Pat Martino, eminent jazz guitarist, was at the height of a successful career in 1980 when he suffered a near-fatal aneurysm. In its wake came amnesia that left him unable to play the guitar. With the support of his family, he struggled with the aftermath. That struggle is one of many reasons Martino has such a strong connection with the local nonprofit Jazz Bridge.
Martino headlines Jazz Bridge's 10th anniversary fund-raiser Friday night at Rosemont's New Leaf Club.
For the last decade, Jazz Bridge, cofounded by singers Suzanne Cloud and Wendy Simon Sinkler, has offered health, legal, financial, and professional assistance to blues and jazz musicians in times of personal crisis.
Referring to his own crisis, Martino says, "At the time, it was very difficult to even think about music. There was such a physical health crisis that I really gave no thought whatsoever to my career or anything else. The issue was to survive. I think that's what Suzanne Cloud has captured, as someone who cares for those who are not in a position to be able to even hope for any kind of support."
Martino has been a supporter of Jazz Bridge from the beginning. It was founded when Cloud's mentor, pianist Eddie Green, was diagnosed with cancer. Cloud and Simon Sinkler originally intended merely to arrange a fund-raiser for Green, and Martino, who had collaborated with the pianist for decades, immediately offered his support.
"I'm involved because of what it's all about," says Martino, who will lead his organ trio with Pat Bianchi and drummer Carmen Intorre on Friday. "It's dealing with support for the culture of jazz, and I think that's an ongoing issue. It's been that way throughout my career of over 50 years."
Much of the work of Jazz Bridge remains anonymous, to protect the confidentiality of the musicians it helps. But Cloud points to several success stories from the last decade. Most recently, it assisted blues guitarist Monnette Sudler while she awaited a lung transplant to battle idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
As a jazz singer, Cloud knew firsthand the financial struggles musicians face and the difficulty of asking for assistance. "When I was singing full time, there were times when things got to be desperate for my own family," she recalls. "So I know what it takes for people to pick up the phone and say, 'I need help.' It makes me feel good that now there's a support system out there that people can pick up the phone and call."
Jazz Bridge raises a portion of its funds from its Neighborhood Concerts, featuring local artists playing original music in Philadelphia, Cheltenham, and Media, as well as in Collingswood and Willingboro Township, in the spring and fall. The current season wraps up in May, with performances by the gypsy-jazz ensemble Hot Club of Philly; New Orleans transplants Rev. Chris & his High Rollers; saxophonist Michael Pedicin; and pianist Jason Long. Also in May, a summer series kicks off in Hawthorne Park, with performances on the third Thursday of the month through August.
The Neighborhood Concerts series not only supports Jazz Bridge's charitable mission but is an integral part of it, Cloud says. "They work in tandem. We have a more holistic way of looking at musicians. It's not just the fact that they need dental work, but they also need a space to weave their magic. That's why we're a hybrid organization."
The idea seems to have taken hold. Last month, City Council President Darrell L. Clarke presented Jazz Bridge with the 10th Annual Councilman David Cohen Award in a ceremony at City Hall. The award is intended to honor arts and culture organizations that demonstrate an outstanding commitment to social and economic justice.
"The fact that the arts community gave us this award was an acknowledgment that they understand that social justice is part of the artistic creative community - and it has to be," Cloud says. "Supporting the arts cannot exclude supporting the artist.
"I can't believe that we actually made it 10 years. We're still small, but we've done a lot of good things. It's a dream that I can't believe has come true, and I hope it continues."
Pat Martino - Jazz Bridge Benefit
8 p.m. Friday, New Leaf Club, 1225 Montrose Ave., Rosemont.