Bed, Breakfast – and Live Music

Hotel musicians win a 9 percent raise in their new contract

Volume 113, No. 4April, 2013

Bennett M. Baruch

Where can you enjoy a fantastic evening of live music in the classiest setting, while knowing that the musicians are covered by a union contract? The answer is New York City’s top hotels, which include the Carlyle, Pierre, Plaza, St. Regis and the Waldorf-Astoria.

In mid-March, musicians unanimously ratified the new Local 802 hotel contract, which had expired in March 2012. Musicians won a 9 percent raise over the four-year agreement, which covers close to 50 musicians. With the first year of the contract already underway, there was a 3.5 percent raise in March, and 2.75 percent raises will follow in 2014 and 2015.

Once a thriving scene, live music in hotels is endangered by absentee hotel owners, which are often multi-national corporations. These owners don’t see the power and potential of live music.

But even if the shadowy corporate owners don’t see it, local hotel managers and musicians do.

“Live music is, and always has been, an integral part of the Carlyle experience,” Giovanni Beretta, who is the managing director of the Carlyle, said. “It’s great for business.”

Local 802 member Ray Cohen performed at the New York Palace hotel for 14 years. He told Allegro, “I came to realize how much of a magnet the music can be, how it can eventually build a clientele base that more than offsets the cost of music in the budget. Live music in a hotel raises the qualitative image and ambience level in a way that is not solely measurable in dollars.” (Beretta and Cohen spoke to Allegro last fall, in a story we wrote about live hotel music. For more, see

“Having a contract is extremely important,” said hotel committee chair Rich Jenkins, who plays piano at the St. Regis. “As a musician, I have no business interface with the corporate owners, so I need the union to speak through.” Prior to working in New York, Jenkins was in Atlantic City where he lacked union representation. Jenkins noted that having Local 802 present in the hotel field “made a huge difference in my life, and made possible the stability I’ve needed while raising three children in New York. As I approach retirement age, the pension I have accumulated will make an important difference. I know what jobs are like without a contract.”

(Along with Jenkins, the negotiating committee included Bobby Shankin, Kurt Wieting, Richard Schilio, Harvey Mars and myself.)

The threat to live music in hotels is very real as the hotel’s international owners sell their pianos and instead pipe in synthetic music, focusing more on the bottom line for their corporate chiefs than on the New York experience that their patrons expect.

After many years, the Ritz-Carlton will be discontinuing solo piano music, following in the footsteps of the Sheraton and the now-closed Feinstein’s at the Loews Regency. This is bad for hotel guests and eliminates good jobs for musicians.

Live music is ultimately more than a special amenity that the best hotels offer their guests. It’s about relationships and memories.

Local 802 member Kat Gang, who performs at the Plaza, told Allegro last fall that people are always excited by the band when it starts to play. “The air changes instantly from dim to bright,” she said. “Our energy adds to the movement and conversations around us. This is part of what makes a live band so important – the personal interactions with the audience that makes them feel like they have had a special and unique night out. We set the vibe.”

To hear live music, call the hotels to find out current schedules: Carlyle (212-744-1600); Pierre (212-838-8000); Plaza (212-759-3000); St. Regis (212-753-4500); and Waldorf-Astoria (212-355-3000)