Keyed Up works to keep jazz alive, musicians afloat

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Jazz is often called the great American art form, but despite the genre's important place in our culture, its musicians often go without steady work.

Now, one organization is aiming to change that.

It's called Keyed Up, and it is a non-profit organization of jazz lovers who know that jazz musicians are often underappreciated and underpaid. Keyed Up aims to change that by giving musicians extra cash and more opportunities.

Endea Owens is an heir to a great tradition, but there's nothing old fashioned about her.

"I feel like to really keep jazz going, we have to believe in this music," she said. "And we have to keep it relevant."

Owens is a keeper of the flame. with one eye on the past and the other on the future.

"There's no reason why we can't have the influence of hip-hop and R&B and all these other genres in jazz right now," she said.

Like those who came before her, she felt the pull of Harlem from her home in Detroit.

"Moving here with no family and no friends, I was very nervous," she said. "But I have faith in the music. I have faith in myself."

It is faith that all of the hours of practice will eventually pay off, but her first gig in the city paid just $30. And even for older players, jazz can be a tough way to make a living.

"If you add all these hours up and what they're getting paid, it's below minimum wage," Keyed Up founder James Polsky said.

And that's the drummer james polsky came up with Keyed Up, which provides extra cash for these musicians, helps them get gigs and makes it easier for newcomers to network with veteran players.

"I get to play with musicians I never would've played with before," musician Phil Harper said.

"It helps me," bass player Julieta Eugenio said. "It gives me hope to say, OK, I can do it, you know?"

She calls it a head start for true believers who are determined not to let jazz die on their watch.

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