The last time Joshua Oxford’s band, OXtet, rehearsed was July 26, the day the 25-year-old musician came face to face with death.
Bandmates were waiting for Oxford at a friend’s house, but he never showed up to rehearsal. After an hour passed, they piled into a van to make sure their friend was OK. Dan Timmons ’10, OXtet’s bassist, said it was less than 30 seconds before they ran into Oxford’s battered Volvo lying on the side of the road just a mile away from the house. By the time they arrived, Oxford had already been taken to a hospital in Sayre, Pa., by helicopter.
“I had to deal with the cops and give them all his mom’s info,” Timmons said. “I guess I go into that mode — Boy Scout mode. Some drove back because they just couldn’t handle it.”
After failing to yield to the right of way at a stop sign on Krums Corners Road in Trumansburg, N.Y., Oxford crashed into another vehicle, Zone Sergeant Edward Abruzzo of the New York State Police said. The accident left Oxford paralyzed from the neck down.
For days, he was unresponsive, unable to move his limbs or breathe on his own. Gradually, he began to shrug his shoulders and blink. On Aug. 2, Oxford was airlifted to Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia for a surgical procedure that would fuse his skull to his spine.
His mother Angela and sister Jessica kept friends informed of Oxford’s condition by regularly updating Facebook.
“He will be rocking a little differently because he will not be able to bend or turn his head,” Angela posted at 11:32 p.m. Aug. 3. “Tomorrow, they are going to work on his arm. … Keep the love coming.”
Oxford grew up in Cortland, N.Y., and graduated from Ithaca College’s School of Music in 2007 with a degree in percussion performance. Dana Wilson, professor of music theory, history and composition, said Oxford stood out as an extremely talented musician during his time at the college because, in addition to being a talented percussionist, he was a remarkable pianist.
After graduating, Oxford was hired by the School of Music as a staff accompanist, playing piano for recitals and collaborating with musicians. On the side, he composed music for OXtet.
This is the Joshua Oxford that most people know — the smiling face behind the piano or marimba, quietly letting his music unfold. Most of his friendships were cultivated through music, and his friends often saw him accompany students at the college. Now they are pouring their own musical talent into a benefit concert to raise money for his recovery.
Greg Evans, OXtet’s drummer and a graduate student at the School of Music, said deciding to have a concert for Oxford was instinctual. Having the concert at the music school, where Oxford spent so much of his time, felt natural.
After creating a Facebook event page, everything came together. It wasn’t long before the entire Ithaca music community was contributing in any way they could, Timmons said.
The concert program, which will feature OXtet and include performances by the college’s Jazz Quartet, Jazz Ensemble and faculty members, is inspired by the same sounds that permeate Oxford’s compositions. Timmons said attendees can also expect to hear some of Oxford’s arrangements.
Wilson said the event has the potential to take a lot of financial pressures off of Oxford’s family. In addition to paying for medical bills, the family has to worry about paying for travel costs and physical therapy sessions.
“The whole music community — in town and certainly at the music school — is just really devastated by this accident,” Wilson said. “We’re just trying to support [Oxford] and his family in any way we can. This concert is a small step in that direction.”
Wilson, who spoke with Oxford the morning of his accident, said it was poignant to hear the news.
“He had just played a piece of mine, so we talked about that and about recording it and talked about the music he’d been working on,” Wilson said. “So to hear that this happened the same day was really tough.”
Wilson and Oxford have developed a close relationship over the years. Both spent a substantial amount of time at the School of Music. Dillon Kondor ’08, a former member of OXtet, said Oxford even set up shop in one of the student practice rooms, creating a makeshift office for himself by leaving his music, briefcase, laptop and a full stereo system behind.
“Eventually they just gave up and gave him a filing cabinet so he could keep his stuff organized,” Kondor said. “At that point everyone agreed that he deserved his own room there.”
As a tour manager for the rock band Deep Purple, Oxford’s father made sure music was a part of his son’s life. When his family owned The Coddington, a popular local Italian restaurant, Oxford played the piano there every night. Evans said these experiences influence the arrangements Oxford composed for OXtet — a quirky mix of ’70s progressive rock, Frank Zappa and classical composers.
For close friends like Evans and Kondor, missing Oxford goes beyond missing his music.
Kondor said he remembers when Oxford would give him a giant bear hug, raising him feet from the ground. For Evans, lunch is a little quieter now that Oxford isn’t there to keep him laughing. They miss the unadulterated honesty with which Oxford approached everything in life.
Kondor said Oxford is the friend that drives hours to pick up a buddy at the airport, drops everything to show them a good time and picks up the tab at dinner. Kondor said he can still picture Oxford shrugging off objections.
“It feels so important to be there for him while he’s going through this because I know that if it happened to any of us he would drop everything and put his friends first,” Kondor said. “It’s who he is.”
Though Oxford survived the accident, Evans said he detects a great sense of loss in his absence.
“There’s something missing — not only on the campus and in people’s lives, but also just in the air,” Evans said. “It’s really eerie.”
Oxford’s future is still uncertain. It wasn’t until recently that he stabilized and began speaking after doctors performed a tracheotomy on his throat.
Matt Donello ’07, a former OXtet drummer, said he tries to make the drive to Philadelphia from his home in New York City as often as he can. During his most recent visit, Donello said he found Oxford frustrated by his inability to communicate.
“They’re sort of leaving it open and seeing what kind of progress he’s going to make,” Donello said.
Oxford hates feeling stuck in any situation, so the frustration he feels is bound to continue as he recovers, Timmons said.
“I’m sure he’s ready to be done with all this, but he can’t be,” Timmons said. “He’s always two days ahead of everybody else.”
For now, Oxford’s family and friends are living week-by-week, taking comfort in the progress that Josh has made so far and praying for a full recovery.
“I was really happy when I heard that he was able to smile again,” Kondor said. “It’s hard to imagine him without a smile on his face.”
Oxford’s benefit concert will begin at 7 p.m. Saturday in Ford Hall. Tickets are on sale at the door for $25, and $15 with a student I.D. Those who are unable to attend the event can make a donation to “The Josh Oxford Fund” at http://joshox.chipin.com/joshua-oxford-fund using PayPal.