Fundraising concerts for jazz musicians in need are a tradition as old as the music itself, but after pianist Eddie Green died of pancreatic cancer in 2004, jazz singers Suzanne Cloud and Wendy Simon felt the need to deal with the problem with more than improvisation.
Green had been Cloud’s mentor, so the two women started Jazz Bridge, an organization that since has supported jazz and blues musicians with everything from new roofs to new instruments to new teeth.
A key part of the effort is the Neighborhood Concerts series, offered monthly in the fall, winter, and spring in three locations: Roxborough, Cheltenham, and Collingswood, New Jersey.
Next up in the series is the February 20 Roxborough concert by legendary Philadelphia bassist Mike Boone, in memory of another local legend, pianist Sid Simmons, who died in 2010.
"We’ve even buried a few,” says singer Rhenda Fearrington, the group‘s president.
Jazz Bridge is organized as a 501c3 nonprofit, with proceeds going to support musicians after the players are paid.
In 2014 it received Philadelphia’s 10th annual Councilman David Cohen Award, presented to arts and culture organizations that demonstrate an outstanding commitment to social and economic justice.
Fearrington, who cohosts the Roxborough series on third Wednesdays with WRTI’s Jeff Duperon, says Boone was chosen partly because he and Simmons both played in the old Ortlieb’s house band, along with drummer Byron “Wookie” Landham.
Both are known for their generosity in cultivating new talent, Fearrington said, and the concerts feature veteran players and newbies.
“The young cats are playing with the older cats,” she says, adding that she frequently goes to performances at Temple University or the University of the Arts, scouting new talent.
Boone, of course, is one of the older cats: a New York native like Simmons who came to Philly to stay after he left the Buddy Rich band in 1985.
In an interview with Cloud for the Jazz Times, Boone said he’s involved with younger players “because it needs to be done. You can teach and play. You can play and you can mentor. It’s a mindset.”
And true to his words, his February 20 group will include not only John Swana on trumpet and electric valve instrument and pianist James Santangelo, but also Mekhi Boone, Mike Boone’s 12-year-old virtuoso son, on drums.
The rest of the series will comprise vocalist Barbara Montgomery on March 20; vibraphonist Tony Miceli on April 17 and vocalist Raimundo Santos on May 15.
The Tribute to Sid Simmons concert featuring Mike Boone will be held from 7:30 to 9pm on February 20 at Fellowship Hall in Ridge Avenue United Methodist Church (7811 Ridge Avenue in Roxborough). Admission is $10, $5 for students, children under 12 free. Fellowship Hall is wheelchair accessible. For information about this and other concerts in the series, call 215-517-8337 or go to www.jazzbridge.org.