The Music Performance Trust Fund, in collaboration with the Local 802 Jazz Advisory Committee, provided thousands of students in New York City’s public schools with an exceptional opportunity to hear live music demonstrations and concerts performed by 802 members and their bands in April. Well over 200 such concerts were presented.
The Recording Industries Music Performance Trust Fund was established in 1948 through the AFM’s collective bargaining agreement with the recording industries. The fund promotes live music performance by providing funds for musicians’ wages for performances that are free to the public. The presentations usually take place in community venues such as schools, libraries, museums, colleges and hospitals. AFM locals throughout the U.S. and Canada make the primary recommendations for MPTF concerts.
The Jazz Advisory Committee felt that a partnership with MPTF was important to musicians and that it was highly worthwhile. Both entities are concerned with education, with providing wages and benefits to musicians, and with bringing live music to the community. The Jazz Advisory Committee has been looking for ways to bring professional musicians into the public schools for years.
So there was no problem with putting a plan into action when MPTF reached out to the jazz community, which has not traditionally made extensive use of these funds. MPTF was seeking proposals that could be funded from a pool of money that remained unspent at the end of the fund’s fiscal year. This was a rare opportunity for full funding, without the normal co-sponsorship requirement, for engagements that otherwise fit MPTF criteria.
The word traveled fast. Within the first week of “word of mouth” promotion around the music community, several hundred gigs had been scheduled and at least a few hundred thousand dollars spent. In fact, the response was so enthusiastic that the pool of available money was exhausted and some of the proposed engagements could not be funded.
A SUCCESSFUL PROGRAM
“The Fund was very pleased with the outcome of the April performances, the high volume response from the music community, and the quality of the concerts,” said MPTF Staff Assistant Joe Lisa. He told Allegro that the amount of money made available for the events without cosponsorship was virtually unprecedented during his 10 years with the Fund. Lisa said the quality of the concerts and the enthusiastic response they evoked, highlighted a need that MPTF would like to continue to help meet.
“It is important for the union to be involved in community ventures to promote what the musicians do best – demonstrations and performances,” said bassist and educator Reggie Workman. Workman, who serves as Coordinator of Instruction at the New School University’s Jazz Studies Program, pointed out that musicians are sometimes reluctant to become involved with the union because they cannot see that it is helping them to find work. “This was an opportunity to show that the union could provide these things, by making these educational and community programs a reality.”
Although there were some problems with the process, there was an overall feeling that the musicians were happy to have had the opportunity to go into the schools and work with children. This was demonstrated by the number of musicians who, after finding out that some of their engagements would be cancelled due to the eventual shortage of funds, decided to perform for free because they knew the children were expecting them.
Cliff Anderson, trombonist with Sonny Rollins and bandleader, said that, after seeing the student response at the concerts, the band realized there is a need and a hunger for cultural experiences. “We knew it was necessary to give the students this opportunity regardless of the lack of funding,” he said. “The kids are interested in music, without bias to a type.” He said the band stayed after their performance to speak with students. “There were questions about the lifestyle of a musician, and where I’ve traveled, and just general questions about music.”
Workman pointed out that the program “could have been better organized and managed if the musicians were aware of it earlier. I believe that we could have gotten more support from the institutions,” he said.
PROSPECTS FOR FUTURE COLLABORATION
Lisa said MPTF “received calls from both musicians and school administrators about how much they enjoyed the performances.” The schools were grateful for the quality of the performances, he said, and in many cases have begun to look for ways to continue bringing musicians to their schools. He said that MPTF needs to “attempt to find a way to continue this kind of program.”
He noted that the MPTF program is normally based on matching funds through co-sponsorships, and that union members can always submit requests for funding on this basis – but he stressed that the fund would like to help build on what could be a great relationship between the community and musicians.
Workman added that, in the future, schools will need to be willing to provide some funding for these concerts. “Institutions cannot expect these music performances for free, as they were this time around. A campaign must be developed to make the various institutions aware of the funding needs.”
He said he believes that musicians need to be able to identify which institutions are amenable to utilizing music in education, and to the benefit of the community. “We are all concerned about the decrease in funding for the arts. Art is important, and it helps students’ learning in all areas,” Workman said. “The message to the musicians needs to be that this is not just about music performance – but about projecting something meaningful with a lesson and a message.”
The April concerts were a sort of windfall that neither MPTF nor the musicians had expected. The experience helped to demystify the MPTF for many musicians. It also made them aware of a community network that can be utilized by 802 members, some of whom have had few opportunities to experience the mutual benefits (education for children, and employment with benefits) derived from these performances. The opportunity MPTF provided to jazz musicians in April can also be seen as seed money that helped demonstrate, to schools and the community, new ways that musicians can be employed.