Speak truth to power

Lorraine Gordon, the owner of the Village Vanguard, still isn't returning our calls. So we paid her a visit on the night of her awards ceremony...

Volume 113, No. 2February, 2013

Todd Bryant Weeks

Members of Local 802 and the Justice for Jazz Artists campaign came together on Jan. 14 to leaflet the 2013 National Endowments for the Arts’ Jazz Masters Awards ceremony. The goal was to draw attention to an injustice being perpetuated by one of this year’s honorees – Village Vanguard owner Lorraine Gordon.

Despite receiving a tax break in 2007 specifically as a result of efforts in tandem with the union, Ms. Gordon refuses even to speak with union organizers, let alone address the needs of a growing community of financially compromised jazz retirees who have no benefits structure to fall back on, even as her club continues to make money. Gordon has herself admitted publicly that the problem exists, but has refused to assume any responsibility for this pressing issue.

Even in challenging economic times the club does sound business, much of it brought in by European and Japanese tourists. Based on conservative estimates, and even if the club is operating at 50 percent capacity, the club’s gross receipts are somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 million per year. Local 802’s current demand is that the club contribute approximately $19,000 annually to the AFM Pension Fund, a pittance when measured against the club’s yearly profits.

Ms. Gordon – who was being presented with the 2013 A.B. Spellman Award for Jazz Advocacy – has steadfastly refused to return the union’s phone calls or answer our correspondence on this subject. Her receipt of an award that is presented yearly to someone who has furthered the cause and culture of jazz music is ironic considering her continued refusal to adequately support those who give their lives to create and maintain that culture, and make her club highly profitable.

So union staff and supporters met in front of the site where the awards ceremony was taking place: Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, another offending club that has not yet signed onto our campaign. We leafletted passersby and spread the word about our campaign and its goals. We had some success when we were able to get into the building, present our case and disseminate our literature to members of the press. Outside, however, we were harangued by private Time Warner security guards who said the sidewalk was not an appropriate place to voice our opinions publicly, as they claim it to be Time Warner’s property. (We contend that we have the constitutional right to free speech, especially on a sidewalk where free, public access is the norm.)

Last year, the A.B. Spellman Award was presented to Jimmy Owens, a chief advocate for our campaign and a founding member of the union’s Jazz Advisory Committee. In his speech he delivered a moving endorsement of our campaign’s goal to gain pensions and security for hard-working and exploited musicians. Mr. Owens, in our opinion, is a shining example of what a real advocate for jazz culture looks like.

For more information about our jazz campaign, and to sign our petition on behalf of musicians, see