Music has been a major component of Jenifer Jackson’s life for as long as she can remember. As a child, she both sung and played multiple instruments. Her musicality came from her father – he was always a great musician. Jenifer stuck with both the guitar and piano, along with singing. After she finished college and started to get a band together, she began songwriting.
Jenifer is inspired by an incredibly varied list of musicians. Growing up, she listened to all of her father’s records. She loved the music of Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young. She spent a few years delving into Jazz music – drawing inspiration from Billy Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, Louis Armstrong, and Chet Baker.
How Jenifer found the Musician Treatment Foundation
Jenifer has had two separate operations with Dr. Alton Barron in the past two years.
The first surgery was on her right shoulder. There was no exact date that the injury occurred – it was caused by the accumulation of smaller injuries over time. Because she didn’t have health insurance, the clinic she initially visited sent her to physical therapy. However, it didn’t lessen the pain or help regain her mobility. Eventually, she had an MRI done, and the results were jarring… her supraspinatus tendon was completed separated from her arm.
“I was so distraught because I couldn’t get any help for my shoulder. A friend sent me an article from the Austin American Statesman introducing Dr. Barron and what he was doing. One of my bandmates went to the Elvis Costello show and called me to tell me that Dr. Barron read a letter on stage describing the difficulties of an uninsured musician trying to get help. It was my letter.”
Dr. Barron was in Austin for a fundraiser at the Paramount with Elvis Costello — the first Austin-based MTF event. On-stage, he announced that Jenifer would be his first patient. She was eventually contacted by HAAM who asked if she could meet a surgeon the following Monday morning at a mystery address.
Jenifer showed up at the address, an office building surrounded by construction, and spoke to the women at the reception area and asked what was going on. It was a brand new surgical center that was still being built.
“Alton walked in and introduced himself and told me that I’d be the first recipient of the MTF. He was flying back to New York that day but was coming back Thursday to operate on me. The surgery was rough, but he did it, and I’m so thankful.”
At the time, Jenifer didn’t want to mention that her left shoulder had suffered a similar accumulation of injuries. Six months later, Dr. Barron operated on that too.
“He was my knight in shining armor. I was about to take out a bank loan for treatment – I couldn’t work, play music, or even sleep well due to pain. He really came in and saved me.“
How Injury Affected Jenifer’s Livelihood
Leading up to her first operation, Jenifer couldn’t play her guitar, an issue for obvious reasons. Her bandmates had to pick up the slack and play her instruments while Jenifer exclusively sang. Physically there was a major impact but mentally was a whole other story.
“It’s what I do and suddenly I can’t do it anymore. I couldn’t even drive a car. I was going down that wormhole where you get very down and feel helpless.”
It was a long and painful recovery after both surgeries. Jenifer thought she had a high tolerance for pain but it was “above and beyond.” It takes gratuitous amounts of time and physical therapy for your body to heal. She still has regular physical therapy appointments.
“I had my second operation with Alton last April and I’m still not fully there. It’s a long haul and I never knew how much it would take to get back to normal. I definitely got a sense of what other people may be going through with surgeries and medical problems.”
On the bright side, Jenifer is playing the piano again. Because she could play piano again before the guitar, it led her to play a lot more piano in public – something she “wouldn’t have done in the past.” She also focused more on her songwriting.
“Really, it gave me a reality check – so many people go through things worse than this and have to recover. I never had any idea how much it would affect your life. Losing mobility is a huge deal. Prior to this, I took my independence for granted. Leading up to the surgery and after both procedures, I had to learn to ask people to help with everyday tasks. My friends have been awesome and my mom came down after the surgery to help me out. It was a lot more psychological than I ever would have thought. It was very taxing on my mental health.”
Regarding MTF, Jenifer had this to say:
“I’ve just been singing MTF’s praises ever since! My bandmate had a wrist operation done by Dr. Barron roughly six months ago. I just think it’s so fabulous that they’re trying to help musicians. After surgery, you go in once a month for follow-ups and every time I was in the waiting room I’d run into other musicians.
So many musicians have injuries but don’t have the means to get help and so they work until they can’t anymore. It’s a godsend – I can’t express my full gratitude. I’d be in debt from all the care I needed.”
Jenifer has a northeast tour starting at the end of March in Massachusetts. You can find dates and more information about her tour on her site. She’s planning to record a new album in May, most of the songs were written leading up to and following her surgeries. Her upcoming album will reflect her experiences in the last two years and it will be produced in Nashville by Brad Jones.
As a non-profit, we at the Musician Treatment Foundation are dedicated to the healthcare needs of professional musicians. We provide surgical and related care at no cost so that they can keep the music playing. This is only possible thanks to our donors! We will continue to share the stories of the musicians that your dollars are directly supporting.