Out Loud!

Volume 112, No. 1January, 2012

Leon Bell with Todd Byrant Weeks

Justice for jazz artists now! Musicians began a pressure campaign to convince jazz clubs to do the right thing and pay pension to jazz musicians. Above, Local 802 Organizing Director Leon Bell (center) and Local 802 member Keisha St. Joan talk to an audience member in front of the Blue Note jazz club. Photo: Casey Kelbaugh

Justice for Jazz Artists campaign goes public…and the Blue Note takes notice

What time is it? Time for justice! Local 802 kicked off the next phase of its Justice for Jazz Artists campaign on Dec. 8 with public leafleting in front of the Blue Note jazz club.

“We had a great response,” said singer Keisha St. Joan. “We were getting people’s attention. We started waking people up. They were thanking us for letting them know about this issue. It’s empowering to be out there.”

The goal of the campaign is to create a network of music clubs that provide what we call the four P’s: pay scale, pension contributions, protection of recording rights and a grievance process. The intention is to achieve fairness for the musicians who sustain this great American art form.

On the first day of leafleting, Danny Bensusan, the owner of the Blue Note, screamed at leafleters to “get off my sidewalk” and “get jobs, you pieces of s##t.” Is this his initial bargaining position in response to the fair demands of musicians?

Bensusan also summoned the police in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the leafleting. The response from patrons of the club has been overwhelmingly positive.

“For decades jazz musicians have been treated by many clubs as itinerant workers,” saxophonist Dave Liebman told Allegro. “And now with the proliferation of so many young musicians who will not only play for the door but in some cases, even finance their own gig, it is time to draw a line in the sand.”

Liebman added, “New York is the center of jazz worldwide and the working jazz musician should be given a fair shake across the board from the little places to the big, all equitably done of course. This has been done for musicians on Broadway and for casual gigs. Jazz folks deserve no less.”

The Blue Note, however, still refuses to come to the table with Local 802 to discuss ways to provide musicians with retirement benefits.

Bassist Bob Cranshaw said, “Justice for Jazz Artists is all about educating people to take advantage of what’s there, and teaching the community about the need for respect for these artists that have given so much to the culture – and to this city.”

To join the effort, call (212) 245-4802 and ask for the Jazz Department, or see


The most important part of the jazz campaign is the concept of justice. It’s a very deep concept to me. It’s all about fairness, equity, doing the right thing, caring about each other, knowing what to do and doing it. And having the courage to step up and speak from the heart.

If humanity really spread justice in this way, the quality of all of our lives would be so much richer. And it would become obvious how linked we are, each of us, to each other.

In the case of Justice for Jazz Artists, that link is a fair pension in exchange for a life of commitment to music that enriches the world.

And this particular link holds the essence of honoring jazz musicians, we who have dedicated our lives to offering the heritage that holds the future.

I hope this perspective is seen and heard, deep within!

– Local 802 member and vocalist Janet Lawson