Keeping New Orleans Musicians Alive

It's not just Katrina and Rita that have devastated the lives of musicians in the Gulf Coast area. The state of the economy, a decrease in services for the poor and marginally employed, the shorter attention span of those weaned on TV and computers, and an ever-increasing emphasis on image and effect over substance have all taken a huge toll on Gulf Coast musicians.

In addition to benefits scheduled with increasing frequency throughout the country, a host of organizations have stepped into the breach, providing emergency housing, food, medical care, instruments, employment, you name it for displaced musicians. This guide is designed to help you support the artists whose music we love and respect.

The Jazz Foundation of America has been caring for jazz and blues musicians in crisis for 16 years. Five years ago, the foundation received 35 requests a year for assistance. The week before Katrina, that had grown to 35 requests a week. Since the hurricanes hit, phones have been ringing off the hook. September 22 and 23 alone brought 75 calls per day. This is an organization whose dedication is beyond question.

Executive Director Wendy Oxenhorn spoke with Stereophile while simultaneously aiding a musician on another phone. She has recently returned from New Orleans, where she surveyed the situation, met with different organizations, and worked to coordinate efforts to avoid duplication of services. (People magazine ran a story on her trip.)

Wendy reports that most clubs are either gone or closed. Musicians, especially those who make their living busking on the street, have no place to play.

"Everyone knows we're the ones who help the jazz and blues musicians," she says. Working with musicians in at least seven states at present, the Jazz Foundation of America's services include free medical care across the country, pro bono legal services, cash contributions, and much more.

The New Orleans Musicians' Clinic, with whom the Jazz Foundation is working, has had to vacate its offices, relocating to the Acadiana region, 150 miles west in Lafayette, LA. (Acadiana is Louisiana's second largest music center.) While people from Louisiana State University plan to rebuild the clinic, the Southwest Louisiana Area Health Education Center is disbursing health-related funds to displaced musicians. Donations may be made online or sent to SWLAHEC/NOMC, 103 Independence Blvd., Lafayette, LA 70506.

The New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund, recently founded by Benjamin Jaffe of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, is a non-profit dedicated to helping New Orleans musicians affected by Hurricane Katrina. The Fund's ever-developing website includes a toll-free number for musicians to call for assistance—(800) 957-4026—until the online application process is up and running.

According to chief administrator Jordan Hirsch, a New Orleans musician who fled the city the morning the storm hit, "We make no distinction in terms of genre of music performed. Our criteria are that you were a working musician in New Orleans who lost work and needs help.

"Having been born and raised in New Orleans, the culture means enough to me to rebuild. These are the people who've made the place worth preserving, and they need our help now."

The fund is currently administered in New York City while Preservation Hall remains intact but closed. Though the fledgling organization's efforts have so far focused on fundraising, the Relief Fund expects to be "flooded with requests as word of mouth gets out." Donated instruments and funds will be passed along with a minimal amount of red tape.

New Orleans' vital classical music scene includes the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, the New Orleans Opera (which relies on the symphony's musicians for its performances), and a host of less formal fringe organizations. All have been profoundly affected by the hurricane.

The Opera's phones remain out of service, and staff has been unable to update its website. All fall productions have been canceled. While the New Orleans Opera regroups, many other opera companies around the country have been left wondering if this major supplier of rented sets can fulfill its contractual obligations.

The American Symphony Orchestra League (ASOL) has established the Gulf Coast Orchestra Relief Fund to help support orchestras that were most affected by the storm, including the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, the Gulf Coast Symphony (Biloxi), the Meridian Symphony Orchestra, and the Greater New Orleans Youth Orchestra. One hundred percent of funds raised will be distributed to the distressed orchestras. Contributions may either be made online or sent payable to the American Symphony Orchestra League, 33 West 60th Street, Fifth Floor, New York, NY 10023.

According to ASOL information resource manager Jan Wilson, the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra has currently taken up offices in Baton Rouge, where staff are attempting to coordinate relief efforts with other displaced regional orchestras and organizations. The Louisiana Philharmonic's players plan to reassemble in Nashville to play a benefit concert for themselves on October 4. With the help of the Nashville Symphony, they hope to raise $100,000.

The American Federation of Musicians (AFM) has established a Gulf Coast Relief Fund for union members of all genres affected by the hurricane. The AFM will match every dollar contributed up to $100,000. Until online donations are possible, send checks or money orders payable to the Gulf Coast Relief Fund to: AFM Gulf Coast Relief Fund, 1501 Broadway, Suite 600, New York, NY 10036.

A special download of the Dixie Chicks' new recording, "I Hope," available online at Sony Connect, Rhapsody, Yahoo! Music Unlimited, SonyMusicStore.com, iTunes, MSN, and Napster, gives all proceeds to American Federation of Musicians Gulf Coast Relief Fund and Habitat For Humanity. The song, co-written by the Dixie Chicks and Keb' Mo', "I Hope" was performed September 9 on the multi-network telethon Shelter From The Storm: A Concert For The Gulf Coast.

Americans for the Arts, one of the country's major arts advocacy organizations, has established a permanent Americans for the Arts Emergency Relief Fund to help rebuild the arts in devastated communities. One hundred percent of all funds raised are distributed directly to local arts agencies in disaster areas and to relief efforts dedicated to helping the arts. See the fund's website or call (866) 471-2787.

MusiCares, established in 1989 by the National Recording Academy, has initiated the MusiCares Hurricane Relief Fund, a one million dollar commitment of funds for distribution to musicians and other music industry people directly affected by the disaster. Requirements for assistance include five years professional experience in the music industry and loss of livelihood or housing due to effects of Hurricane Katrina. Donations may be made online or by calling (877) 626-2748. MusiCare's invaluable links to fund partners and resources can guide you to other sources not listed herein.

Jan Ramsey, publisher of the long-running New Orleans music monthly Offbeat and the Louisiana Music Directory, is helping New Orleans musicians stay employed by updating their contact information on Offbeat's website. Contact Jan at jan_v_ramsey@hotmail.com.

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