‘Relief’: Jazz Foundation of America’s Effort to Assist Musicians Through the Pandemic

Top jazz artists and labels came together to create an all-star compilation album alongside the non-profit Jazz Foundation of America, benefiting its efforts to aid musicians who were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shutdowns. Available on LP, CD, and digitally on November 12, Relief: A Benefit for the Jazz Foundation of America’s Musicians’ Emergency Fund includes previously unreleased music from jazz stars including Jon Batiste, Kenny Garrett, Christian McBride, and many more. Check out Relief here.

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The past two years and their challenges have created a spirit of collaboration in every sector, but especially in the music industry. Within the early months of 2020, it became clear that musicians were going to be hit immediately and hit hard by any shutdowns. With this knowledge, JFA launched the Musician’s Emergency Fund in March of 2020.

“We saw as early as January and February, musicians coming home from Europe or having gigs canceled and we saw the impact that this was going to have on our community and how devastating it would be,” said Joseph Petrucelli, executive director of JFA. “COVID just presented a situation, the likes of which we’ve never encountered on a scale we’ve never encountered in terms of us, national emergency, or international emergency.”

So far, the Musician’s Emergency Fund has raised more than $2 million to date and assisted more than 2,000 musicians and their families across the country in each of the past two years. These funds go towards a myriad of basic necessities, including rent, mortgage payments, utilities, and groceries.

Creating the fund was just the next logical project for JFA, which has been a safety net for artists for 32 years. With resources already available to help musicians in times of crisis with housing assistance, health care, dignified work, disaster relief, and financial support, starting a COVID-19 assistance fund was a no-brainer.

Led by Mack Avenue Music Group president Denny Stillwell and JFA board member and entertainment lawyer Geoffrey Menin, a who’s who of top jazz labels came together to embody the collaborative spirit of the year. Concord Music Group, Mack Avenue Music Group, Nonesuch Records, Universal Music Group’s Verve Label Group and Blue Note Records, and Warner Music Group joined hands in an unprecedented way to bring about this remarkable album.

“It was really encouraging for the word unprecedented to apply to an act of cooperation and collaboration and generosity and compassion, and that’s really what this project represents. Out of this time of total devastation and deprivation, there’s this incredible sense of community and teamwork from the artists, from the labels, from everyone involved in the project to this day,” Petrucelli tells American Songwriter. “It’s the first-of-its-kind type of alliance at a moment where we needed all hands on deck and big thinking, and everyone at the Jazz Foundation just feels so fortunate and grateful that so much generosity and positive energy has been directed this way.”

Photo by Mark Fiiton.

Four of the nine tracks on Relief have already been released. The most recent being Kenny Garrett’s “Joe Hen’s Waltz on October 8. Cécile McLorin Salvant’s “Easy Come, Easy Go Blues,” Joshua Redman’s “Facts,” and Jon Batiste’s rendition of “Sweet Lorraine” were slowly being released since late July. 

With a strong combination of vocalists, pianists, and saxophonists, Petrucelli believes what makes this album so special is that it encompasses all of the breadth and diversity of music. 

“I think it really speaks to the themes of 2020 in so many ways. From IRMA and LEO’s piece which has this kind of chaotic energy that recalls some of the high-stress moments from the past year and a half to ‘Brother Malcom’ by Christian McBride and and ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ by Charles Lloyd, which evoke the spirit of protest against the racist horrors of 2020,” said Petrucelli. “And we have those lovely pieces from Cécile McLorin Salvant and Jon Batiste, which represent the at-home vibe of some of the live streams we would see musicians recording casually. They have this warmth and hopeful quality that was so vital to keeping listeners going during times of sadness.”

Photo by Diego Llarrull.

The final song on the album is perhaps the closest to the hearts of those at JFA. Recorded live at the Jazz Foundation’s Great Night in Harlem Gala in 2014, the track features two musicians who passed away in 2020: Jimmy Heath and Wallace Roney. According to Petrucelli, Wallace was the “junior member of that band of legends” at the time, but he still owned the stage and presented himself as a peer of jazz giants. 

“That’s the kind of essence of the Foundation and the essence of the sense of love and camaraderie among the musicians and it’s really special,” said Petrucelli. Also playing on the song are Buster Williams and Albert “Tootie” Heath.

All of the proceeds of Relief will go directly to the Musician’s Emergency Fund so the JFA can continue to assist artists in this time of need. 

“The premise of the foundation is that the musicians have gotten us through our dark times and our most challenging times and when they need a hand we want to be there for them,” concluded Petrucelli. “This is a very special instance of the artists and the labels and the community coming together to support their own and we’re really honored by it.”

You can check out Relief here.

Main photo by Anna Webber.

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