Jazz Bridge Founder Awarded 2013 Freedom Medal
Suzanne Cloud of Collingswood was one of 21 residents to be recognized by the Camden County Freeholders for her work in support of jazz musicians.
For the past 10 years, Suzanne Cloud has organized the First Thursday jazz concerts in Collingswood.
The Freedom Medal is awarded annually to "citizens of Camden County for contributing to the betterment of their community through their unselfish dedication of time and talent...in the continuation of Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream to create a more just and loving community," according to the county website.
Jazz Bridge collects donations to help pay for emergency healthcare, housing and legal issues for jazz musicians as well as to offset the costs of their passing.
It also works to help coordinate access to "low-cost health and legal assistance, pro bono/sliding-scale professional services, and organizations that provide answers to problems that uniquely pertain to musicians," according to the Jazz Bridge website.
When asked how she saw her work in the context of the Freedom Medal, Cloud said, "A lot of organizations that work with jazz music are on a racial divide. We deal across racial and ethnic boundaries, which makes Jazz Bridge in a way kind of special.
"The plight of the jazz musician, whether they’re white black or Latino, is very insecure stuff," she said. "Basically a vow of poverty."
Cloud cited an NEA study that offers a snapshot of modern jazz performers as college-degreed, professionally trained musicians who might struggle to make a living even in areas that have traditionally supported them.
"It’s a life choice that’s very brave," she said. "It’s not a 9-to-5 job where you have health insurance. It’s just a cash economy. You have no support system. You have no pensions, no 401Ks, and you’re basically living month-to-month to pursue your art."
Herself a working jazz vocalist and pianist of 20 years, Cloud can remember performing in her college days "making no less than $100 a night, singing five to six nights a week." Today, she said, "it’s down to like $35 a night [and] there’s very few places to play."
The only thing left that can save jazz, Cloud said, is if more people start valuing live performances. Cuing up a track on your iPod or putting a CD in your car dashboard isn't the same things as "watching master musicians communicate their art right in front of you," she said.
And Cloud doesn't blame downloading for the death of the jazz career; sharing and borrowing music allows it to transcend national and ethnic boundaries, she said. The problem is a dearth of jazz clubs and fewer entertainment dollars to go around at the ones that are left.
"The best thing that people can do is go to the concerts," Cloud said. "There’s all kinds of master musicians here right under everybody’s nose."
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