Musicians plan benefit for jazz great Sudler

Monnette Sudler
Monnette Sudler
Posted: October 14, 2013

PHILADELPHIA When she first started getting out of breath, Monnette Sudler was still performing. She was still teaching, still recording.

Now, time is growing short for the jazz woman once dubbed Philadelphia's "first lady of guitar."

She's on oxygen 24 hours a day. Her times playing with Archie Shepp, Cecil McBee, Grover Washington Jr., and Hugh Masakela are memories. Her performances are rare.

It's tough just to get around, not to mention taking the "A" train.

As for meeting expenses, although Sudler has some health insurance, she - like so many others - has learned how limited that can be when it comes to a catastrophic illness.

Six years ago, Sudler was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, which damages the lungs.

In July, Sudler, 61, of Germantown, was placed on a list of people who need lung transplants.

As her friends watched her fret not only about her condition, but also about how to meet daily expenses and how to afford the expensive post-transplant medications that insurance will only partly cover, they decided they wanted to help.

On Sunday, they'll be at the 7165 Lounge in Germantown from 3 to 6 p.m. for what's being described as an "old-fashioned jazz jam session." Those who know jazz will recognize the names: John Blake, Odean Pope, Doc Gibbs, Barbara Walker, Sherry Butler, Barry Sames, Lee Smith, Webb Thomas, Steve Green, and Omar Hill. Plus poets Sonia Sanchez and Trapeta B. Mayson, a friend who is coordinating the event.

For those who can't be there but who want to help, a fund has been set up by Jazz Bridge, a nonprofit group that aids jazz musicians in crisis.

"It's really stressful and horrible, actually, but there's no way around it," Bridge executive director Suzanne Cloud said of her friend's illness. "At this point, she's waiting, waiting for the phone call that says, 'We have a lung for you.' "

Denise Spaulding, a Camden event and music manager, started thinking about doing something to help her friend of many years in the spring, when she drove Sudler to a gig in Virginia. Because of her illness, Sudler couldn't fly.

"I kind of saw how things were going for her," Spaulding said.

Indeed, Sudler's illness has prompted Spaulding to contemplate her own mortality. She's decided to donate her organs after she dies.

Spaulding's planning partner is Mayson, of Germantown, who also is Sudler's friend and has collaborated on projects.

"I can't imagine what she's going through with such a devastating illness," Mayson said. "But as an artist that gets inspiration through creating and performing, having to limit that. . ."

As news of Sudler's illness spread, people began recounting their memories, Mayson said.

They talked about the first time they heard her play - for many, a powerful experience.

They talked about her influence on all the children she taught to play, the girls who gravitated to her because she showed how a woman could hold her own in the male-centric world of jazz guitar.

A lot asked how they could help.

When Spaulding contacted others about the benefit, "every last musician I spoke to, without reservation, said they would come out and do this for her," she said.

Sudler plans to be at Sunday's event, although she doesn't think she'll be able to play.

But just in case, she'll have someone take along one of her guitars. "My electric, for sure," she said.

She's even been mulling what she might play if she can.

It would be a song she wrote, one she describes as "upbeat, good-feeling." Plus, it's an instrumental, so she won't have to sing.

It's called "Going Home."

215-854-5147 @sbauers

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