Jimmy Owens speaks out on Justice for Jazz Artists

Volume 113, No. 10November, 2013

Todd Bryant Weeks
Jimmy Owens. Photo: Stephanie Myers

Jimmy Owens. Photo: Stephanie Myers

It’s great to get our message out – especially to 100,000 listeners at once! Earlier this fall, National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master and longtime Local 802 member Jimmy Owens spoke before the regular Saturday morning rally of the National Action Network, a not-for-profit civil rights organization founded by the Reverend Al Sharpton in 1991. The rallies are regularly broadcast over WLIB AM 1190, along with a live Internet feed.

Owens was letting folks know about the plight of jazz musicians and their lack of access to basic benefits like health insurance, pension, Social Security, unemployment insurance and other benefits that many workers take for granted.

In the spirit of the civil rights movement, the National Action Network attempts to address the social and economic injustice experienced by African Americans in the United States. The organization is headquartered in Harlem, but currently has over 40 active chapters nationwide.

Owens spoke on the subject of Justice for Jazz Artists, the Local 802-sponsored effort to bring fair treatment to jazz musicians who work in major New York City nightclubs. During his speech, Owens touched on his own participation in the civil rights movement, as a musician who appeared in segregated venues in the American South during the 1960s, and the relationship between civil rights and the rights of jazz artists.

“I traveled in the South, in a station wagon filled with black musicians,” Owens recalled. “A lot of the people I played with later made it big in the North. They came here and they worked in the clubs. But they didn’t get pension for that work. Unlike musicians in other genres, jazz musicians were left out.”

The broadcast and Owens’ speech were well received, and Justice for Jazz Artists received an immediate uptick in petition signatures and Facebook “likes” as a result.

The New York City jazz nightclubs targeted by the campaign include Birdland, the Blue Note, Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, Iridium, the Jazz Standard and the Village Vanguard. As the campaign continues to gain visibility, we expect that even more public figures – including many elected officials – will come out in support J4JA.

To sign the petition in support of this campaign, visit

Supporters should also “like” the campaign on Facebook at

The National Action Network’s site ( contains a link to Owens’ Sept. 28 speech as well as links to archived rallies. Thanks to Shirley Phipps for helping Local 802 participate in this event.