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‘If I Were a Musician’

In our new series, we hear from elected officials about their musical tastes, the music in their district, and what instrument they wish they played!

State Senator Jamaal T. Bailey (Democrat: Mt. Vernon and parts of the Bronx)

JAMAAL T. BAILEY

Senator Jamaal T. Bailey represents Senate District 36, covering the City of Mount Vernon and parts of the Bronx, including Norwood, Bedford Park, Williamsbridge, Co-op City, Wakefield and Baychester. He was first elected in 2016, and has quickly established himself as a strong advocate for criminal justice reform in New York State, as well as a supporter of the growth and creation of employee-owned businesses and minority-owned and women-owned business enterprises, among other issues.

What is your favorite type of music? Hip-hop and R&B. It’s a part of who I am.

Who is your favorite artist of all time? Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson are integral parts of the music that I will always love, but I would say that Jay Z is my favorite hip-hop artist.

Do you have a favorite song? “As Always” by Stevie Wonder. I would also say “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y)” is my favorite hip-hop song of all time. It’s by Pete Rock and CL Smooth, who hail from part of my district, Mount Vernon. If we had to put hip-hop in a time capsule and define it for a future generation that knew nothing of the genre, I believe that song would do it.

Do you have a favorite ensemble or band? That’s a lot harder, but I guess it would have to be one of the great R&B and hip-hop bands. New Edition, the Roots and OutKast all jump to mind.

If you could get a drink with any musician, who would it be? Probably Tupac. He wasn’t my favorite rapper, but he was incredibly human, and you could hear that in his music. I think that would be incredible.

Do you use music to inspire your work? Unlike some people, music doesn’t just pump me up for a workout (although Radioactive from Imagine Dragons is great for that). I use music to inspire my legislation, even incorporating lyrics into work on the Senate floor. In fact, I even quoted Jay-Z’s “Grammy Family Freestyle” during the last legislative session.

What type of music was played or did you listen to at home, growing up? As a kid, growing up in the Bronx, music was an integral part of life. There was always music on, and that was back before you could listen to any song, any time you wanted. We would have to sit by the radio – listening to WBLS or Hot97 – waiting for our favorite song or artist. It meant that music had a different type of value than it does today. Back then, your song was special – you had to seek it out, and wait for it. It was different then.

What role does music play in our district? This is the Bronx – the birthplace of hip-hop. Here, music is an identity and a way of life. You walk out on the street and can feel it. People are using music to tell stories about life and to express emotion.

Why is it important for society to support the arts and musicians? I’ve seen first-hand the power music has on communities and individuals. We know that music has uses as a therapeutic tool with our community’s elderly, and can have a healing effect on those struggling with PTSD. We also know that it is an important part of the education of our children and young adults. We must remember that a well-rounded education includes a book in one hand, and an instrument in the other. Every critical thinker needs a creative side, and music taught me many skills that have propelled me to who I am today.

What are some of the greatest challenges facing musicians in the district? Two things come to mind. First, musicians aren’t making enough money to afford to make art. I never realized how true the “starving artist” generalization was until I began working as a representative, and it shows how important a union pension really is. Second, the digital era has fundamentally changed how music is made and how music is appreciated. With technological innovation has come enormous opportunity to increase access to music, but it has also denigrated the value we place upon it. Instead of going to a store to specifically find that one song and instead of sitting by the radio just waiting for your favorite singer, you can carry it around on your phone. As a result, people don’t adequately appreciate the amount of work that goes into creating a song or an album, nor do they value the contribution artists make in our lives or society.

Lastly, if you were a musician, what would you play? If I were a musician, I would be a hip-hop artist or a saxophone player. I have always been passionate about both. Throughout my childhood, I was surrounded by hip-hop and jazz music. My father played the saxophone and I decided to play the saxophone in middle school after being inspired by him.


New York City Councilmember Mark Levine (Democrat: Hamilton Heights, Morningside Heights, and parts of West Harlem and the Upper West Side.)

MARK LEVINE

Councilmember Mark Levine represents Council District 7 in Manhattan, a district comprising Hamilton Heights, Morningside Heights, and parts of West Harlem and the Upper West Side. He was elected to his first term in 2013 and has distinguished himself as a tenants’ rights leader, leading the City Council’s passage of the Right to Counsel, which provides low-income tenants with legal counsel in housing court, most of whom are unable to afford or attain representation.

What is your favorite type or style of music? I have very eclectic taste so you will have to bear with me with this combination: I love hop-hop, salsa, 80s New Wave and even E.D.M. I know…weird.

What is your favorite song of all time? It’s a salsa by Rey Ruiz – “Mi media mitad.” I absolutely love salsa and that song is awesome.

What is your favorite ensemble or band? That’s hard. I really like and grew up listening to The Cure, but I guess it would be El Gran Combo. For anyone who isn’t familiar with old-school Puerto Rican salsa, this is where you have to start.

Was music a part of your life growing up? Nobody in my family played instruments, but both my parents were in love with music and made sure it was a part of our lives. My dad was a huge jazz aficionado, loving Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Peggy Lee and all the heroes. My mom was into folk in the 60s and 70s. Looking back, it’s remarkable how the songs and music you heard as a young child never leave you. You never forget them. It’s pretty powerful.

What was the first concert you ever attended? Music was always a part of my life growing up and so I had lots of opportunity to experience live music. But the first concert I ever went to without my family was a Public Enemy performance. Yikes.

Where is your favorite place to listen to music in the district? There are countless places to listen to live music in the district. I love going to Harlem Stage. We are also fortunate to have Manhattan School of Music in the district, and the work that those students do is innovative and exciting. I just helped provide $2.5 million in funding to MSM to help build a new performance space, which we are all very proud of and happy about.

Describe the role that music plays in the community. Music is an integral part of the Upper Manhattan community. It is one of the reasons why there is so much energy in the district and it is a manifestation of our district’s diversity and passion. From merengue to bachata, jazz and hip-hop, our music is part of our identity and part of our common history.

How do we ensure that musicians and artists are able to remain in NYC and in their communities? Like many New Yorkers, musicians face a crisis of affordability that threatens to drive them away. Housing and workspaces are unaffordable and musicians are not fairly compensated for their artistry. The nature of the work leaves musicians vulnerable and easily exploited, and we must use public policy to ensure that our artists receive fair wages, access to housing and fair treatment. Union representation is an extremely important part of this, and we must work together or risk impoverishing our society, our economy and our common identity.

If you could create a slogan to promote live music in NYC, what would it be? Easy: ¡En Vivo, Se Siente Mas!

And lastly, if you were a musician, what instrument would you play? I played the trumpet in high school, so if I were a musician, I’d either play that, or the saxophone.

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