The Life that Swings



Text, photos and video by  BOGDAN MOHORA
April 2013

Nearly every day for the last thirty years, Maurice McIntyre has ridden the 6 train from his studio apartment on St. Ann’s Ave. in the South Bronx to play his saxophone on the Grand Central and Union Square train platforms. On good days, his saxophone case fills with $40 to $60 in small bills and loose change.

At 77-years-old, Maurice is 12 years older than the U.S. retirement age. Like most professional jazz musicians his age, he hasn’t even entertained the thought of not working

“I’ll work till I die,” said Maurice, who suffered a heart attack and open-heart surgery recently.

At the height of his career in the 1960s and 70s, Maurice led his own band, and was recording and touring internationally, a well-known horn player among other jazz players and enthusiasts. Then jazz clubs began closing their doors and opportunities disappeared with them.

“Musicians don’t have the option of retiring,” said Marianne Pillsbury, communications and musician programs manager for Jazz Foundation of America, a nonprofit that provides relief and assistance to jazz and blues musicians, like Maurice. “The single biggest issue musicians everywhere face is finding work. Finding the next gig.”

In an average year, the Jazz Foundation of America helps around 700 musicians and their families by providing or connecting them with services, ranging from crisis relief to social, medical, and legal resources. It also gives musicians like Roy Meriwether, 69, a piano player who led his own band at 18-years-old, a weekly venue to jam with other musicians in between gigs that are mostly at churches and cultural centers these days.

“We’re able to take on pretty much anything that’s presented to us and customize a solution,” said Joseph Petrucelli, associate director for the foundation. “The demand for our services is always steady. And growing, really.”


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