A Great Night in Harlem
A Great Night in Harlem Benefit Concert is an annual series of concerts organized by the Jazz Foundation of America (JFA), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, since 2001 to raise money for the Jazz Foundation's Musician Emergency Fund.
In August 2000, upon being hired as Executive Director of the Jazz Foundation, Wendy Oxenhorn discovered the organization had only US$7,000 left in the fund. She suggested organizing a fundraising concert at the Apollo Theater. When she was told they could not afford to rent the Apollo, Oxenhorn asked board member Jarrett Lilien for advice. Lilien told Oxenhorn he would pay to rent the Apollo.
Oxenhorn conceived of the idea for the concerts during her first year as Executive Director of the JFA in 2000, after watching a 1994 documentary called A Great Day in Harlem about jazz musicians. The first concert, which took place in September 2001, raised $350,000 for the foundation's Jazz Musicians Emergency Fund, and over 65 jazz artists performed. Every year since, the event has grown.
By this time, the Foundation's emergency caseload had tripled and they were now helping 150 musicians. Lauren Roberts joined the organization and together they ran it, handling an average of 10 cases a day. Because of the success of the A Great Night in Harlem, they initiated the Jazz in the Schools Program, which generated employment for more than 400 elderly musicians in New York City.
The annual A Great Night In Harlem concerts were the organization's was the only major funding source. Each year it, and the Foundation's caseload, grew Lilien and his partners at E-Trade Financial Corp. started the first Musicians Emergency Housing Fund, which enabled the Jazz Foundation to pay rents and keep mortgages from foreclosure. The Jazz Foundation of America was now able to support hundreds of elderly musicians who had fallen behind due to illness or age, preventing evictions and homelessness.
Jarrett Lilien became the first president of the JFA. Within months, he was also made president of E-Trade Financial Corp. The Jazz Foundation had become a national organization. By 2009, they were handling approximately 500 emergency cases a year.
On Monday, September 24, 2001, the JFA presented the first A Great Night in Harlem at the Apollo Theater on 125th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard, at 7 p.m. The performance was MC'd by Bill Cosby, and Gil Noble, host of WABC-TV's Sunday television show Like It Is.
On September 26, 2002, the JFA hosted the second annual fund-raising concert, again at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Performers included Pete Cosey, Jim Hall , Danny Moore, Joe Piscopo, and George Benson, and was hosted by several celebrities.
Bill Cosby presented awards to Dr. Jack McConnell, and Congressman John Conyers, Skitch Henderson presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to Clark Terry and Abbey Lincoln, and Dr. Billy Taylor presented the Humanitarian Award to Jimmy Owens. Bill Cosby and Joe Piscopo were the Masters of Ceremonies.
The 2002 concert honored Clark Terry and Congressman John Conyers.
On September 26, 2003, at the Apollo Theater, the third Annual Great Night In Harlem concert was held. The 2003 benefit was hosted by Bill Cosby, Chevy Chase, Whoopi Goldberg and Branford Marsalis. The concert featured performances by Irene Reid with Don Milletello, Randy Johnston, Billy Phipps and Tootsie Bean. George Wein and Bill Cosby presented the "Saint of Jazz Award" to Harry Elias of JVC America. A surprise award was presented to Bill Cosby by Leo Corbie, Chairman of the Jazz Foundation of America, and Quincy Jones. A Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Jimmy Heath. Stanley Jordan and Cassandra Wilson wrapped up the evening.
The fourth A Great Night in Harlem concert was hosted by the JFA on October 28, 2004. The 2004 benefit concert featured appearances by MCs Bill Cosby, Quincy Jones, Gil Noble, and Mario Van Peebles with his son Melvin Van Peebles, who surprised the event planners by opening the second half of the show playing two jazz tunes on piano, including a number by Thelonious Monk.
Among the featured performers were Danny Mixon, Jimmy McGriff, Larry Lucie, Johnny Blowers, and Max Lucas. Bill Cosby and Clark Terry presented a "surprise" award to Quincy Jones. Jones introduced the tribute to Ray Charles, arranged by Al Jackson; Kenny Barron and Regina Carter played "Georgia on My Mind".
The fifth A Great Night in Harlem concert was hosted by the Jazz Foundation of America on May 4, 2006. The 2006 benefit concert was hosted by Bill Cosby, Danny Glover, and Dr. Billy Taylor and featured performance by The Newbirth Brass Band, Odetta, Harold Mabern, Seth Farber, and James Blood Ulmer. A surprise appearance by Henry Butler, Elvis Costello and Sweet Georgia Brown closed the evening.
The sixth A Great Night in Harlem fundraiser concert was held on May 17, 2007, at the Apollo Theater, hosted by Bill Cosby, Danny Glover and Gil Noble.
The 2007 concert's theme was "A History of the Music". Performers included Dr. John, Duke Ellington Orchestra, Davell Crawford, Jimmy Norman, and Patti Bown.
The seventh concert was hosted on May 29, 2008. The Masters of Ceremonies were Bill Cosby, Danny Glover and Chevy Chase. Featured performers were Randy Weston, and the Randy Weston Trio, The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Dr. Michael White and The Original Liberty Jazz Band, Frank Foster and his Loud Minority Big Band, Hank Jones, and Norah Jones. Awards were presented to Englewood Hospital & Medical Center, Claude Nobs, and Montreux Jazz Festival.
The eighth concert was hosted by the JFA on May 14, 2009. The event was hosted by The Sopranos' Michael Imperioli, Wendy Oxenhorn, and Dick Parsons. This year’s concert was billed as a "tribute to the blues". Performers included John Dee Holeman, Gene Bertoncini, Eric Lewis, Deacon John Moore, and Lou Reed.
The ninth concert was hosted by the Jazz Foundation of America on May 20, 2010. Great Night 2010 was hosted by Kevin Kline, Michael Imperioli, David Johansen, and Wendy Oxenhorn. The concert was billed as “A History of the Music” and was dedicated to "The Spirit of Greatness". Performers included R. L. Boyce and Baba Ola Jagun. Dick Parsons and Chevy Chase presented the Medicine for Music Award to Jay Nadel and Dr. Frank Forte of Englewood Hospital & Medical Center.
2011 and 2012
The tenth event was held in 2011. The eleventh annual Great Night in Harlem included an honorary segment dedicated to Dr. Agnes Varis, who died in July 2011.
A Great Night in Harlem was released as a 2-CD set that features solo and combo recordings of various jazz musicians during a benefit concert for the Jazz Musicians Emergency Relief Fund. Proceeds from the sale of this CD go to the fund. The album was recorded live at the Apollo Theater, New York, on September 24, 2001. It includes liner notes by Nat Hentoff. "Sunset & The Mockingbird" (Tommy Flanagan) was nominated for the 2003 Grammy Awards for Best Jazz Instrumental Solo.
The organization's blog said, "To say this once-in-a-lifetime musical gathering made for 'A Great Night In Harlem' is an understatement! Many of jazz's greatest living musicians came together for the benefit of the Jazz Musicians Emergency Relief Fund. That magical night in Harlem has been preserved in a special 21-CD set for all to enjoy. Artists include Randy Brecker, Ron Carter, Kenny Barron, Regina Carter, Jimmy Owens, Cassandra Wilson, Lou Donaldson and many more. 2002."
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