The Musicians’ Voice

Volume CIX, No. 9September, 2009

The Musicians’ Voice is an open forum for discussion about the state of union affairs. The letters here do not necessarily express the views of Local 802. Letters must be 300 words or less. Send them to Allegro, c/o Local 802, 322 West 48th Street, New York, NY 10036, or e-mail Mikael Elsila, editor, at

Your featured interview on the four of us hotel musicians in the last issue was just great. Thank you so much for doing such a great job. I was super pleased as I am sure the other three interviewees will be. The layout and highlighted quotes are great, too. Many, many thanks! It could not have been done better. I believe the article will help more people be aware that there actually is hotel music and that it’s a great alternative for going out. There is no cover charge for the most part and you can also get involved by asking for requests. The article is one more voice to help make our presence known.

–Kurt Wieting

Indicted but not forgotten

I recently heard about the indictment of Leonard Leibowitz, Local 802’s former lawyer, for reportedly taking $150,000 from the Independent Artists of America.

As a trumpet player playing with the New Jersey Symphony and Radio City Music Hall for much of my musical career, I know about Mr. Leibowitz’ skills, or lack thereof. He has had a quite a negative impact on not only my career, but the careers of the musicians of those orchestras with his questionable handling of those contract negotiations.

His latest debacle, of course, was the recent Radio City Music Hall negotiations, where we lost much of what the orchestra fought for in the 25+ years I was a member.

I want to commend the present Local 802 administration for getting rid of Mr. Leibowitz. I hope the membership of Local 802 appreciates not only how embarrassing it would have been if he still was our lawyer, but also appreciate what the present administration has done as far as bringing back our union from what was done in the previous administration.

Given Mr. Leibowitz’ indictment, I am also wondering if there is any possibility he also took money from Local 802.

–Zachary Shnek

THE ADMINISTRATION REPLIES: Strict internal fiscal controls have been established by Local 802 that would effectively bar any misappropriation such as that allegedly engaged in by Mr. Leibowitz with regard to the Independent Artists of America. Furthermore, a fiscal impropriety bylaw was enacted so that a proper recovery could be made in the event that union assets were misappropriated. From our understanding of the nature of the criminal complaint against Mr. Leibowitz, he was in possession of the IAA’s checkbook, for which he apparently had check signing authority. Mr. Leibowitz has never been issued a loan by Local 802 nor has he ever had checkwriting authority nor had possession or other access to union assets. Furthermore, since checks drawn on the Local 802 General Fund’s account must be signed by two union officials, no single union officer or employee is able to engage in the actions that are alleged here. For these reasons, we are confident that Mr. Leibowitz did not engage in similar conduct with regard to Local 802. Finally, we must also remember that in this country Mr. Leibowitz is innocent unless actually proven guilty.

What a waste!

Why in God’s name is David Finck’s minutiae even given a minute of the union’s time at all, not to mention meetings and money spent? This is the worst time to be spending money on trivia like this. Don’t be afraid of some crank member and his frivolous charges. Do the right thing: just ignore it, like what should have been done with John Babich! It’s like the world is blowing up and someone is worrying about the length of their fingernail.

I was recently the musical director of a show band on a cruise ship and one night I made a mistake and forgot to cue music that was to come before the ship’s captain was to say something. It was a big gathering in the ship’s huge theatre. The captain wasn’t really that mad but he made a joke. Guess what it was? He said, “What, are the musicians on strike?” He is Greek, not a Broadway showgoer. The notion that musicians go on strike has reached all over the world. That’s what immediately came into his mind!

The union should be spending its money – my money – on gaining positive publicity for musicians and for using live musicians rather than wasting its time on childish meanderings of the likes of Finck and Babich.

I understand you need to represent everyone, but come on! Make a judgment call sometimes.

The sane voices – who are the silent majority – never get heard.

–David Braynard

A few bad apples

I would like to applaud the membership for turning out in such large numbers for the June 10th union meeting. Considering how busy everyone’s schedule is makes it even more impressive. Having an active membership will only make 802 stronger.

Considering the seriousness of the issues before the membership, it’s only natural for individuals to have strong opinions, but I wish that everyone in attendance could be respectful of speakers from both sides without shouting editorial comments from the floor.

Numerous people complained to me about the behavior of a few, and one offended member who has been active for many years commented that they would never again attend a union meeting.

Once again, it was only a few people – but many of these people have been in leadership positions in the past. Along with being in a leadership capacity goes the responsibility of setting a good example and knowing what proper decorum is all about.

The differences between our two parties might seem large, but pales in comparison to the challenges that lie ahead for our industry.

–Steve Norrell

Remembering Kim

Kimberly Reeves, violin.” This is what I saw in the June Allegro. Three words in our union paper about the loss of my colleague and friend. [Editor’s note: Ms. Reeves’s full obituary ran in the July/August issue.]

Those that knew Kim will attest that she was a very kind, warmhearted lady, with the sharpest wit. She never tried to pretend she was anything different than who she was. In fact it was her honesty with who she was that first drew me to her.

I call her my friend, but sadly I didn’t know her the way I would have liked. You see, I was always too busy doing this gig or that. Going to one meeting or another. I never took the time to really get to know Kim. So my social time with her existed during breaks on some jobs here or there. The best time was going outside during the break and listening to her describe, in the funniest ways, how dreadful a conductor was. So gigs that would normally be hell ended up being quite pleasant, because of Kim and her wicked sense of humor.

I’m going to miss her so much, and I know those that were close to her must miss her terribly. If I were to see her one more time, I would let her know that she touched so many people she worked with. I just wish I had had the chance to tell her that before she died.

–Daire FitzGerald

Fireworks vs. music

Because of lack of funding, there will probably be fewer concerts by the Asbury Park Band, an institution which has provided entertainment since 1945 for Asbury Park, where I live.

Also in Asbury Park, there were no operas at the Paramount this summer. I’m not sure why, but I suspect money once again has something to do with it. I find this to be distressing and a bad omen for a city trying to improve its image and its economy.

And yet, the city sees fit to have fireworks on the beach every Wednesday night. There doesn’t seem to be any particular reason. They’re nice, and I can see them easily from my home, although the geese don’t seem to like it. Trouble is, they cost a lot, certainly more than a concert would.

At this point I have to admit that I have a vested interest; I am a musician in both the band and the opera, and this year I am losing money because there are fewer gigs.

That said, I still have to wonder just where our priorities are. Are fireworks more important than music, even if it’s not rock music?

I was playing with a brass group in Sea Bright and Bruce Springsteen showed up and listened to us and complimented our playing. These are long-serving institutions in Asbury Park and deserve to be heard.

Part of the skyline on the boardwalk is the Arthur Pryor Band Pavilion, which was built for the band, but hasn’t reopened since the structure was condemned a few years ago. The building has been improved, but the pavilion is still idle, maybe as a symbol of the status of music in our community. I hope that won’t stay the case.

–Stephen Christen

Spin vs. fact

In the Recording Vice President’s Report in the July/August issue of Allegro, Bill Dennison offers plenty of spin in lieu of fact.

The facts:

1. The June 10 membership meeting was attended by some 400 musicians who voted by majority to pass two bylaws and voted not to dismiss charges of malfeasance filed against officers.

2. There are charges filed specifically against Dennison himself for repeatedly violating our bylaws.

3. Dennison calls the Legacy gathering of July 2008: “A meeting outside the union organized by a broad group of folks involved in New York City’s recording scene.” He omits the fact that invitations came from President Mary Landolfi. Nor does he describe what occurred at that meeting or that the Legacy survey was entitled “AFM Musicians Survey.” It wasn’t called: “The Broad Group of Folks Involved in New York City’s Recording Scene Survey.”

4. Dennison’s statement that the charges were based on the survey is untrue. They are based on violations committed by officers of this union. Dennison calls these charges inconsequential. However as of June 10, the membership voted overwhelmingly not to dismiss them. Now he is attempting to sway Allegro readers who might not know the facts.

Bill Dennison has used both Allegro and Local 802 Notes to express his personal opinions and to defend actions for which he and the rest of our Executive Board have been indicted. He is trying this case in the press long before a trial committee has been elected or any testimony given. If Dennison cannot simply report the news and must insert his personal opinions, he should use personal resources, not the union’s. Our membership and work dues are paying for this gross abuse of union resources. It is disgraceful and should not be tolerated.

–David Finck

THE ADMINISTRATION REPLIES: Officers are expected to share their views – and should share their views – with the membership they were elected to serve. Mr. Finck has his individual opinions, which he also has the right to express. We stand behind Recording Vice President Bill Dennison’s statements.

Remembering Carmen

I was saddened to read of Carmen Leggio’s passing in Allegro and though I only worked with him once have a fond memory which I’ll share.

In the mid-70’s I was attending the Manhattan School of Music while working five nights a week in a Top-40 band in the lounges of deepest Jersey.

I’d drive to school from my Bergen County home, always on only three to five hours of sleep and always sitting in rush hour traffic on the GW.

WRVR was still going strong then (a commercial jazz station in NYC – imagine!) and my favorite DJ was Ed Beach (who would sometimes introduce himself as “Lance Mollusk”, to my delight).

His theme music was Woody Herman’s version of Oscar Peterson’s “Hallelelujah Time,” arranged as a classic two-tenor battle featuring Carmen and the great Sal Nistico.

Listening to these two great players in this jubilant arrangement would always lift my spirits and bring a smile to my face despite the 8 a.m. hour.

I shared this story with Carmen on the one gig I did with him about 15 years ago. He really enjoyed it.

To this day I have a cassette of that tune in my car which I listen to with some regularity.

Still does the trick!

–John Arbo

Allegro’s new look

Congratulations on the fresh new look of Allegro. It’s a welcome change, and very well done. Thank you!

–Kimberlee Wertz

As a fellow union newspaper editor in New York City, I just wanted to let you know the July/August issue of Allegro with its upgraded paper and new format looks great. I also love the content, as always. The subjects are always interesting, it’s well written, and the members are totally reflected and integrated into it. I guess that’s partly the nature of the industry (musicians are a fascinating bunch), but also the union does a great job and you have a supportive Executive Board. Allegro is the only labor publication (or publication of any kind, except maybe for Runner’s World) that I save for months if I don’t have time to read it when it comes out, and then actually read the back issues. And I’m not a musician.

Also, congratulations to Allegro on its recent awards [see In Brief]. They’re very much deserved.

–Donna Ristorucci
The writer is editor of Retiree News & Views,
a publication of Teamsters Local 237.

Kudos to Allegro editor Mikael Elsila and designer Tony Sutton for the new, improved look of Allegro!

That said, and in keeping with the administration’s urges that we change with the times, I suspect that anyone actively working as a musician must have access to e-mail as a condition of doing business. More and more we are getting e-blasts from 802 (and parties within it) to keep us informed between monthly Allegros.

I submit to the membership that we expeditiously study the question of changing the bylaws to allow e-mail notices to be official for the purposes of announcing meetings and other union business. This way we are not bound to the monthly Allegro deadlines to get our business done.

We should also explore allowing less time after notices are promulgated before the meeting or event can occur. If our employers needed as much lead time as we do to make decisions, they’d be out of business in the modern world.

Also, in the July/August issue, Bill Dennison addresses the problem of inconsistent and unclear bylaw language, suggesting that an independent counsel make recommendations based on current practice in other unions. I call on the membership to consider this and any other options they might propose and to resolve to expeditiously apply the chosen option not only to the one issue that has caused recent dissension but all such problematic spots in the bylaws. (Surely past and present leadership and counsel could assemble a laundry list of these spots!) Final recommendations to the membership might come through a balanced ad hoc committee who would evaluate them, considering any germane past and potential scenarios and how the changes would affect how they played out.

–Howard Levitsky

THE ADMINISTRATION REPLIES: Thanks to all three writers above for their kind words about Allegro’s new look. This summer, we began designing Allegro in-house, which will save the union thousands of dollars a year over the previous cost of having an outside press do the same work. Regarding Mr. Levitsky’s suggestion that e-mail be the official mode of communication for certain union announcements, we spoke to our counsel about this idea. In order to be defensible under labor law, members would have to opt in to such an arrangement. That is, they would have to tell us that they would like to receive official announcements like membership meeting notifications only by e-mail. But we couldn’t make that decision for every member. It does seem like the whole world is on e-mail, but it’s not actually the case, and we couldn’t exclude members who don’t have e-mail access. Also, what if an official e-mail notice about a Local 802 membership meeting went into a member’s spam folder and was lost? We think that using Allegro and e-mail together are the best way to get out information like membership meeting announcements, but one without the other would be a mistake.