Modesto benefit concert ends up as tribute to organizers

etracy@modbee.comMay 13, 2013 

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    Erin Tracy
    Title: Breaking news reporter
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    Bio: Erin Tracy started working for The Bee in September 2010. She has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University and previously worked at the Daily Democrat in Woodland and the Times-Standard in Eureka.
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— Calaveras County pop and jazz singer Josh Pfeiffer started his career performing at a benefit concert. It was his parents' dream that he do another on a grander scale to support three charities close to their hearts: the American Cancer Society, Habitat for Humanity and the American Red Cross.

Pfeiffer, along with parents Joyce and Gary Pfeiffer and wife Tara Pfeiffer, started organizing the concert series last year, which will commence Saturday at the Gallo Center for the Arts. Sadly, his folks won't be in the audience to enjoy the show.

"We set this up a year ago," Josh said last week. "… We had no idea our world was going to get turned upside down."

In October, Joyce Pfeiffer was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer.

"There were things (doctors) could do to prolong her life, but she didn't want to squeeze every bit of life out of her," Josh said. "We got some amazing time with her. We lost her Jan. 1."

He said his parents were soul mates and his mother's death was devastating, but his father insisted they proceed with the concert. It would benefit the charities and be dedicated to Joyce, who Josh said was his biggest fan and — along with his father — a mentor. Joyce was a vocal and piano teacher, and Gary a Christian music songwriter.

Over the past three months, Gary and Josh met every day to plan for the concert series, dubbed the Benefit for Humanity.

On May 1, Josh went to his father's foothill home to pick him up for their final meeting with Gallo Center staff. He found Gary had died of a heart attack.

Josh said his father was more than just the man he looked up to and respected; he was his best friend.

Having lost both his parents in five months, and with the pain of his father's death still very raw, Josh had momentary doubts he'd be able to perform the concert. But he decided he had to honor both his parents by dedicating the show to them and fulfilling their wishes.

"I saw how hard he worked on this and how much it meant to him, how much he wanted to have a tribute to my mom because it made him feel closer to her," Josh said of his dad. "It's the same way for me."

Overhead costs for the concert are being paid for by sponsors, so 100 percent of the proceeds will go to the three charities. So will proceeds from future concerts planned in Fresno and Davis, Josh said.

He said the American Cancer Society was chosen because even before his mother's death, the family had lost several people to cancer. The American Red Cross helped Josh's brother when an apartment building he owned in Sonora caught fire and many of his tenants were displaced. And Habitat for Humanity, his family believes, does good work and is a "classy organization."

Rebecca Ciszek, Stanislaus regional manager for the American Red Cross, got to know Gary as he and Josh were planning the concert. She was pained to hear of his death.

"I talked to Gary on Tuesday and he passed on Wednesday, so unexpectedly," she said, adding that she admired how passionate he was about the effort.

"This family comes from our area and has been very supportive of the arts and wanted to support three nonprofits they saw doing great work in the community."

The Red Cross is pleased to have been selected as a beneficiary of the concert series, Ciszek said. "The funds that will be raised, we'll be delighted to accept to put back into the community that we serve."

Josh, his family and others who've worked hard to stage the concerts have done their part, she said, and now "community support will determine its success. I just think that at this point, ticket sales will really drive how well it comes off."

"I'm eager to meet Josh," Ciszek said, "because it's a testament to his family and what they believe in."

The concert will be a big-band format and include dancers from The Dance Academy in Modesto and a performance from the Summerville High School's Jazz @ 8 Group, to which Josh belonged when he attended the high school in the early 1990s. Trumpeter Mic Gillette, an original member of the renowned Tower of Power horn section, will be part of Pfeif- fer's energetic 12-member band.

Although Josh got an early start with music, writing his first song and singing on a children's album by the age of 9, he was a relative latecomer to singing professionally. Well into adulthood, he sang at a cousin's wedding and had a number of people tell him he should do it for a living.

About eight years ago, in his early 30s, Josh did a benefit concert for the Summerville and Sonora high music programs. He's since released two CDs and has been a frequent foothills performer at venues including Black Oak Casino's Willow Creek Lounge and La Bella Rosa Vineyard.

During one of the songs performed Saturday, a slide show with photos of his parents will play. The memorial service for Gary Pfeiffer will be held in Twain Harte the day after the concert.

"All I am concerned about is making sure I honor them in the best way possible and that I finish this last journey we started together," Josh said.

"It doesn't seem right not to. I think (my dad) would be proud. Somewhere up there, he is going to be smiling down with my mom."

For more information about Saturday's concert or to buy tickets go to www.joshpfeiffer.com or www.galloarts.org. Tickets range from $15 to $45.

Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at etracy@modbee.com or (209) 578-2366.

Bee local news editor Deke Farrow contributed to this report.

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