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Thursday, October 21, 2010
Thank you Dizzy!
Dizzy's last oncologist was Dr. Forte of Englewood Hospital. He knew his time was drawing to a close so he asked Dr. Forte to create the Dizzy Gillespie Foundation at the hospital-a foundation that would help jazz musicians who had no health insurance receive free medical care.
Back in Jan '09-when I was really sick and paying for tests-that thankfully my wonderful GP in Montclair-Dr. Grobstien was cutting deals for me left and right-we got to the point of knowing that I needed a biopsy. I contacted the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music (where I teach) and asked them if there was any health insurance available for me. There was-but it wouldn't kick in fast enough-meaning-immediately-it would take about a month. But they went to work on it for me immediately.
Meanwhile-because of the New School's collective bargaining agreement with the Local AFM 802-I decided to pay a visit to Todd Weeks-the liason between 802 and the school-to see if there was any help there. The clock was ticking-my weight was dropping fast-and I needed a biopsy pronto.
Todd was amazing-he listened-we looked at various options-nothing was going to work for me-but then he said-hey-come and talk to our V.P. Bill Dennison.
Thankfully Bill was in that day-and after I told him my story thus far-he immediately called the Jazz Foundation and told them they needed to help me.
As a side note-I had run a fundraiser for the Jazz Foundation several years before-for Lynn Kalbacher's retirement party from Hot House magazine-and also did another one for them with the big band.
The Jazz Foundation is in the same building as 802-so I went up to their floor-told my story again to Alicia-who was really wonderful. The funny part of this was-she wanted to know who I played music with etc.-which kind of caught me off guard. I spotted some issues of Hot House on her table-so I picked them up and pointed at the ad for Trumpets-talking about the big band and our anniversary-and then to the Jazz Women column (thank you Elzy!) and my name was listed there too. Alicia responded with-okay-you're cool then. Phew-didn't know I would have to pass that test.
She called me a week later-as I was watching Barack Obama being sworn in as president-and told me to call Dr. Forte at Englewood Hospital.
I immediately called and made an appointment-which I think was with in a few days (my memory starts to get a little foggy here).
I went to see Dr. Forte-this time I was prepared-I brought cd's ;-) Turns out that was a good call because he also asked me about my career-and then told me about the Dizzy Gillespie Foundation.
I would be able to get the biopsy through the Dizzy Gillespie Foundation and the Jazz Foundation-which we scheduled for the Friday following the big band's 12th anniversary-that was the last week of January 2009.
When I arrived at the registration department at Englewood-they looked at my paperwork and then looked at me and said-oh how wonderful-you're a jazz musician-we love jazz musicians here!
That was the first time I ever heard that from a hospital!
A few weeks later the results were in-I was in stage 4 GIST cancer-and Dr. Forte called Dr Ibrahim to ask him to do the surgery-which he and his partner Dr Strain did a week and a half later.
By then the health insurance from the New School had kicked in and I was able to go to the hospital knowing that I was covered for everything.
The Dizzy Gillespie Foundation is comprised of 50 + doctors-who Dr. Forte has gathered-who have pledged to help jazz musicians who don't have health insurance. Dr. Forte has also created a space in the lobby of Englewood Hospital with a grand piano-and hires musicians to play there everyday.
There's an artist's rendering of Dizzy hanging on the wall in that music corner-along with a photo of the wonderful bassist Earl May who played there for many years before he passed away in Jan of 2008.
Another side note here..I had the great fortune of playing with Earl in 2006 in a trio backing Howard Johnson and the unveiling of the new tuba the 4/4 BBb-Tuba series 2011 Heritage Howard Johnson Gravity model. And a few weeks after Earl died-I received a call from a prospective piano student's mother-who then came to my house with her son. Earl's name came up in conversation-they had met him in the past year-but they didn't know he had recently passed away. The young man looked at me and said-"but Earl was going to teach me jazz on the bass". My heart just broke into pieces and I told him I would do my best to teach him jazz on the piano. He became my student and we worked on a lot of Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk music.
It's truly amazing how everything comes around and around and I am so fortunate to have had so many people helping me and my son during that time of crisis.
So once again-I thank all of you-because without all of you-I know I wouldn't be where I am now. And I especially thank Dizzy for looking towards the future for all jazz musicians-and for making it possible for me to continue to live my life and keep the music going!