Music Matters: Cancer Can Rock Handles It With Care

by WL Author

An accomplished music producer uses personal experience and a kind heart to give those fighting cancer a moment in the spotlight.

By Steve Houk

Musicians. They can be a mighty generous lot. I mean, we’ve seen it time and time again.

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Whether it’s George Harrison breaking ground with his Concerts for Bangladesh, or Bob Geldof passionately pleading for Live Aid, or Bruce Springsteen playing his annual show for the Kristen Ann Carr Fund, or other musicians doing good in their own wonderful ways. No matter what the vehicle, the compassion of artists is palpable and powerful.

And that includes, to a very high and a very impressive degree, Jim Ebert. Ebert is the co-founder of Cancer Can Rock, a Virginia-based 501c3 charity organization that is unlike most other musical philanthropic efforts, in that it gives musicians with cancer a chance to play music and professionally record it. Beyond being a therapeutic practice for the individual, the result is a lasting legacy for their families and friends.

Ebert is a Reston-based multi-platinum record producer who is an 18 year survivor of brain cancer. He recalls returning from an annual brain scan at Duke nine years ago where he was told by doctors that he was “out of the woods.” “I just felt like I needed to do something,” he says. However, I’m a bit limited in my skill set, I mean I can produce and record music, and that seems to be about it. So I thought, that’s what I’ll do, I’ll find people that are sick and having a hard time, and I’ll try to give them one day that they can kind of forget they have cancer, come in and do a song, and have fun.”

Ebert knew exactly what he wanted to do to give back to those who had gone through what he had, but he wasn’t sure exactly how to execute it. He enlisted help from a friend Bruce Parker, who ran The Boomerang Foundation for the Arts non-profit, to assist in making his dream a reality.

Ebert (second from right) works with session musicians in his studio (Photo courtesy Jim Ebert)

With more than 20 recorded artists, Ebert and his colleagues have found a wonderfully generous niche that is growing steadily. He hopes the project can bring joy to those suffering.”Basically when they come in, they’re going to get a song fully done, produced, mastered. Video completely edited. They’re going to have a really nice product to keep and share, and the experience to go along with it.”

Jim Ebert (R) with Everclear’s Art Alexakis
(photo courtesy Jim Ebert)

Cancer Can Rock also hosts live fundraisers with top bands to help raise awareness and bolster CCR efforts.“The live shows are only for fundraising and it’s been growing little by little each year. We’re starting to branch up, last year we had Butch Walker at Union Stage, and this year we’re going have Fighting Gravity at Union Stage. We also do, we call it a ride-a-longs where we go and set up our merch table at someone’s show.

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We’ve done this with Everclear, Eddie from Ohio and Carbonleaf, and we’re with Bruce In The USA at the State Theater soon, too.”

Ebert records with cancer survivor Mimi Chen (photo courtesy Jim Ebert)

For Ebert, it’s a carefully thought out and planned process, with the endgame of giving their “artists” a listenable piece of music magic they can treasure, as well as a living memory that will never fade.“So I start the day with an idea, and at the end of the day, we have everything fully realized so that it’s actually a song we can listen to,” Ebert explains.

Ebert (center) in his studio with Gina Hall (second from right) and the family of cancer survivor Darren Horner (third from left) (photo courtesy Jim Ebert)

Ebert has the intimate personal experience of being a musician with cancer, so his empathy and sensitivity towards those who enter his studio is something to be deeply admired. But sometimes, a little nudge can help someone who might have reservations about opening up about their disease.

“I think some musicians at first are private about their cancer and I understand that. Where I have to chase them around a little bit, say ‘You know we should do that song, you know? You should really get that song done,’ and eventually they come around if I harass them enough. And some people will do the opposite and say, ‘No. I’m not ready for that,’ or ‘I don’t really want to be so open about my disease.’”

Cancer Can Rock is right in line with the magnanimous nature of musicians from way back, and will hopefully be a conduit of good will and generosity of spirit for many years to come. And thanks to folks like Jim Ebert, bringing joy to those who could really use it most is what he and his organization are all about.

“At the end of the day, we’re really here to just help people having a bad time. It’s just so easy to do such a feel good thing.

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