In Growing Labor Struggle, Jazz Artists Harmonize Music and Justice

2:42 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Justice for Jazz Artist musicians rally outside the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York City for a pension plan and a minimum wage. (Photo Enid Farber/Courtesy of Justice for Jazz Artists)

Cross-posted from In These Times.

NEW YORK—Jazz is both America’s classical art form and the classic music of struggle. You can hear that duality, and see it, every night on the dimly lit bandstands of New York City. But for the musicians, the toughest part often comes after the gig, when they realize the cash they took home isn’t enough to make rent. Or maybe 30 years down the line, at the age when other workers retire, but they have to keep playing shows to keep eating.

But now the unrest over inequity on Wall Street is starting to resonate in the heady air of Manhattan jazz clubs. The Justice for Jazz Artists campaign, run by the New York musicians’ union Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, is rallying for decent wages and pensions for artists, along with a greater voice in how their music is heard and sold.

Many jazz artists, both bandleaders and side musicians, hustle from gig to gig, often at the mercy of club owners who have little or no obligation to provide basic benefits like medical or unemployment insurance. With New York’s exorbitant cost of living, a single bout of illness or rent hike could tip musicians and their families into poverty.

Hoping to make it easier for the city’s hardest-working musicians to make a real living, Justice for Jazz Artists (a coalition of musicians and activists with Local 802) has worked to pressure some of the city’s major clubs, like the Village Vanguard and the Iridium, to provide musicians with access to pensions later in life.

Their other long-term demands include a basic minimum pay scale, which could be adjusted according to the size of a club’s business; firmer protections for musicians’ right to earn income for live recordings; and an arbitration process to resolve labor disputes. Read the rest of this entry →