out of his apartment. In most cases, Herb helps them with money out of his own pocket.
The first fundraising event to benefit the Jazz Musicians’ Emergency Fund called “The Fine Art of Jazz” is held in conjunction with The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Stuart Davis Centennial Retrospective, raising over $60,000. It would be a decade before JFA raised as much money at a single event again.
JFA hosts its first annual Loft Party at Herb’s home in the historic Gilsey House in Manhattan. In the early years of the Loft Party, Herb and his neighbors would open their apartments and host performances in their living rooms. Musicians would play in different lofts, and guests would roam from space to space. The events raised about $10,000 to fund JFA’s emergency assistance program, which would go toward helping a few dozen musicians every year.
Dizzy Gillespie passes away at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center. One of his last requests was to his doctor, Frank Forte, that any uninsured jazz musician in need of medical care be treated for free at Englewood. Jimmy Owens later organizes a tribute at the hospital called 100 Trumpets for Dizzy.
Dizzy’s oncologist Dr. Frank Forte – a true saint who never turned down a musician who needed care – and the beloved Dr. Bob Litwak begin to establish a pro bono network of physicians to treat uninsured musicians.
Herb Storfer is now in his 80’s and can no longer run the JFA or the 35 musician emergencies a year. He puts out an ad and a young single parent responds. Former ballerina, and co-founder of STREETNEWS, the paper that employed NYC’s homeless, Wendy Oxenhorn is hired that night after hearing that she had left a high paying corporate job to play harmonica in the train stations of NYC with an elderly blues man from Mississippi.
As the sole employee, she becomes the heart and soul of the Jazz Foundation.
After discovering there is only $7,000 in the JFA bank account, she starts working for free. Within six months she goes from assisting 35 musicians to 150 and expands the reach of the organization to a national level.
JFA Chairman, Leo Corbie and Wendy meet with staff of Englewood Hospital & Medical Center to discuss their medical partnership. Mike Pietrowicz and the heads of the hospital agree to expand what Dr. Forte has started.
Thus, Englewood Hospital and Medical Center’s “Dizzy Gillespie” memorial fund is born.
Because of these saints, for the past 29 years, the Jazz Foundation has been able to provide free medical care worth over $9 million dollars to more than 1,900 veteran blues, jazz, and roots musicians. For more on JFA’s unprecedented partnership with Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, dig this ».
The job is becoming too much to do alone. An angel appears in the form of Lauren Roberts, then a 22-year-old Vassar graduate, joins JFA. Together, Wendy and Lauren continue to build the organization. It is clear they need to find a way to bring in more money and to help musicians in crisis.
Wendy creates JFA’s first “A Great Night in Harlem” gala concert (bringing the 1958 Art Kane photo to life) and she envisions it IN Harlem at the Apollo Theater. She recruits new board member; Jarrett Lilien, COO of E*TRADE who offers to back it!
Wendy and Lauren produce the concert in 9 weeks. More than 100 legendary pioneers come out to play for JFA. It was the first show to feature jazz and blues in over 50 years. The event raises $350,000 and grows the number of musicians assisted to more than 500. “A Great Night in Harlem” becomes an annual event, responsible for nearly half of the $50 million JFA has raised through 2017. This first concert takes place 10 days after 9/11.
After 9/11, musicians are thrown into crisis. Tours and flights are canceled and clubs and restaurants stop booking live music. Hundreds of musicians are stranded and can’t pay their rent. Wendy creates JFA’s Jazz & Blues in the Schools Program to give affected musicians the chance to earn income and pay their own rent. By asking The Music Performance Trust Funds and corporate sponsorship from BMI, the JFA gets a $100,000 grant and saves over 400 musicians. The program continues and creates employment for elder masters of jazz, blues and roots music, producing educational performances that introduce public school children to blues, jazz, and roots music.
With the growing caseload, JFA hires its first part-time social worker, Valerie Simon.
After a triple bypass, legendary singer/songwriter Jimmy Norman is told he has six months to live and faces eviction from his apartment. JFA goes to court with him, where his back rent is forgiven, and begins to help as he fights to regain his health. JFA’s young musician volunteers come to help Jimmy declutter his apartment. One of the volunteers, Lily Morton, discovers a home cassette recording of Jimmy jamming with Bob Marley in his apartment in 1968! (He was Marley’s first producer!) A friend, Frank Beacham, arranges for the cassette to be auctioned at Christie’s, where it nets Jimmy more than $20,000. The proceeds fund his rent for a year and make it possible for him to turn his one-bedroom apartment into a recording studio. He makes his first album under his own name, featuring his signature tune “Time Is on My Side.” that he co-wrote and made the Rolling Stones famous. Now part of the family, he lives an unexpected 9 years and spends them mentoring young musicians, becoming one of the musicians most closely identified with JFA until his passing in 2011.
Dr. Leo Corbie, the JFA’s beloved Chairman passes. At the next board meeting, Wendy suggests that Jarrett Lilien become JFA’s President. He happens to be absent from that meeting but is voted in unanimously and 16 years later, he is still giving his time, wisdom and organizational talents to the JFA board. By creating an infrastructure and several committees, he is able to introduce some pivotal people to the organization. This includes William Douglass III. These connections have made it possible for the foundation to help thousands of musicians.
Blues queen Sweet Georgia Brown, aka “The Last of the Red-Hot Mamas,” loses her home to a fire, Georgia becomes a part of the family and begins her legendary association with JFA. Her show-stopping performances provide highlights for The Loft Party and “A Great Night in Harlem” for more than a decade to come.
Lauren Roberts leaves JFA to begin law school. Wendy is alone in the office with one part-time social worker and hires Alisa Hafkin as Director of Social Services. Two weeks later, Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans. Alisa becomes JFA’s resident angel, going above and beyond to save musicians.
The levees break in New Orleans on August 29, causing fatal flooding after Hurricane Katrina. Wendy goes to Louisiana with a checkbook and JFA immediately begins to help musicians move from shelters into new apartments. These introductions come from Bethany Bultman of N.O. Musicians Clinic. On her second day there, Wendy begins to create gigs by paying brass bands to perform at the shelters. New Orleans is completely shut down, and there are no gigs. Performing at shelters allows bands to earn money while bringing hope to their fellow refugees, who gather together to laugh and dance when they hear the music. On the third day, Wendy receives over $100,000 worth of top shelf horns & instruments and starts to give them to beloved icons including Trombone Shorty, James Andrews, Shannon Powell, Fats Domino and the Treme Brass Band.
A series of miracles follow as JFA quietly rebuilds the musical community of New Orleans:
- Wendy meets Dr. Agnes Varis (and dubs her ‘Saint Agnes”) who donates an unprecedented $1 million to expand the Jazz & Blues in the Schools program and creates work for the beloved icons of New Orleans, helping them to feed their families. This allows musicians to provide for their families, leave the shelters and pay their rent in the towns and cities they were displaced to.
- Jarrett Lilien and E*TRADE create an emergency housing fund, enabling JFA to pay the first month’s rent and security deposits for hundreds of displaced/newly homeless musician families.
- JFA holds a fundraiser for New Orleans musicians. Danny Glover agrees to host and he joins the board that night. Danny remains one of our greatest advocates to this day.
- JFA rebuilds over 1,000 New Orleans musicians’ lives, finding housing, employment and securing more than $250,000 worth of donated top-shelf instruments. Wendy, Alisa & Valerie work 20hr days for a year replacing clothing, computers, and so much more. They even adopted puppies for children who lost their pets during the flood. JFA offers counseling, compassion, and love, and becomes family to the musicians of New Orleans.
Singer, songwriter, activist, and Voice of the Civil Rights Movement, Odetta, breaks her hip and has to cancel her tours. JFA pays her mortgage and keeps her in her home until her passing. Odetta influenced many of the key figures of the folk-revival of the 1960’s including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Mavis Staples, and Janis Joplin. HERE is a clip of her historic final performance at JFA’s 2008 Loft Party.
“A Great Night in Harlem” benefit concert raises more than $1 million for the first time. JFA assists in 1,500 emergency cases for the year.
William A. Douglass, III joins the JFA’s Board of Directors.
Wendy asks Dick Parsons (former Chairman of Citigroup and Chairman, CEO of TimeWarner) to become JFA’s “interim Chairman”. He has has been the interim Chairman for 11 years.
After being held for 15 years in the home of JFA President Jarrett Lilien and his wife Maritess and the apartments of four of their neighbors, the Loft Party guest list now hits 600 people. The event grows into a new space at Hudson Studios and grows from raising $30,000 a year to over $250,000.
Herb Alpert Foundation provides its first grant for our housing and emergency assistance program. Their ongoing support becomes a lifeline for hundreds of musicians in their darkest hours.
Debevoise & Plimpton takes on JFA as a pro bono client, providing invaluable services to musicians facing tenancy, copyright, royalty, estate and other urgent legal issues. With a network of pro-bono lawyers, the Jazz Foundation receives over $250,000 a year in advice & legal services for musicians.
Jazz at Lincoln Center offers to produce its first benefit concert for JFA, a tribute to the beloved bassist/composer Dennis Irwin, for whom JFA cared during the last year of his life. Tony Bennett, Mose Allison, and more great artists perform, and the event raises $21,000. The funds go to JFA’s partners at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, who had provided a $140,000 operation to Dennis for free.
Joe Petrucelli and Daryl Dunbar join JFA along with Alisa Hafkin, Petr Verner and Laura Asquino, this makes up the senior core of the organization to this day.
JFA now assists in 5,000 cases a year, nationally.
The ELMA Music Foundation joins “Saint Agnes” Varis in funding the Jazz in the Schools program. Its support has created thousands of employment opportunities since then and has introduced tens of thousands of students to jazz, blues and roots music through live music.
JFA honors Dr. Agnes Varis with the Dr. Billy Taylor Humanitarian Award at “A Great Night in Harlem.” Civil Rights activist Andrew Young, actor Kevin Kline, and opera star Jessye Norman present the award to Agnes, who is accompanied onstage by dear friend Sami Harawi. It is one of the great moments in the history of the gala – JFA’s effort to give a true saint just a small return on the life-saving miracles she made possible for thousands of great legends over the years.
JFA Director of Operations Petr Verner opens up the New Orleans office managing the 150 musicians working in the Agnes Varis Jazz & Blues in the Schools program.
Wendy is introduced to JFA’s next saint, Mike Novogratz who joins the board. JFA honors Mike at the Apollo with the Dr. Billy Taylor Humanitarian Award in recognition of his beautiful heart that supports hundreds of musicians and their families. Danny Glover presents the award. Mike & Sukey Novogratz are among the JFA’s greatest heroes, walking in the footprints left by our “Saint Agnes.”
On July 29, Agnes Varis passes away, leaving a huge hole in our world. To those who love her, life will never be the same.
JFA patron and hero, Steven Loeb discovers a 10-year-old piano prodigy Matthew Whitaker performing at his first Loft Party. Matthew quickly becomes a sensational staple of JFA events. Pianist and bandleader Jon Batiste of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert raves, “This young man is a genius. I love the way he’s mastering those keys. He will go far. Watch out!”
JFA is the beneficiary of the historic “Howlin’ for Hubert” concert tribute to the late Hubert Sumlin, featuring Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, James Cotton and dozens more blues legends. The event raises more than $375,000 for our Musicians’ Emergency Fund and marks our first collaboration with iconic drummer, producer, and bandleader Steve Jordan.
JFA begins its partnership with the Montreux Jazz Festival at The Loft Party and presents MJF founder Claude Nobs with the Dr. Billy Taylor Humanitarian Award at the 11th annual “A Great Night in Harlem” gala. Bono surprises the crowd with a rendition of U2’s “Angel of Harlem” backed by a band of jazz all-stars including Geri Allen, Steven Bernstein, James Carter, and Christian McBride.
After “Superstorm Sandy,” our JFA team headed by Alisa Hafkin and Joe Petrucelli go home to home visiting musicians affected by flooding, blackouts, and the shutdown of businesses in Lower Manhattan. JFA brings food, candles, flashlights, clothing, and provides companionship and emergency financial support. In the aftermath of the storm, we work with musicians throughout New York City, replacing lost or damaged instruments, contributing to home repairs, making rent and mortgage payments to make up for lost work, and creating employment opportunities.
The Gig Fund is established to bring live music to community spaces around New York while providing employment to many JFA artists. The program begins to expand nationally during the years that follow.
Quincy Jones celebrates his 80th birthday at “A Great Night in Harlem” and is honored by his dear friend and mentor Clark Terry, who sends an award and greeting from his home in Arkansas.
JFA Honors Herbie Hancock with a Lifetime Achievement Award at “A Great Night in Harlem”. Joey Alexander (discovered by Jana Herzen of Motema Records) presents the award, telling Herbie, who had seen Joey perform in Indonesia three years earlier, “You told me that you believed in me, and that was the day I decided to dedicate my childhood to jazz.” The New York Times reports this story, and Joey gets his first major press on his road to stardom.
Wendy approaches Steve Jordan and Meegan Voss who join JFA as Musical & Event Directors. They accept after Steve learns that the JFA had been discreetly helping one of his best friends who was battling cancer for 7 years. Steve helps organize a tribute to Babi Floyd, giving him a Lifetime Achievement Award at “A Great Night in Harlem”, which gave him the will to live a bit longer. He passed away just 3 short weeks after his tribute. Watch a clip of this beautiful moment showcasing this legendary singer after he lost his voice to cancer HERE.
Longtime JFA Board Member Danny Glover presents Sonny Rollins with a Lifetime Achievement Award at “A Great Night in Harlem.” JFA honors Merry Clayton with the first ever Clark and Gwen Terry Award for Courage. Merry, who had lost both of her legs in a car accident in 2014, accepts the award at her home in Los Angeles. Keith Richards pays tribute to Merry with a performance of “Gimme Shelter,” which she had recorded with the Rolling Stones in 1969.
JFA enters into partnership with James Polsky’s Jazz Generation, which creates employment for hundreds of musicians in NYC through its KEYED UP! program, develops new audiences through its Jazz Discovery program, and trains young musicians in its Jazz Standard Youth Orchestra.
Executive Director Wendy Oxenhorn is inducted as a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. for her 16 years dedicating her life to this service work that has created a family for over 10,000 legendary pioneers of blues, jazz, R&B and soul. They enter the heart of the JFA in times of illness, accident, depression, crisis and even death. They receive hope, dignity, healing and creative love that lets them know they are not alone. Wendy always says “it’s an honor to be there for all the good people whose music has saved us.”
Beginning on August 12, Southern Louisiana suffers devastating, historic flooding, as 7.1 trillion gallons of water pour down in a “1-in-1,000-year” rainfall. JFA sends out an email asking for the angels to help, and an anonymous saint answers the prayer. Because of them, the JFA team is able to fly to Baton Rouge as soon as possible and drive from home to home, providing musicians and their families with food, clothing, mattresses, dehumidifiers, emergency supplies, and, most importantly, comfort and love. JFA spends the year with them and replaces instruments, helps repair damaged cars, and even pays mortgages as musicians and families begin to recover. Because of these extraordinary saints, we are able to hire a water damage expert who bio-washes dozens of homes, decontaminating them from toxic mold infestation, and makes it possible for families to rebuild.
JFA honors McCoy Tyner with a Lifetime Achievement Award and presents Dr. John with the first ever Hank Jones Award for a lifetime of piano excellence at the sold out 15th annual “A Great Night in Harlem.” The John Mayer Trio gives its first concert performance since 2010.
Joe Petrucelli celebrates his 10th year with JFA and is made Co-Executive Director. His leadership will ensure that the torch is carried by continuing to help generations of legends, now and in the future.
JFA & Quincy Jones host its first ever event in L.A. at Herb Albert’s Vibrato Jazz Lounge as well as an event in Chicago, expanding its fundraising efforts nationally. Michael Keaton, Goldie Hawn, Karim Abdul Jabar, Paul Williams and Norman Jewison all come out for the cause. Mary Clayton of “20 Feet from Stardom” sings “You are so Beautiful” and says “God bless the JFA for what they have done for me and so many others.”
Three devastating hurricanes – Harvey, Irma, and Maria – hit the Southern United States and Caribbean. Alisa, Joe and Petr arrive in Houston and are on the ground within a week after Harvey. They developed a network of musicians, going from home to home. Five days later, Hurricane Irma hits but what no one expected was the devastation of Hurricane Maria to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Six months later, over one million people still have no power and no way to boil water to make it safe for their children.
Bobby Sanabria and some of the greatest legends of Latin Jazz come together to create the first-ever musician response to a disaster for JFA. They raise more than $11,000 for Puerto Rico. For far JFA has spent $150,000 in relief for the 2017 hurricanes and is need of another half a million just to help the musicians and families of Puerto Rico who have lost everything.
We must create gigs as we did after Katrina so they have a way to feed their families.
They need US more than ever.
The work continues only because of YOU.