Nancy Gee never figured unemployment would be one of the best things that ever happened to her.
After a 16-year, five-night-a-week run at Mary Elaine’s Lounge in The Phoenician resort, new management went in a different direction last July.
The Valley jazz singer went without steady work for the first time since moving to Scottsdale in 1984. She was short of funds and unable to take a daytime position because of her commitment to her husband of 48 years, Bill General, who had suffered from prostate cancer and a debilitating stroke in 1998.
“They wanted to revamp things,” said the 68-yearold Gee about The Phoenician management.
Broke and unemployed with medical bills mounting — Gee herself had bouts with rectal and colon cancers — Gee and General filed for bankruptcy protection. They had their Scottsdale condominium and not much more.
“It was like death,” she said. “I went into a very hard and long period of grieving. It hurt to have that happen. I always thought I had a worldwide audience base because I represented the hotel when I traveled. Now I didn’t have anywhere to perform.”
Jazz journalist Patricia Myers changed all that by creating the “Four Great Ladies of Jazz” concert series, which honors jazz legends like Ella Fitzgerald and Gee’s personal favorite, Sarah Vaughan.
Myers thought the show might draw enough attention to keep Gee’s career in the spotlight and help raise some funds. Yet neither woman was aware of Gee’s drawing power.
The first show was Dec. 4 at the Kerr Cultural Center in Scottsdale. The concert sold tickets to all 250 seats; 100 people seeking tickets were turned away. So Myers booked a sequel for Jan. 8. It sold out in 12 days. A second show was added for the same date and sold out in less than two days.
The next show will be at 2 p.m. Feb. 26 at the Kerr center. It’s about half sold out.
Now Gee is buoyed — not just with funds but by the fact so many people want to hear her.
“I wasn’t sure about Patricia’s idea,” Gee said. “She kept after me. The response thrilled me. It validated what I knew — I still had fans in the Valley, and people wanted to hear me sing. What has happened turned out to be wonderful. I’m getting more exposure because of the concerts. I’ve talked with some people and hope to line up a steady job soon.”
Gee said unemployment and the couple’s medical problems have made her stronger.
“Family and friends helped us financially and now we’re pulling ourselves up. When things like this happen, you understand what’s important in life,” she said. “I’m just happy performing and taking care of my Bill.”