Great Night for Jazz Musicians Emergency Fund

Great Night for Jazz Musicians Emergency Fund

by Kathleen Mathieu (
with additional reporting by Howard Mandel

Cassandra sings the blues

Even Elvis Costello was there.

The legendary Apollo Theater in New York City was the venue for a star-studded event on September 24, 2001 when jazz artists aptly described as "jazz royalty" -- including Ahmad Jamal, Casssandra Wilson, Frank Wess, Slide Hampton, Kenny Barron, Howard Johnson, Chris Anderson, Ron Carter, Regina Carter, Jon Faddis, Randy Brecker, Russell Malone, Jimmy Owens, George Coleman, and Roy Haynes -- entertained a hugely enthusiastic crowd for more than three hours in benefit for the Jazz Foundation of America's Musicians Emergency Fund. Individuals of all ages and from all walks of life applauded both the performers and the performances. The concert, billed as A Great Night in Harlem, lived up to expectations as jazz greats took the stage to cheers, tears, and resounding applause, and raised approximately $250,000 -- "About one normal year's operating expenses," according to JFA executive director Wendy Oxenhorn. Co-hosts Bill Cosby and Gil Noble, both jazz lovers, ushered the performers on and off the stage with charm, an occasional personal or sentimental remark, and humor.


Bill Cosby gives Frank A. Forte, MD (left) and Andrew F. Durkin (right) a congratulatory hug the night of A Great Night in Harlem. The physician and Englewood Hospital and Medical Center were honored for providing free medical care to jazz musicians in need. Mr. Durkin is chairman of the board of the Medical Center.

Among the most sparkling of all the stars, though, was Francis A. Forte, MD of Englewood Hospital and Medical Center. Dr. Forte was presented with the Medicine for Music Award. Since 1993, he has headed a project that provides free medical care to jazz musicians in need. Responding to a request by the late trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, Dr. Forte personally coordinates a network of physicians who treat eligible musicians while the Medical Center provides the sometimes life-saving inpatient and outpatient services. These volunteer physicians and the Medical Center have rendered approximately two million dollars of free care for ailing jazz musicians since the inception of the program.

Dr. Forte was accompanied by Medical Center board chairman Andrew F. Durkin, who accepted a second award for the Medical Center for making the program possible. Individuals who qualify receive no bill from the Medical Center for medical care that has cost up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Dizzy Gillespie, who lived in the city of Englewood, referred to Englewood Hospital as "my hospital." In his memory, both the Dizzy Gillespie Memorial Fund and the Dizzy Gillespie Cancer Institute have been established. The Dizzy Gillespie Memorial Fund helps defray the cost of the services the jazz musicians receive at the Medical Center. The Dizzy Gillespie Cancer Institute is a regional center for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

The event comprised a wide range of performances from the Japanese sensation Chika, to the mood-setting opening number by Frank Foster's Swing Plus Band, to trumpeter haunting rendition of "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen," in reference to the terrorist attacks of September 11. For many, the concert was the first night out since the shocking and tragic events of earlier that month.

Rock star Costello left his front row seat in the audience to make a touching presentation to Cobi Narita for "over 30 years of service to the musicians and the music." Herbert F. Storfer, founding president and chairman emeritus of the Jazz Foundation of America, the organization that sponsors the Jazz Musician's Emergency Fund, received the Billy Taylor Humanitarian Award.


Frank A. Forte, MD with JJA Prez Howard Mandel

Dr. Forte, a hematologist/oncologist at the Medical Center and an accomplished musician, is a graduate of Manhattan College and Albert Einstein School of Medicine. He has received further training at several other prestigious institutions, including Mt. Sinai Hospital and Rockefeller University in New York City. Dr. Forte maintains offices in Englewood, New Jersey with fellow physicians Michael Schleider, Lewis Attas, and Jill Morrison. He lives in Tenafly, New Jersey with his wife of 38 years, Marie Forte. They have three sons and five grandchildren.

Following the Great Night at the Apollo, celebrants attended a reception at the nearby Magic Johnson movie theater complex.

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