V-JAM Philly Session Leader: Jazz Bridge Project

By Rhenda Fearrington

The very mission of the Jazz Bridge Project is to assist Greater Philadelphia area jazz and blues artists in times of crisis. A mission such as this would have to be born out of love, where love is a verb. It is love that shows up to meet the needs of our jazz community. It is love that finds a way to clear obstacles from a musician’s path, giving them peace of mind and allowing them to re-focus their energy on their art. For 16 years, Jazz Bridge has been dedicated to addressing many types of crises without delay. 

However, COVID-19 was a game-changer, one that created the need for us to act preemptively. In the first weeks of March, after hosting 17 Neighborhood Concerts, we knew that for the safety of our artists, patrons, and everyone who supports our concert series, our three venues would temporarily close and we would have to cancel the remaining seven concerts in late March, April, and May, thus ending our season abruptly. Rather than wait until the impact of losing these gigs was felt, we immediately decided to offer an honorarium to each musician who was scheduled to perform at the canceled performances.  

The musicians let us know how much they appreciated this unexpected gesture of solidarity and support. And a sense of community was ever-present, as many of them declined the funds out of concern for other musicians who might be in greater need. Week-to-week, our patrons and supporters have become more aware of the impacts of the void of LIVE music and have donated generously and launched birthday fundraisers to raise funds for the Jazz Bridge Project COVID-19 Care Fund. These donations have helped musicians with critical needs flowing from the pandemic, from groceries to medications to bills for vital lifelines like phone and internet. This is what community looks like, and it reminds us of the adage: When “I” is replaced by “We,” we turn Illness to Wellness. 

At the same time, our bi-monthly newsletters have become a “one-stop shopping” source of information on everything from filing for unemployment to applying for additional support through grants. We’re also trying to connect the community to the jazz they love and miss by directing them to the treasure trove of recorded live performances and interviews with local musicians which can be found on our YouTube channel. Plans for our summer concert series in Hawthorne Park in South Philadelphia and in City parks throughout the 4th Councilmanic District are up in the air. But we’ll be ready in the fall to launch yet another stellar season of Neighborhood Concerts because music is healing and we’ll all need that.

The music increases our connectedness across any other differences we may have. Jazz, America’s music, is its own advocate that contributes to our social awareness and has the ability to create a shift in thinking about culture and stereotypes, as well as allowing one to experience engagement, joy and a feeling of being uplifted.

Right now, a universal crisis has hit the pause button on engaging with one another. But, we possess the universal key—the music. So, we’ll re-group, learn—because this is a lesson—and grow, then bounce back with renewed energy and focus. We’ll be ‘Harmonizing Art with Life’ once again, and Jazz Bridge will be right there with the rest of our community. 

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