The Record
4:37 am
Sat May 5, 2012

In New Orleans, A Health Clinic For Working Musicians

Originally published on Sun May 6, 2012 8:26 am

The annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is in full swing until Sunday. The event draws hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world — and also working musicians playing the festival.

Many of the performers don't have health insurance, so when they need a tuneup, they get care from the New Orleans Musicians' Clinic. It's one of a few health centers in the country that provide care exclusively to artists.

The clinic is really just two exam rooms and a couple of offices within Louisiana State University's medical school. But through grants and donations, and with the support of the larger hospital, the facility helps 2,400 New Orleans musicians with everything from the flu to slipped discs to, well, work-related injuries.

Charles Moore has been playing the bass for 43 years, but he hasn't played the upright in a long time until now.

"Now I got a blood blister from playing too hard," Moore says. "I play hard. And I got a big blood blister on my finger and it hurts!"

Moore, who is slated to perform this weekend at Jazz Fest, also has the flu. Musicians coming in before a gig isn't uncommon — a drummer will have gout in a toe and need an injection, for example. Clinic director Bethany Bultman says that while musicians might come in to address a blister, the clinic uses that opportunity to address diabetes prevention or exercise.

In other words, music is the opening that helps the clinic treat the whole patient.

"If their arthritis is becoming a barrier not to their wellness, but a barrier to them doing what they love to do, they will come in," Bultman says.

Dale Spalding, who sings and plays guitar, drums and harmonica, was more proactive than that: He made an appointment to talk about back pain before heading out on the road. But he says he still likes to think of his health holistically.

"Musicians play in pain all the time," Spalding says. "If you have a gig, you go to the gig. You do it. And most of his time, just playing the music cures you temporarily."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

New Orleans' annual music festival, Jazzfest, is in full swing until Sunday. The event draws hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world, and also working musicians who play at the festival. And many of the performers don't have health insurance. So when they need a tune up they get care from the New Orleans Musician's Clinic.

Alex Schmidt reports.

ALEX SCHMIDT, BYLINE: The apex of a jazz solo is real, physical work.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SCHMIDT: Pianist Aaron Diehl is drenched in sweat, his body locked in a tight arc over the keyboard. Everyone in the Victor Goines Band is playing at full capacity. Yes, a working musician's body needs maintenance.

Many locals get it from the New Orleans Musician's Clinic, across town.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Well, tell her if she comes too late we can't see her.

SCHMIDT: It's one of few health centers in the country that provides care exclusively to artists. And today, some walk-ins are trying to get an appointment.

CATHERINE LASPERCHES: And Charles is here.

SCHMIDT: Catherine Lasperches is the clinic's nurse.

Really, the clinic is just two exam rooms and a couple of offices within Louisiana State University's medical school. Through grants and donations, and with the support of the larger hospital, the clinic helps 2,400 New Orleans musicians with everything from the flu to slipped discs and, of course, work-related injuries.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: No, do not pop it. I

CHARLES MOORE: No, it's just bothersome...

SCHMIDT: Charles Moore has been playing the bass for 43 years. But he hasn't played the upright in a long time, until now.

: Now, I got a blood blister and I got a big, big blood blister on my finger and it hurts.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SCHMIDT: Moore is slated to perform this weekend at Jazzfest and he also has the flu.

Musicians coming in before a gig isn't uncommon - a drummer will have gout in a toe and need an injection, for example.

BETHANY BULTMAN: If their arthritis is becoming a barrier, not to their wellness, but a barrier to them doing what they love to do, they will come in.

SCHMIDT: Clinic director Bethany Bultman says the clinic uses that opportunity to address diabetes prevention or exercise. In other words, music is the opening that helps the clinic treat the whole patient.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This is the flyer.

DALE SPALDING: Oh, good.

SCHMIDT: Dale Spalding sings, plays guitar, drums and the harmonica. He was trying to be proactive, with an appointment to talk about back pain before he heads out on the road.

SPALDING: You know, musicians play in pain all the time. You know, if you have a gig, you go to the gig. You do it. And most of the time just playing the music cures you temporarily.

SCHMIDT: Spalding says he likes to think of his health holistically. But sometimes, the show must go on.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SCHMIDT: And in New Orleans, it'll be going on all weekend.

For NPR News, I'm Alex Schmidt.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.