Musicians lend a helping hand

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 25

“There’s not a real good medical plan for a jazz musician.”

So says Joan Russell, co-owner of Murphy’s Place, the downtown jazz club. But jazz has a long tradition of health care that doesn’t include HMOs or Medicare: the benefit jam for someone who is ailing. (Think Live Aid, only for one guy.)

One of the finest examples of the form will be on display Sunday, when an all-star group of musicians gathers at Murphy’s for a seven-hour jam session to benefit legendary Toledo pianist Claude Black.

Black, a youthful 65, had prostate surgery on June 16 and, while he’s recovering nicely, he still has a lot of bills to pay. Donations will be taken at the door.

More than 40 musicians are expected from Toledo, Detroit, and New York. They will all be coming to pay tribute to Black, a world-renowned, world-class piano player who has banged the ivories alongside such greats as Dizzy Gillespie, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Hartman, and Kenny Burrell.

“I still remember my first job, in 1949, with Billie Holiday,” said Black, who was working in Detroit as a teenager at the time. “She had left her piano player in New York, so I sat in.

“I wasn’t so good at the time,” he admits. “I was just lucky. I was shook up, oh my God!”

Black’s steady gig for the last few years has been at Murphy’s, the site of Sunday’s benefit, playing in the house band with bassist Clifford Murphy and drummer Sean Dobbins. He’s been busy recuperating, but he expects he’ll be able to sit in for a song or two Sunday.

Toledo’s Jimmy Cook and Jim Gottron will handle the show’s musical arrangements – not an easy task, considering the number of musicians and the length of the show.

Under doctor’s orders, Black will continue to rest and relax for another couple of months. But after that, he’ll start popping in at Murphy’s again to play. He’s also hoping to spend some time speaking to and playing for children in Toledo schools.

Black is the most consistent player she’s ever worked with, Russell said. “Other players, if they play six nights a week, they might have off nights. Not Claude.”

More than 40 jazz musicians will play from 3 to 10 p.m. Sunday at Murphy’s Place, 151 Water St. Donations will be taken at the door. Information: Call 241-7732.