Local 802's jazz committee is re-booted and ready to roll

Volume 119, No. 10November, 2019

David Stern

JAZZ OUTREACH AT LOCAL 802, THEN AND NOW: At left, trombonist Benny Powell addressing a meeting of musicians in New York City in the 1980s. Powell was active in the union’s jazz campaign until his death in 2010 at the age of 80. At right, Local 802’s latest jazz outreach program, the Jazz Mentors Student Jam.

Jazz outreach is on the rise at Local 802. Beginning in the early 1980s, the union started working with jazz musicians in earnest to organize and improve their careers. For a notable period of that time, these initiatives were led by revered jazz performers Bob Cranshaw and Jimmy Owens. Over the years, activists and participants have included Hank Jones, Dr. Billy Taylor, Bertha Hope, Ron Carter, Rufus Reid, Joe Lovano, Marc Ribot, Bernard Purdie, Keisha St. Joan and many more. Among the Jazz Committee’s most notable achievements were securing a union contract with the New School in 1997 and achieving agreements with a variety of notable bandleaders (including Regina Carter, Jimmy Owens, Gene Perla, Michael Leonhart and Roxy Coss) and big bands such as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.

Given that the nature of a jazz career is often on the outer edges of the freelance world, the union has also had its share of setbacks over the decades in its efforts to oversee this portion of the music industry. In March 2007, under then-governor George Pataki, members of Local 802’s Jazz Advisory Committee sought and secured tax abatements for venue owners in New York City under the banner of the union’s Justice for Jazz Artists campaign. (These abatements mirrored Broadway’s Turkus Award of the 1960s.) The intention was to have the admission tax dollars redirected to the AFM Pension Fund for all musical performers at each venue, regardless of a musician’s union affiliation. Although the legislation passed in Albany, the law did not carry out successfully: venues received a tax break, yet were not compelled to assume the role of an employer, therefore they neglected to pass their tax savings on to the performers in the form of pension contributions. Between 2009 and 2015, the union staged multiple marches and demonstrations to captivate the attention of the venue owners as well as the general public. Unfortunately, the results fell short, as the venues were not legally obligated to recognize the union.

During the summer of 2017, Local 802’s Recording Vice President Andy Schwartz debuted the most recent incarnation of the Jazz Committee. Facilitated by Jazz Business Rep Todd Weeks, this committee creates outlets to ensure fair working conditions in all possible performing, recording and teaching situations related to jazz. Current committee members include Alvester Garnett (chair), Henry Conerway III, Kevin Blancq, Rachel Z Hakim, Ridhima Hegde, Chris Cherney, Hilliard Greene, Lewis Porter, Will Holshouser and Tomas Gargano.

The September meeting of this committee began with an update about the Jazz Mentors Student Jam series. Hosted by acclaimed drummer Henry Conerway III, this program is a musical performance and mentoring session designed to connect younger musicians with premier jazz artists to learn the basics of jazz improvisation, musical collaboration, effective technique, scat singing, ensemble playing, bandstand etiquette and many other skills essential to a career as a jazz performer – all in an effort to build community. The next session will be on Thursday, Nov. 14 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Club Room. Funding has been received by the Music Performance Trust Fund and the program is set to continue monthly through January. More info can be found at

Musicians who are interested in joining the Jazz Committee or who have any questions about jazz at Local 802 can contact Todd Weeks at The next committee meeting is Tuesday, Nov. 19 at 3:30 p.m. at Local 802.

Jazz guitarist, composer, arranger, educator and author David Stern joined Local 802 last year and is an active member of the Jazz Committee.