See photos by Walter Karling below.
On a recent spring evening, an intrepid group of activists and some of the most respected musicians in the world – including John Pizzarelli, Bob Cranshaw and Dr. Larry Ridley – came together on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They were there to begin a targeted march to the front door of a $15 million townhouse owned by the now-infamous Bensusan family, who have built a fortune on the backs of jazz and other musical artists engaged by the Blue Note, B.B. King’s and other clubs that operate under the family’s corporate umbrella. The mansion was selected in order to demonstrate the contrasts that exist between the lives of some of New York’s richest club owners, and those of average side musicians. Many jazz artists live hand to mouth due to a lack of access to basic benefits – pension being the foremost among them.
A lone tenant of the 20-room building made an appearance during the protest. He initially claimed that the Bensusans did not own the property. However, Local 802 has dug up public information corroborating that the property is in fact owned by Tsion Bensusan, an owner of the B.B. King’s franchise and a longtime partner in the Blue Note chain. We’re talking about a multi-national operation. Besides New York City, the Blue Note has a club in Milan, Italy, and four locations in Japan: Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka and Nagoya. B. B. King’s has clubs in New York, Nashville, Memphis, Orlando and Las Vegas.
Later that evening, an expanded group of about 30 musicians and supporters marched from historic Washington Square Park to the Blue Note itself. As the band played tunes like “Walkin,’” marchers chanted “Jazz Built This!” again calling attention to the opulence of the club’s owners. Hundreds of club patrons and passersby grooved to the music and took leaflets from campaign organizers, with many pledging to sign online petitions and send e-mails to club management, demanding that the Bensusans meet with Local 802.
Demonstrations like these raise the public consciousness of our campaign. They result in an increased stream of endorsements from high-profile artists, more attention from the media, and continued resonance in local political circles. Recent public endorsers include Lakecia Benjamin, Andrew Lamb, “Sweet” Sue Terry, Gaudencio Thiago de Mello, Ron Jackson, Harold Mabern, Roy Campbell and Bobby Sanabria.
The Justice for Jazz Artists campaign demands pension contributions from the six major NYC jazz clubs. The union also seeks to secure agreements with clubs that would guarantee musicians the rights to their own recordings.
In related campaign news, the J4JA profile is growing via social media platforms. Justice for Jazz Artists’ Facebook page has recently reached an inspiring milestone of 49,500 “likes.” The page has been in existence since March 2012, and has supporters from as far away as Europe and South America.
More demos and actions are scheduled for the days ahead. For the latest updates, and for volunteering opportunities, go to www.JusticeForJazzArtists.org. And stay tuned.