Jazz foundation of america

The Jazz Foundation of America (JFA) is a non-profit organization based in Manhattan, New York founded in 1989. The JFA’s programs seek to help jazz and blues musicians in need of emergency funds and connect them with performance opportunities in schools and the community. The organization works to bridge the gap between social and medical resources and the jazz legends whose careers did not ensure this kind of support.

The Jazz Musicians' Emergency Fund and Housing Fund, established with corporate help, specifically helps freelance musicians who don’t have standard benefits, a pension plan or health insurance to cover one-time expenses. Often, the musicians grow older and due to life tragedies or health problems, can no longer work steadily and find themselves unable to make ends meet. Musicians can apply to JFA social workers for assistance with rent, housing, mortgage payments, healthcare, and more. The Jazz Foundation of America has also created a volunteer network of other professionals (and caring jazz enthusiasts) throughout the United States who endeavor to provide free legal, dental, and other health services when needed.

The JFA’s Jazz in the Schools program extends through eight states and operates as both a tool for educational outreach and as an employment service. Jazz in the Schools offers free hour-long performances by recognized musicians, incorporating lessons about instrumentation and jazz music history. In return, the musicians are paid fair wages by the JFA. The Varis/Jazz in Schools program employs over 120 musicians throughout New York City and hundreds throughout the south, reaching dozens of public schools and hospital schools each month and touching the daily lives of hundreds of school children.


The organization began with founder Herb Storfer and friends Ann Ruckert, Phoebe Jacobs and Dr. Billy Taylor in 1989. Mr. Storfer housed the Foundation in his Manhattan Loft, and funds to support it were raised through tickets to Jam sessions in the loft. Shortly after incorporation in 1990, the newly titled Jazz Foundation of America held a fundraising event at Town Hall, raising over sixty thousand dollars to establish the Jazz Emergency Fund. Shortly after, two established jazz musicians, Jamil Nassar and Jimmy Owens, became the organization’s outreach network, connecting musicians in need of rent money or medical payments to the organization’s founder. The committee of founders began to network with other service organizations who shared similar objectives—the Actor’s Fund and MusiCares provided part-time social workers for the JFA’s substance abuse programs.

From 1997 to 2000, a new executive director, Susan Cipollone, worked up one or two assessments a day and helped about 35 musicians in a year. The JFA offered substance abuse programs and began their Monday night jam sessions as a way of recruiting musicians in need. This took place in the basement of St. Peter’s Church, and the jam sessions continue to take place to this day at the Local 802 building in midtown Manhattan.

When the Jazz Foundation became official in 1990, they recruited a 26 member Board of Directors and associates made up of friends and supportive acquaintances who offered in-kind services, gave advice and volunteered time. When jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie died in 1993, one of his last requests was that any jazz musician in need of medical care be treated for free at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center. His initial request was that doctors would provide free treatment to one musician per year. This evolved into a pro bono network of physicians at Englewood Hospital & Health Center to treat a growing number of musicians. Dr. Frank Forte and Dr. Bob Litwick headed up the Dizzie Gillespie Memorial Fund, and the JFA referred clients to the hospital for treatment. The organization’s growing network of generous pro bono doctors continues to grow and now serves uninsured veteran jazz musicians to the tune of $300,000 a year in pro bono medical care and operations.

The organization moved into an office in the Local 802 branch of the American Federation of Musicians. In 2000, Wendy Oxenhorn accepted the position as Executive Director and immediately took the organization from assisting 35 musicians a year to over 150 in a matter of months. Ms. Oxenhorn revived the JFA’s waning accounts by creating a fundraising gala at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, "A Great Night In Harlem." The fundraiser took place 13 days before September 11, 2001 and, with backing from E-Trade COO Jarrett Lilien, who later became the board president and created its first Emergency Housing fund and built its first board committees. The concert raised $350,000 and allowed Wendy and a staff of two to help many more in crisis. "A Great Night in Harlem" has become an annual spring event at the Apollo Theater. Wendy worked to shift the organization’s strategy from solution-based to prevention-based methods: instead of offering last-resort funds for musicians in dire straits, she began to create a supportive network that would prevent them from reaching that point. She sought ways to provide employment for these living jazz legends, as well as a sense of purpose and meaning in their everyday lives.

After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, many musicians found it exponentially more difficult to find work in a community and the afflicted economy. The JFA assisted musicians in the New York community, helping to pay mortgages and utilities and finding new venues of employment for the artists. Oxenhorn got $100,000 from the Music Performance Trust Fund with the help of the Local 802 Union and created school gigs for over 400 musicians whose gigs and tours had been canceled, since no one was able to fly, and who could now not pay their mortgages or rents anymore. This benefited both the morale of lower Manhattan and the musicians and their families who needed money. As word of the services spread, the JFA's case load expanded from 35 cases in a year to over 500.

After Hurricane Katrina, Ms. Oxenhorn met Dr. Agnes Varis at a JFA event that Dick Parsons was hosting and told Dr. Varis about the dire need to help the musicians in New Orleans as she had helped the musicians in New York after 9/11. Dr. Varis agreed to give $250,000 to create a Jazz in the Schools program in which musicians were paid fair fees to play one-hour educational performances in local schools. In this mutually beneficial relationship, students receive a live musical education at no cost to the school, and the musicians are able to earn their own income and share their gifts with the younger generation.

Over 20 million dollars have been raised since the first concert and over 6000 emergency assists are possible each year. The Agnes Varis Jazz in the Schools Program has grown and has made it possible for the past 8 years to keep hundreds of musicians in crisis from homelessness, hunger and eviction by bringing live jazz and blues to over 80,000 public school children across America, with this dignified solution that offers new purpose to legendary elders who would otherwise have no way to get by. It was the Jazz Foundation that gave Agnes her nickname that has followed her since, "Saint" Agnes Varis. Her passing on July 29 has been mourned by hundreds of musicians nationwide. Her good deeds have been carried on by her Trust, allowing hundreds to remain in their homes and to be productive and bring the music to the children to this day.

A Great Night in Harlem

Besides major donors Agnes Varis, E-Trade Financial and Time Warner, the JFA derives much of its funding from its annual fundraiser, "A Great Night in Harlem," held each May for the past seven years. This gala event features a sponsor dinner and all-star concert at the Apollo Theater, and has been hosted by celebrities such as Danny Glover, Bill Cosby, Gil Noble, and Danny Aiello. Past performers include Odetta, Dr. John, Henry Butler, Dr. Michael White, Regina Carter, Elvis Costello, Arturo O'Farrill, Candido Camero, Sweet Georgia Brown, Whoopi Goldberg, Chevy Chase, Joe Piscopo, Elvis Costello, Norah Jones, Hank Jones, Dave Brubeck, Jimmy Heath, Paul Shaffer, Jimmy Norman and more.

Members of the Board

Board of Directors [1]
*Honorary Founders Board member
Richard Parsons, Chairman
Jarrett Lilien, President
Dr. Agnes Varis, Vice-Chairwoman
Michael Pietrowicz, Treasurer
Wendy Oxenhorn, Executive Director

Glen Barros
Michael Curcio
William Douglass
Steven Edwards
Dr. Frank Forte*
Ben Giordano
Danny Glover
Nat Hentoff
Peter Low
L. Londell McMillan
Geoffrey D. Menin
Gil Noble
Robert Opatrny
Lee Richards
Marc Roth
Ann Ruckert*
Stephen Siegel
Marlisa Vinciguerra
Bill Wurtzel*

Honorary Founders Board [1]
** Honorary Founders only (not on current board)

Cy Blank**
Dr. Leo Corbie**
Bob Cranshaw
Hon. David Dinkins
Dr. Frank Forte
Phoebe Jacobs**
Sandy Jordan
Quincy Jones**
Stella Marrs**
Hank O'Neal
Jimmy Owens
Ann Ruckert
Herb Storfer**
Dr. Billy Taylor
Dr. Ron Tikofsky

Advisory Board [1]

Robbin Ahrold
Arthur H. Barnes
Joslyn Barnes
Cephas Bowles
Thurston Briscoe
Ron Carter
Chevy Chase
Elvis Costello
Archibald Cox
Michael Devins
Jim Eigo
Jay Fishman
Lois Gilbert
Charles Hobson
Michael Imperioli
Victoria Imperioli
Phyllis Lubarsky
Bruce Lundvall
Howard Mandel
Wynton Marsalis
Jacques Nordeman
Michael Novogratz
James Polsky
Bob Porter
Fran Richard
Sandra Priest Rose
Phil Schaap
Steve Shapiro
Lew Tabackin
George Wein


  • Interview with Wendy Atlas Oxenhorn, November 1, 2006
  • Making Sure Musicians Don't Get The Blues (New York Times, 12/26/2002)
  • Not Much Traffic, But A Steady Jam (New York Times, 08/11/2005)
  • Keeping Jazz—And Its Musicians—Alive (Wall Street Journal, 10/21/2004)
  • Advocate Works Night and Day to Assist Needy Jazz Musicians (Chronicle of Philanthropy, 02/19/2004)
  • Getting Their Groove Back (People Magazine, October 3, 2005)
  • Keeping New Orleans Musicians Alive (Stereophile, October 2005)
  • In Katrina's Wake, Wendy Comes To The Jazzmen's Rescue (Wall Street Journal, October 2005)

External links

  • Jazz Foundation website
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and USA.gov, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for USA.gov and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.