In a just world, where talent and creativity would be valued more than banality and style, most jazz and classical musicians would be wealthier than their pop counterparts. But life isn't fair, and Eminem has sold more albums than Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Duke Ellington combined. The cold truth is that most jazz musicians struggle to make ends meet. They play for the love and the music and whatever limited financial rewards come their way. Few get rich, and many must work day jobs just to pay the bills. As for luxury items like health insurance, forget about it. Blue Cross doesn't care if you've worked with innovators like Sonny Stitt.

So goes the story of Marsha Frazier. A highly regarded straight-ahead pianist who has received NEA grants to study under such luminaries as Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Eddie Jefferson, Frazier boasts an impressive résumé. She's played with greats like Stitt, Wynton Marsalis, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Joe Henderson, and was a member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. She's performed at some of the world's top venues, including the Kennedy Center and Lincoln Center, and as a teacher, she's shared her talents with America's youth, senior citizens and even the incarcerated.

Too bad talent, dedication and respect don't pay the bills. Frazier, who has experienced severe health problems lately, needs not only medical and dental surgery but also financial assistance to pay for the services. To assist her, several members of the local jazz community are organizing and participating in a full-scale benefit for the pianist. Frazier and her trio will perform, as will the Conrad Johnson Orchestra, the David Caceres Quartet, Sebastian Whittaker, Shelley Carrol and the University of Houston-Downtown Civic Orchestra. A silent auction, a swing-dance contest and a good old-fashioned jam session also will take place. The fund-raiser may not be as good as full-time health coverage, but it sure beats the hell out of filling out insurance forms.

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Paul J. MacArthur