The Musicians’ Voice
Volume 117, No. 5May, 2017
E-mail letters to the editor or write to Allegro, Local 802, 322 West 48th Street, New York, NY 10036. Letters must be no more than 300 words. Opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of Local 802.
MORE ON THE PENSION FUND
Kudos to Scott Ballantyne for his recent excellent letters (March and April issues) about the pension fund. I have one clarification and one suggestion.
First, his reading of my letter (February issue) in which I recommended “Skillful, innovative and focused investment strategies” missed my point, which is: indexing, about which we agree, is a “skillful, innovative and focused” strategy. Indexing has proven effective in equaling or surpassing active management over the long term.
Our trustees and fund managers are attached to an outdated investment paradigm and have failed to take advantage of this fresh approach that, as Mr. Ballantyne says, even billionaire Warren Buffet recommends. Indexing requires patience, steadfastness and time, the latter of which is in short supply since the survival of the fund depends on returns of 7.5 percent annually just to avoid insolvency. The history of how the fund got into this mess is not my point, although much has and still needs to be said about that. Nevertheless, fund managers now must chase short term returns through risky investments that offer no guarantee of surpassing indexing. The trustees, who hire them, sanction this practice.
Thus, I’m not optimistic as Mr. Ballantyne is about the pension fund’s future. It depends on the trustees. Regardless of the impassioned pleas and intelligent arguments offered by concerned union members like Mr. Ballantyne and many others, I’m not convinced that the trustees get the urgency of the indexing message. They must truly take to heart the meaning of “economic justice” from the Occupy movement, and apply it to reforming the fund management. Until that happens, nothing will truly change.
As for my suggestion, I would like to be able to invest my pension contributions in an array of fund choices, much like I have done at Vanguard and TIAA-CREF for decades (I’m 66). The archaic pension fund paradigm was created long before computers, personal investing or electronic trading existed. The fund should partner with one of these excellent financial institutions to provide an authentic personal pension investment management alternative for union members. It would provide more investment choices, and return active management fees into union members’ pockets where they belong.
Scott Ballantyne correctly illustrates that the tragedy of high cost portfolios is not just fees paid but also the great loss of future compound growth on those fees. Anyone who does any investing, small or large, must read John C. Bogle’s “Common Sense on Mutual Funds.” Bogle is the father of index investing and founder of the hugely successful Vanguard Group of low-cost index funds. Two Bogle quotes: “Don’t look for the needle in the haystack. Just buy the haystack.” And: “The grim irony of investing is that we investors as a group not only don’t get what we pay for, we get precisely what we don’t pay for.”
CLARIFICATION RE: COMPULSORY LICENSING
With regard to my last article published in the March issue, it has come to my attention that its editorial theme can be interpreted as a call to end compulsory licensing, and this would not be consistent with the policy aims of many musicians represented by Local 802. For clarification, that article was largely intended to highlight the loophole created by the combination of the 1940s-era consent decrees and Section 115 of the Copyright Act, which Big Data companies are now exploiting.
It is not my own view that compulsory licensing should cease to exist across the board, only that creators should follow the issues and seek reform to the status quo wherever reasonable enforcement is falling through the cracks. In this regard, I ought to have been more careful with my general use of the term “compulsory license,” and the final paragraph would more accurately call for revising the current regime rather than ending it.
I am not recommending what specific new contours should be drawn, either in the copyright law or with regard to new licensing regimes going forward. I also recognize that there are myriad – often conflicting – interests within each artistic field and that music is probably the most complicated licensing system in the world of copyright. So, to clarify, my editorial advice is that all musicians should follow the story of consent decrees, compulsory licenses, and loopholes in the law like Sec. 115. I do not endorse a specific remedy, only a hope that all creators can be protected, especially from predatory technology companies leveraging outdated legal frameworks.
‘LOVE SONGS FROM THE LIBERATION WARS’
I recently attended a premiere of “Love Songs from the Liberation Wars: The 1940’s Tobacco Workers’ Struggle.” Award-winning musician Steve Jones and labor theater director Elise Bryant have created a superb, timely and highly unusual jazz opera about the struggle of RJ Reynolds tobacco workers in North Carolina. The show debuted to sellout crowds the first weekend of April in Maryland. The musical brings to life a historic, almost-forgotten strike led by African-American women at the RJ Reynolds factory in Winston-Salem. Allegro wrote about this show a year ago, in the May 2016 issue.
Jones mixes jazz, blues, gospel, pop and folk music, performed with beauty, power and unrestrained gusto by a cast that includes professional and amateur actors accompanied with great relish by a jazz trio, who performed under an AFM contract. Characters representing Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and Paul Robeson lead the workers in songs, just as they did during the real struggle in the 1940s.
Under the expert direction of Elise Bryant, the show (inspired by the book “Civil Rights Unionism” by Dr. Robert R. Korstad of Duke University) elegantly mixes class struggle with love: love between characters, love of country during wartime and love of justice. “Love Songs” is laced with humor as well as social passion, including songs like “Capitalism is Just Cigarette Smoke in the Face of Humanity.”
This 70-year-old strike resonates with today’s era of the New Jim Crow. In fact, in the show, an actual singing character named “Jim Crow” appears on stage, and battles with the 23-year old strike leader Theodosia Simpson. It was most appropriate that the show played right near the date of MLK’s assassination in Memphis during the sanitation workers’ strike: April 4, 1968.
For more information about “Love Songs,” see www.laborheritage.org/love-songs-liberation-wars
The writer is a trade unionist and musical playwright.
A TRIBUTE TO SID JEKOWSKY
Our father and grandfather, Sidney (Sid) Jekowsky, 97, a saxophonist and arranger, died on Feb. 11, after a career that spanned over 75 years. He had been a member of Local 802 since 1939. A talented New York-based woodwind doubler, he appeared on numerous recordings as well as on television and film. His early career is noted in Nick Perito’s book “I Just Happened to Be There: Making Music with the Stars.” He played flute and clarinet on numerous Coleman Hawkins records and saxophone on “One Fine Day” by the Chiffons. He recorded for Frank Sinatra, Eydie Gormé, and the very young Paul Anka, who Sid jokingly referred to as “the kid they sent to get coffee.” For years, Sid was on staff with the ABC orchestra, appearing regularly on the Jimmy Dean and Dick Cavett shows. He later become a member of the Peter Duchin orchestra, as well as its bandleader, and often, as an avid pilot, their transportation. This led to performances at the White House, including the wedding of Lynda Bird Johnson. For those who want to catch a glimpse of Sid on film, he can be seen in “Rollover,” starring Jane Fonda, and in Woody Allen’s “Everyone Says I Love You.” Sid settled in with the New York Pops under the baton of his friend Skitch Henderson, where he was prized as a musician capable of switching from classical pieces to the great American songbook as effortlessly as he switched instruments. For years, he spent his summers playing at Kutsher’s in the Catskills. Most recently, he played regularly with a 16-piece jazz band in Florida. Sid was a mentor to many young musicians who recognized the depth of knowledge he possessed and the pleasure he derived from sharing it. He will be greatly missed by all of us.
–Harold, Gail, Amanda and Emma Jekowsky
REMEMBERING WALTER HAUTZIG
Pianist Walter Hautzig and his wife Esther, a writer, were dear friends of mine. They took me into their circle when I was active in the Jewish community on the Upper West Side here in New York City some years ago.
They were both brilliant in their respective fields. However, they were so humble, kind, and unassuming, that one would never suspect, for instance, that Walter counted several kings around the world as his personal friends. They were the embodiment of the meaning of the word “mensch.”
The Hautzigs’ kindnesses toward me included invitations to concerts, master classes and their home. They also sent both teaching and performing work my way. At a master class at the 92nd St. Y, I saw anxious young pianists quickly put at ease by Walter’s patient, caring nature. His expertise in communicating both musical and technical concepts produced measurable improvement in their playing.
Most of all, I cherish the time we spent together and the opportunities that I had to hear Walter play. He was one of the finest and most exquisite musicians I have ever heard. His very soul was evident in every gorgeous note. There was no one like him.
While attending his funeral, I was shocked to learn that Walter had been among those in the Jewish community who were forced to scrub the streets of Vienna when the Nazis invaded. A fellowship to study at the Jerusalem Conservatory provided him with a way forward. Many more details about Walter’s life can be found in his obituary in the New York Times.
He and Esther (whose family had been exiled to Siberia) were both immigrants, refugees who thankfully escaped and survived the situation in Europe, and changed the world for the better with their gifts.
I am so fortunate to have known them. May their memory be for a blessing.
THANKS FOR THE MUSIC DONATION
Thank you for the recent donation of the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra Library from Local 802 to the Brooklyn Public Library on March 30. This donation will help the orchestra collection provide more orchestra music to all the different orchestra members and Local 802 members. All the 60 boxes of music will enhance the Brooklyn Public Library Orchestra Collection in many ways, preserving the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra Library. Thank you again for the donation. If you have any questions, please e-mail: email@example.com.
The writer is the music librarian of the orchestra collection at the Brooklyn Public Library. Local 802 counsel Harvey Mars and Financial Vice President Tom Olcott helped facilitate this donation. See Harvey’s column in the April 2017 issue of Allegro.
WANT TO BE AN ACTIVIST?
Do you want to be an activist? Musicians Indivisible is an informal group that meets occasionally to talk about politics and social activism. One of our campaigns is to educate the public about the dangers of the New York State constitutional convention that’s on the ballot this fall. We also do other work around political issues. Join us at musiciansindivisible.org.
DEMOCRATS IN NAME ONLY?
Thank you to Chris Carroll for pointing out the bizarre stance of the Independent Democratic Conference in Albany in the March Allegro. These DINO state senators (I won’t dignify them by capitalizing their titles) originally portrayed themselves as a fresh voice, caucusing independently or with the Democrats, but quickly became aligned with the Republicans. The original intent was, I think, to show themselves as rising above the historical wheeling, dealing and corruption in the State Senate by portraying themselves as separate from and not beholden to that. However, by being elected as Democrats and now effectively being Republicans, they have shown themselves to be turncoats and done their own wheeling and dealing. As I said in an email to IDC member David Carlucci (my senator) a few years ago, “If I had wanted to vote for a Republican, I would have voted for a Republican!” I didn’t hear back from his office, by the way. And to those colleagues who might perhaps be offended by my Democratic partisanship, I have always understood that while some of us might have conservative political leanings for other reasons that might be important to them, if being in a union has been beneficial and/or important, we all should understand that Democrats have typically been MUCH more supportive of organized labor. For instance, compare the effort to pass the Employee Free Choice Act by the then-Democratic US Congress in 2009 with the present effort to introduce national “right-to-work” (for less) legislation.
SAVE THE ARTS!
Local 802 received a number of testimonials about the “Save the Arts” rally. Also see David Byrne’s essay in this issue.
I attended the “Save the Arts” rally on April 3 at City Hall because the arts are the greatest legacy of every culture that has ever existed. While it is possible to study these cultures in a purely empirical sense, it is through the arts that we feel the humanity of these people. A painting allows us to see through their eyes; music makes us feel as they did. If the arts come to an end in this country, so do our vehicles for expression. If that day was to come, our very culture would die that day.
I attended the “Save the Arts” rally because defunding the arts will have a measurable negative social, moral and economic impact in every part of society. Arts have the ability to unite and gather a collective mind in decision making , an important tool in diverse nations like America. Art is the only tool kids can use to learn and understand the different point of views of each other.
I attended the recent “Save the Arts” rally because I believe that creative expression is not a luxury reserved for a chosen few, but a fundamental human right. The arts are vital to a society that values free speech and the pursuit of happiness. A country cannot flourish when it is cut off from its own culture.
JIM CZAK, WE’LL MISS YOU
Earlier this year, I got one of those phone calls that’s so unexpected and delightful, it reaffirms everything you thought you knew about what is good and right in the world. It came from my old friend and colleague, Jim Czak, master engineer and owner of Nola Studios. Nola was a second home to so many New York musicians, a private world at the top of the Steinway building from which Jim would regularly inject light and electricity into the sound of records, TV shows, radio broadcasts and more. It was a place of immeasurable importance to me during my six years as music director of “Sesame Street,” and my ten years freelancing for the show before that. Jim was a friend of depth and proportion that far exceeded his not inconsiderable physical girth.
Every moment of every session was filled with warmth and humor, informed by a love of music and the people who make it. Jim’s O.K. or nod was all the assurance anyone needed that a performance or take had gone well. In his room, you felt safe; it exuded and invited trust.
Perhaps more importantly, everyone who walked into his world was a human being. One’s parents, cousins, kids, bosses, ideas, philosophies, thoughts, problems, illnesses, joys or challenges, all interested Jim, and he was always ready to treat them as his own. After the band left we would often take a little break before starting to mix. These yielded some of our most treasured times. Conversation could be political, spiritual, idealogical, intellectual, personal, – as wide and far reaching as experience and wonder allowed.
That’s what had inspired his call. Something had reminded him of a subject on which we’d once touched, and he felt I was the only person who would get why it excited him. He didn’t have my current number, so he tracked my son down in Montana. When I picked up the phone I heard, “Merk…guess who this is,” and nearly yelped with joy.
Now Jim Czak is gone, and I have a hole in the middle of my heart. It seems impossible that such a powerful life force could be stilled. His was not a name that topped the pop pantheon, but music has lost something great, as has humanity. As have I.
To my dear, dear friend, Jim.
My friendship with Jimmy Czak started in the 60s when Jimmy played piano in my quintet. We would play local jazz clubs and on weekends Sam Maslin would send us up to the Catskills to work the bungalow colonies and hotel lounges. Later Jimmy auditioned and got the gig to be musical director for vocalist Leslie Gore. Coming off the road with Leslie, Jim became an intern at Bell Sound Studios in NYC. After a couple of years of internship Jim began his engineering career. Later Jim and a partner bought Nola Studios, and in 1982 asked me to co-produce an album with him there. I supplied the arrangements and musicians and Jimmy tracked and mixed my “Positive Energy” album. Jimmy found his niche in the recording studio and became the best at what he did. He loved musicians and they loved him, and his extensive body of work bears that out. During those years at Nola, Jimmy worked with – and became friends with – almost everyone in the world of music.
In 2015, I was struggling with a complicated project. Jimmy came to my studio and spent an entire day mixing. When he was done I asked how much did I owe him. He said “Nothing! I came to help a friend.” How fortunate am I to have the BEST as my friend? Well, for a nominal fee he came back, spent a week in my studio and did a masterful job of mixing the entire album. But more than the music, it was always a joy to sit and talk to Jimmy. He had a million stories and a humorous style of telling them. And he was a good listener as well. After mixing my “Tribute to John Lennon” album, Jimmy came by for lunch one afternoon. He brought a pile of memorabilia to share. Jimmy was proud of his career and the friendships that he had made.
It’s been a long road, and not having Jimmy around seems surreal. R.I.P., ol’ friend.
Jim Czak was a larger-than-life man, both in stature and in heart. He was generous to a fault, not only economically, but also with his time. He was always ready to do a freebie recording to help an upcoming young musician or singer. If you were a friend, you were a friend for life. Jim was an avid reader, a science fiction devotee, and a conspiracy theory enthusiast – and a recording engineer par excellence! Brass players loved working for him because he always made the headphone mix for them, knowing that if they could not hear themselves, they could tire more easily. One quote that I loved was that “Jim Czak is the Godfather to New York Musicians!” I shall miss my friend but I know that when it’s my time Jim will be at the gate saying “Come on in. I just gave an angel I know $20 and we have great seats!”
Jim Czak was a great engineer and a great friend. His warmth facilitated making Nola, his recording studio, feel like a second home. I know this by having “lived” there with him for many years while playing for “Sesame Street,” for which he was chief engineer. One of the best parts of the recording sessions would be his quips and jokes from the control room when a session would become boring or tense, always helping to relax everyone. We love you, Jim, and will miss you here!
I used to make Nola Studios a regular stop (other than recording there) whenever I was in the Steinway Hall neighborhood. Often I would listen to recording sessions that were incredible – I heard Hank Jones many times! I would just stop by and chat with the powers that be, or have the luxurious benefit of a lavatory pit stop. Most of all, I’d go to the back room office, and if Jim was there, we would have long, confidential conversations. He never betrayed my confidence or that of anyone I knew. He created this community with a membership in the thousands. We often talked about conspiracy theories, UFO’s, aliens – the usual musician conversation. When you got off the 17th floor elevator, to the right was a poster that was titled something like “Night of 1,000 Stars,” which was a show produced for a couple of years at Radio City. He had each star sign the poster, as most of them eventually recorded at Nola. What with our agreement on the likeliness of end of days or visitation by alien beings imminent, I told him one day: “Next year you’ll have “The Night of a Thousand I-Told-You-So’s!”
That’s it for now!
I first met Jim Czak as a member of Don Sebesky’s band. Over the years I did many sessions with him, including one of my CDs. I once asked him how he got such a good sound on my horn. He told me that he just put up the mic and stayed out of my way. He was exaggerating, in my opinion. He was a musician’s engineer with a special understanding of his instrument (his studio). He is sorely missed.
We also lost Laura Flax recently. I knew Laura since eighth grade. We were classmates in Long Beach, New York. Laura was always one of the finest clarinetists. Best in her class and a wonderful professional. Over the years our paths crossed numerous times. It was always a joy to work with her. We’ve lost a marvelous musician and person.