Norah Jones Sings Blues to Make Musicians Smile

"The Jazz Foundation is the angel force when musicians need help," Ross said while hanging out in the downstairs "green room." "My cousin Lance Carter, who passed in 2006, got very, very ill and was supported by the Jazz Foundation, which helped out with he and his wife's mortgage bills."

The evening's highlights included tenor saxophone great Houston Person opening the show with a gorgeous solo rendition of "Sentimental Mood," piano legend Dave Brubeck playing his seminal tune "Take Five" and the endsong blues jam, "Any Way You Want Me" lead by vocalist Marva Wright.

Conspicuously absent was spunky Chicago blues singer/songwriter Johnnie Mae Dunson, who passed last fall at the age of 85. The writer of songs covered by Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed and Elvis Presley, Dunson was spared eviction for four years thanks to the JFA's help. In return, she performed at A Great Night in Harlem two years running, bringing down the house with her gutbucket blues performed in a wheelchair.

She was called by Chicago Tribune writer Howard Reich "one of the last true voices of the blues" and identified herself as the "mother and the grandmother of the blues."

"Johnnie Mae was a priceless treasure," Oxenhorn said. "In many ways she was our poster child. We brought her out of retirement to sing again. There was no one to replace her."

Others who have received support from the JFA include Freddie Hubbard, who suffered congestive heart failure in 2001. Without medical insurance, like most jazz and blues musicians, he quickly exhausted all his savings and was on the brink of selling his home in Southern California. The JFA paid his mortgage for several months.

Jazz saxophonist Cecil Payne, who died late last year at the age of 84, was supported by the JFA.

"I was going blind and couldn't see to shop or cook," he said. "I was living on two cans of Slim-Fast for over a year and a half. ... The Jazz Foundation saved my life."

Stories like these underline Glover's commitment to the Jazz Foundation.

"Human beings live through music," he said. "[In all cultures] the drum is always present. Jazz, like all music, is a common language of expression. It's the essence of life, with the improvisation, the uncertainty, the expansiveness of beauty. The poetry of jazz is an expression of love."

In reflecting on the concert's effect, Glover added, "This is one night that helps your spirit, your energy."

For more information on the Jazz Foundation of America, visit jazzfoundation.org.

Up close, in-depth, behind the scenes, Dan Ouellette has been covering the artistry of popular music for two and a half decades, ranging from the icons to the upstarts. He's written for Billboard, Stereophile and San Francisco Chronicle and is currently working on a biography of legendary jazz bassist Ron Carter.

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