Institutional support in jazz is now essential to the music’s health, but it can sometimes seem like a satire of charity: a few thousand dollars of grant money to a postgraduate trust-funder, so that he or she might finally finish that chamber-jazz song cycle about whale watching and not get razzed by the family during Christmastime in Connecticut. The Jazz Foundation of America, which held its annual fundraising gala concert at the Apollo Theater on April 20, deals more in authentic beneficence: healthcare for jazz and roots musicians in dire need of it; home repair for working artists whose communities, such as those in Puerto Rico and Texas and Louisiana, have been devastated by extreme weather. We’re not talking about “Music is a healing force, so check out my Kickstarter” stuff; this is inarguable good.
The Apollo show/schmooze is an integral date for the JFA’s books, and the event does a consistently fine job of balancing the music culture that the organization serves with the fireworks that keep philanthropists and their dates coming back. Although this year’s lineup came off as lower-key—recent editions have featured Keith Richards and John Mayer—it still delivered. Davell Crawford’s gospel choir provided a spiritual overture, before pianist Matthew Whitaker dispelled the notion that prodigies lack soul.