Lisa Simpson: Oh, Dad, why did he have to die?
Homer Simpson: Well, it's like the time that your cat Snowball got run over.
Lisa: Uh huh.
Homer: Remember, honey?
Homer: What I'm saying is, all we have to do is go down to the pound and get a new jazzman.
Lisa: (wailing) Oh, Dad!
It's one of my favorite exchanges from The Simpsons TV show -- concerning, of course, the late great sax player "Bleeding Gums" Murphy -- even though the underlying message is kind of disturbing. The old, wizened, hard-boiled, dissipated "Jazzman" may have become an iconic symbol in American culture, but it is one painted in varying colors of condescension, vulnerability and infirmity -- great American artists unprotected by health care turned into the living equivalent of Hummel figurines. "Look! The jazzman has little sandals on! How adorable! And look at his little hat with dollar bills in it! And he's hooked up to a kidney machine! This figurine is going for $150 for the next half hour here on QVC!"
For almost two years, a new nonprofit organization calling itself the California Jazz Foundation has formed to help jazz musicians in need. According to their website: "It is our goal to assist jazz musicians (and others who have made a substantial contribution to jazz) who are uninsured or underinsured and are in need of medical assistance which they can’t afford, directing them to the appropriate medical professionals and medical services, and to help those who find themselves in a financial emergency due to a life crisis. A medical referral network is already in place and is being continually expanded. As our Emergency Fund grows, we will be able to provide emergency financial assistance when appropriate. We also plan to provide education and raise awareness of the importance of preventive care."
Since its inception, the CJF has staged two benefit concerts -- on March 18, 2007 at the Musician's Union Local 47 in Hollywood and in Orange County on July 15, 2007 -- and is staging its next benefit for December 2, 2007 at the Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood. The organization has already helped out our local musicians including trombonist/composer/arranger Phil Ranelin, vocalist Sandra Booker and guitarist Jacques Lesure. Mr. Ranelin, in particular, has come back with a vengeance after a near-fatal traffic accident in 2005: he recently received a grant to compose new music, which he will be playing this week at LACMA's Friday Night Jazz concerts.
"Do not go gently into that goodnight
Rage! Rage! Against the dying of the light!"