“…I followed the course of the music that I loved.”
Not everyone that loves jazz has the gift to perform jazz. Some help comes from behind the scenes, in different ways. This week, we’re learning about a few of the women who have advocated for this art form, earning them the award of NEA Jazz Master.
A lover of jazz music from an early age, Lorraine Gordon (1922 – 2018) left her mark on the jazz world through her interactions with many famous (and soon-to-be famous) jazz musicians in the recording world and at the Village Vanguard. In the 1940’s, she and her first husband, Alfred Lion, co-founder Blue-Note Records, worked together, recording many jazz musicians. At one point, she went to the Village Vanguard to make a case for Thelonious Monk to play there (before her involvement with Max Gordon, or the Village Vanguard itself) and succeeded in securing him a gig. She later married Max Gordon, who owned the Village Vanguard, and helped him with the club, which was THE place to go for jazz music from 1957 on. After Max’s death in 1989, she took over ownership and operations of the club until retiring in 2012. In 2013, she was named a NEA Jazz Master for her Jazz Advocacy.
Dorthaan Kirk is known as “Newark’s First Lady of Jazz,” having been a part of WGBO in Newark for over forty years. It is the only full-time jazz station in New York and New Jersey, and she was one of the original employees that launched it. In addition to her work at the station, she curates and produces various jazz activities in Newark and its surrounding areas, she works on jazz education for children, and she was involved in the early days of Jazz at Lincoln Center. She’s very conscious to that which artists may need or want, becoming a maternal figure in the jazz world. In 2020, Kirk was named a NEA Jazz Master for her involvement and contributions.
Here’s a tribute to her by her late husband, multi-
The Jazz Foundation of America was founded in 1989 by Dr. Billy Taylor and others, created to protect the legacy of jazz. Shortly after its establishment, it started doing outreach to help musicians with various financial challenges, such as medical bills, rent, and more, and the “Jazz Musicians’ Emergency Fund” was started. In 2000, Wendy Oxenhorn was hired and became the only employee. One of her first projects was to establish the “Dizzy Gillespie” Memorial Fund at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, which provides free medical care to veteran blues, jazz, and roots musicians. Since then, the JFA has continued growing and providing assistance to a wider swath of musicians in NYC and beyond. After catastrophes like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, they were able to help musicians with housing, rent, employment, instrument donations, and more. Since 2019, she has been the Vice Chair of the JFA, and the organization continues to find new ways to help jazz musicians across America.
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