Justice For Jazz Artists

Musicians and union ratchet up their campaign.

Volume CIX, No. 6June, 2009

Danny Mixon
Pianist Danny Mixon, who joined Local 802 in 1993, jams at the annual “Great Night in Harlem” benefit for the Jazz Foundation. Photo by Enid Farber.


TO: New York’s jazz club owners and operators

FROM: The New York City jazz community

Over the past two years, Local 802 and the Local 802 Jazz Advisory Committee worked hard to convince New York State to eliminate the sales tax on admission to jazz clubs. They succeeded with the expectation of state legislators that the union and the clubs would use this tax relief money to provide pension benefit contributions for the performing jazz artists.

Like millions of other working people and thousands of other musicians we also need the security of a pension, in this case through the American Federation of Musicians and Employers Pension Fund. Those of us signed above urge you, the club owners and operators, to work with the union to put this tax relief money to the best possible use for those of us who perform in your clubs.

Thank you!
Signed by nearly 200 jazz musicians

As Charlie Parker wrote, now’s the time! This summer, Local 802 and the Local 802 Jazz Advisory Committee will be heating up their campaign to win pension for jazz musicians.

We broke this story in the January issue of Allegro, but here’s the recap. In 2007, thanks to our lobbying efforts, New York State eliminated the 8.375 percent tax on admission to jazz clubs and other venues. Club owners no longer have to pay this tax to the state. The goal is to use these funds for musicians’ benefits instead

“We believe this goal is achievable,” said Local 802 Recording Vice-President Bill Dennison. “We spent nearly two years convincing New York State to forego the sales tax on jazz clubs just as they did on Broadway in the 1960’s. It’s only fair that this money now be used for the benefit of musicians and we’re determined to make that happen.”

This former sales tax is money that clubs previously had to pay the state, so it was built into their budget. It’s only 80 cents on every $10 the club collects, and it opens up the possibility for meaningful benefits for jazz artists and other musicians as well.

Dennison added, “We’re not seeking to change how the clubs do business, nor are we changing the relationship between the clubs and the musicians they hire. We are simply taking a stream of money that formerly went to the state and directing it to musicians benefit programs.”

Currently, musicians are circulating a petition urging the clubs to sit down with Local 802 to discuss how best to utilize the former tax revenues. Supporters include Ron Carter, Hank Jones, Joe Lovano and nearly 200 others.

To add your name to the list, or to find out how you can help in this effort, contact the Local 802 Jazz Department at (212) 245-4802, ext. 185 to give us permission to use your name on the petition.

Our plan is to network around this issue using all available modes of communication, including Allegro articles, phone banking, e-mail newsletters, blogging, text messaging and face-to-face meetings with musicians, coalition partners and jazz fans.

A coalition of local organizations and prominent endorsers is being put together to provide wide-based support. The Jazz Advisory Committee is currently seeking coalition partners to join in this fight for justice in the clubs.

As the year progresses, 802 will move from internal organizing to a more public campaign. A new Web site,, will be up and running this month. For the moment, see our link on the front page.

Benefits for jazz artists: it’s the right thing to do!


In addition to the jazz club tax campaign, the union is working to achieve fair standards for a number of smaller live music venues that may not have the same resources as the larger and more financially stable clubs and cabarets.

Fair standards means an end to the notorious “pay-to-play” venues as well as those that charge for the use of sound equipment or require musicians to guarantee an audience.

Local 802 is now seeking to co-ordinate with the many, often younger, musicians who work downtown or in Brooklyn to attempt to determine the most effective mode of advocacy.

Working with existing artists and community groups to build new coalitions, the goal is to educate musicians and demand higher standards, while simultaneously encouraging club owners to support live music by providing incentives ranging from public endorsements from artists, advocacy groups and fans, to encouragement in the form of tax breaks and subsidies that support live music.