Accident highlights wheelchair accessibility issues, need for support for artists in crisis
He calls it a “lower extremities fund” — a little help to keep him on his feet while he’s literally forced to stay off them.
Jazz musician Brad Jefford recently suffered two broken heel bones, which means making a living as a musician and music teacher has been a bit of a challenge.
— Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram
And if you’re not in a position to contribute financially, he’ll gratefully accept a kind word, a funny joke or a recommendation for something good to watch on Netflix.
Brad Jefford, 29, is a St. John’s-based musician and private music teacher. Known best for his jazz and improvised music, Jefford and the other members of the Brad Jefford Trio+ (Josh Ward, Andrew McCarthy and Greg Bruce) are no strangers to the Wreckhouse International Jazz and Blues Festival or the Halifax International Jazz and Blues Festival, and are the force behind St. John’s Jazz Sessions, a biweekly performance and community jam session.
The group’s debut album, “Ageless,” was nominated for the 2011 MusicNL Jazz and Blues Recording of the Year award.
A month ago, Jefford injured his feet.
His heel bones are both broken, making it impossible for him to walk, and as a result, he’s in a wheelchair and wearing two casts. Although he managed to avoid needing surgery, he’s not sure how long he’ll be unable to put weight on his feet.
He’ll find out more at the end of the month when he sees his doctor again.
Regardless, Jefford is able and willing to work: as a jazz musician, he often sits down to perform, so his broken bones aren’t an issue.
Getting out of his house and into downtown venues, however, is a different story. To get down the dozen steps in front of his home, he straps on a pair of kneepads and crawls. To get into venues, most of which are not wheelchair accessible, he needs a bit of help.
“I did a show not too long ago and I had to get two of the guys to pick me up and take me in. I got through the show, but then I had to leave a little earlier than I had hoped.”
The bathroom, he explained, was upstairs.
“I just don’t feel comfortable going around in kneepads on bar floors,” he said, chuckling.
Jefford, who lives alone, has been making the most of his time. He has continued giving private music lessons, and has been working on some solo music — something new for him, which requires a lot of work.
He’s hoping to self-record a demo by the end of the summer.
“The very first solo show I played was about a week before I hurt my feet,” he said. “I only played two songs, and it was for a fundraiser. It was nerve-wracking, mostly because I use electronics and loopers to fill out the sound and get more layers. It’s a whole new learning curve for me.”
Along with a new respect for people who use wheelchairs, Jefford said he has discovered a lot when it comes to financial issues artists face and the supports available to him.
Because he’s a self-employed musician, working on contracts, he can’t get employment insurance or avail of certain financial supports some other working people can access.
A call to the Unison Benevolent Fund, which provides counselling, emergency relief and benefits to musicians across Canada, wasn’t successful.
“When I contacted them, they couldn’t provide any financial support at this time. They said I qualified for it and they were going to keep my information on file, but they just had no funding. I was a little surprised about that,” Jefford said.
Jefford was able to get a small amount of help from ACTRA’s Cultural Artists Plan for Emergencies fund, as well as the Musicians’ Emergency Fund, a project of the local chapter of the Canadian Federation of Musicians (CFM), for which Jefford has donated his time in the past to help fundraise.
Funds for crises
“We do need a stronger support system in Canada to help artists in their time of need,” said Rozalind MacPhail, executive director of Local 820 of the CFM. “We started the fund for this reason. All of a sudden a musician goes through a crisis and they have nowhere to go, especially because it’s really hard to tap into social services, if they own their own house. There’s a kind of missing link for a lot of artists because of that. They’re not in poverty, per say, so where do they go?”
The Musicians’ Emergency Fund, MacPhail said, is for anyone in the music industry in this province, not just performers, and they don’t have to be a member of the association to avail of it.
It’s not a huge amount of money, she explained, but it’s given in a lump sum to help with the costs of living.
“I think that musicians are sometimes afraid to ask for help or they find themselves ashamed of the situation they’ve found themselves in, so they keep it quiet,” she said. “I find the hardest part is helping musicians understand that there is help out there for them and when they speak out and ask for help, the community can be there and stand behind them.”
Jefford is considering going back to school in the future, perhaps doing an education degree.
“If anything ever happened, at least I’d have it,” he said. “I’ve been thinking a little bit more about my future, but differently.”
Jefford is offering perks to anyone who contributes to his “Lower Extremities Fund,” ranging from a download card for the Brad Jefford Trio+ CD to a solo guitar concert in the home.
Visit www.kapipal.com/bradjefford for more information and to donate. In the meantime, you can catch Jefford in concert June 26 at the LSPU Hall, and as part of the RIAC Summer Cultural Festival at The Ship Aug. 23.