‘Fighting for your Rights’
Local 802 hosts panel at Jazz Connect Conference
Volume 116, No. 3March, 2016
Local 802’s Jazz Department started off the year on a solid footing by hosting a panel at this year’s Jazz Connect Conference. The annual event was sponsored by Jazz Times magazine, and took place at St. Peter’s Church on Jan. 14 and 15. The talk was entitled, “When to Call the Union: Fighting for Your Rights as a Jazz Musician.”
The panel was moderated by Local 802 Jazz Business Rep Todd Weeks, and featured a wide-ranging discussion on topics such as organizing and jazz, union agreements for member leaders, the current state of recording and various distribution platforms, and the potential for union outreach to the jazz community, especially to younger musicians.
Panelists Jimmy Owens, Bob Cranshaw, Christian McBride, Ted Nash and Jazzmeia Horn shared their knowledge and expertise on the jazz field and engaged their audience with stories about how and when the union was there for them. They also commented on the general perception of the union in the jazz community.
McBride, who has been a member of Local 802 since 1993, related an anecdote about a non-union recording session in the 1980s where he was called for 5 p.m. but wasn’t actually going to play until after 11 p.m. After many idle hours without much music being made, he decided to go home. “Had that session been union,” he recalled, “I would never have been put through that kind of thing, because they would have had to pay me for my time. Every bit of it.”
Jimmy Owens, a staunch union advocate, NEA Jazz Master, and one of the founders of the union’s Justice for Jazz Artists campaign, made a pitch for younger musicians incorporating and setting up their own union agreements with the local. “Once you form a corporation,” said Owens, “You can begin to find a way to redirect some of the money your business brings in towards pension and health plans. We have done this with many, many musicians over the years, and they have thanked us for advising them in this way. It can make a real difference down the road.”
Ted Nash of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, has been a member of Local 802 since 1978. He was born in Los Angeles into a union family: his father, Dick Nash, and uncle, the late Ted Nash, were both well-known jazz and studio musicians.
Nash spoke about the benefits he enjoys via the agreement between Local 802 and Jazz at Lincoln Center, and commented on how difficult it can be to foster a secure lifestyle in the jazz field. “I am very fortunate to have a steady gig,” he said. “Most jazz musicians don’t have that. The union hasn’t always been responsive to the needs of the jazz community, and doesn’t have that much reach in the community beyond what we see here in New York. I’d really like to find a way to make the younger generation understand that they need the union – that the union is something that can make a real difference in their lives.”
Jazzmeia Horn, a vocalist and winner of the 2015 Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition, is from Dallas. She spoke about her experiences as a younger artist fresh on the performance and recording scene. “There are certain things I won’t do,” she said. “I don’t take every gig or every offer to record, because sometimes it’s just not worth it to me. But most of my friends are not in a position to be that picky. They have to take all the work that’s offered. Most of it is non-union. That’s the reality.”
Bob Cranshaw, who has been on the jazz scene in New York since 1959, remembers a time when there was a lot of union work for jazz musicians, but even the top players weren’t always covered by union contracts for their live gigs. “We need to do better by the young people coming up,” he said. “That’s why I’m here today.”
Owens recalled, “I remember talking to Dizzy Gillespie at the end of his life. He had a lucrative career. But he had almost no pension. None of his live gigs had been covered. We have a situation here in New York where the symphonic players, the Broadway players are all playing under union agreements. And they have a pension. We got a tax break for the jazz clubs in 2006. It’s been ten years. And still none of those clubs pay into the pension fund. We need to stand together and get what we have coming to us. The music and the people who play it are too important to let this go.”
Horn was more upbeat, and remembered vividly something her grandmother had told her when she was a child: “You are responsible for your children’s generation and your mother’s generation,” she said. “Always reach forward and give the future a push, but never forget to reach back and lend your hands.”