Richardson: Passing of Joan Russell is blow to local jazz sceneWritten by Rachel Richardson | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy New Year! As I write this on New Year’s Day, I can say, not surprisingly, that all of my scenarios look similar today to the way they looked yesterday. Not much has changed. The arrival of January 2011 did not wipe clean or undo any of the real work or progress that this community made in 2010. On the contrary, in my experience, it has only reinforced it. Which means that I woke up today still dreaming and scheming of ways to tell the world that Toledo is ripe for the picking of cultural experiences and opportunities to be involved in changing the world. Good thing, too, because amid all of this potential, something very sad is going on. And I have to tell you about it. But, as always, there will be a way to do something positive and impactful in its wake.
During the last week of December, my dear friend and mentor, Joan Russell, endured a stroke that left her unconscious, receiving Hospice Care. Many of you know that Joan is the owner/doer of everything except play the music at Murphy’s Place Jazz Club. Personally, she is the woman who gave me a chance to sing jazz as if I were the real deal when I was just a little 22-year-old baby in her club.
She is also one of a handful of incredible women around here whose orders I take without argument (others include Carol Dunn, Pam Weirauch, and Mary Sawers. And they feed me, too).
I sat with Joan in the hospital several times in the past few days and have repeatedly asked her what the hell she was thinking. I prodded her about fights we had a decade ago (before I learned to just listen to her), hoping she’d get mad at me again and open her eyes to tell me why I’m still wrong.
No such luck. She’s leaving and I can’t stop her. I so hope that she is deep in there being proud of what she made and was able to keep going as long as she did. I hope she fully comprehends how much the community loves and appreciates her and the club. My own fantasy about death is that it finally brings ultimate understanding to all of the hypotheses we form and struggle to grasp and solve during life. Joan has a lot of those, I think. I hope I’m right and that everything will become very clear to her soon.
From my view, the future of Murphy’s Place is uncertain. Family and friends at the hospital and in the jazz community are rallying to help make sure the place runs from day to day. Clifford is doing his very best but his girl is lying in a hospital bed. I suspect that all he wants is to hold her but will settle for his bass. Calls for help go out to show up and tend bar or bus tables, but I can’t bring myself to do it. Besides events that will celebrate her life where I may be required to sing, I can’t say I’ll step foot in the club again. But, that is my way of dealing, or not dealing as the case may be. The club and Joan are one and the same. Counterintuitive, I know. I’m a musician. I should need to hear the music. For me, though, jazz is melancholy enough without incorporating this current, drawn-out loss.
Whew … hard to believe I intend to spin this to the positive. But, it is very simple. The music is rich and thick with beauty and realness. Please go and experience it. Murphy’s Place needs the support right now more than it ever has. And it will give you something that you cannot find anywhere else in the city.
Claude Black, Clifford Murphy and other local jazz musicians will be there on the stage. They need to make the music and want to share it with you. The place is also a Downtown institution and a good old-fashioned locally owned business. The reasons for you to pay it a visit are countless. I know that Joan would really appreciate it.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Joan Russell died on Jan. 2.
Rachel Richardson is an activist, musician, co-founder and co-director of Independent Advocates, and a product of Toledo, Ohio. E-mail her at email@example.com.