Nonprofit Offers Struggling Jazz Musicians Helping Hand

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia is known for its historic jazz and blues scene and hundreds of musicians call the city home. But life working in limelight isn’t always glamorous. There is an organization, however, that provides a helping hand when musicians need it most.

Music fills Barbara Walker with glee.

“Singing has made me come alive,” says Walker, who once worked as a bank teller. But she quit her job to focus on her music in the 1980s and hasn’t worked a regular “9 to 5” job since. Instead, she’s made a career on stage.

“It’s a blessing, it’s really a blessing to have this gift and to be able to use it,” she says.

A vocalist, song writer and teacher, most of Walker’s life is glitz and glamour. But like many musicians, when the lights dim, reality sets in.

“It’s like life,” she says, “it has it’s up and downs and it’s bumps and sometimes, musicians don’t get paid.”

When there are no gigs, times get tough. Recently, Walker had no dental insurance, but loose teeth and gum problems took her confidence. She needed her trademark smile to perform, so she asked for help.

“It’s like taking a vow of poverty when you become a jazz musician,” says Suzanne Cloud, a jazz vocalist, “and that’s why we started Jazz Bridge.”

Suzanne Cloud helped start Jazz Bridge after her mentor, pianist Eddie Green, died in 2004 of pancreatic cancer. He had few medical resources and she saw the need to create an organization that did more than just hold “jam sessions” to raise money for crises. Jazz Bridge provides funding for professional jazz and blues musicians whenever there is an emergency.

“The crisis can be anything from they need someone needed help with the utilities to they need a liver transplant,” says Cloud.

Jazz Bridge funds its efforts through neighborhood concerts, donations, grants and other fundraisers. They also pay musicians a fair wage, so that when they do play, they get paid.

“Most musicians do what they can to make it. They teach, they have part-time jobs,’ says Cloud, “Jazz Bridge is there to provide a safety net for the times when they can’t.”

Walker has had different emergencies– electric bills, mortgage shortages and dental problems. Jazz Bridge provided that support. So she’ll provide her support by performing during their neighborhood concert series.

Click here for more on Jazz Bridge and a full list of concerts:

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