Turning Up the Heat

Recording Vice-President's Report

Volume CX, No. 4April, 2010

John O'Connor

Our jazz campaign must be ‘tenacious, patient and persuasive’

It’s the year 2015 and you have a gig in a jazz club in the Village on the weekend.

You are a bassist who plays jazz and blues, depending on which band you are playing with.

By the time the weekend is over you’ll make a few hundred dollars and be looking forward to joining a blues band you sometimes play with for a gig on the following Friday night.

One thing has changed for you from five years ago on the club scene: both gigs you are playing will have made contributions into the musicians’ pension fund on your behalf.

The AFM pension fund went through some rough times a few years ago, like most pensions did, but it is now on the road to full recovery and you are well on your way to being vested in the pension fund, partly due to the clubs you play in New York City…

Is this a dream? That is the question facing many jazz musicians in this city. And it is the crux of what the Justice for Jazz Artists Campaign is about. What Local 802 and the jazz musicians in New York, along with their supporters, accomplish in the next few years will answer that question. Pension and other benefits through the clubs in New York can be a dream or it can be a reality.

On Feb. 27, musicians and Local 802 organizers stood outside the Blue Note in Greenwich Village and handed out flyers encouraging patrons to ask the Blue Note to do the right thing and sit down with representatives of the union to work out a way for musicians who play in that club to receive pension benefits.

The leafleting is a part of the continued effort to convince jazz clubs to treat their musicians fairly by doing what other employers of musicians outside the jazz arena have been doing for years.

This campaign is not about the Blue Note or even about the musicians who play the Blue Note. This campaign is about beginning the work of building a network of musical venues in and out of the jazz scene that will pay pension so that musicians might someday be vested and collect a pension through their work in music clubs in New York and the rest of the country.

The Blue Note is the target because it epitomizes the nightclub and stands out as an example of a business that profits from the practitioners of one of our most cherished musical art forms, but denies those musicians fair treatment and dignity afforded other workers and other kinds of musicians in New York.

The Blue Note, as well as other major jazz clubs in New York, has been contacted by the union requesting that they meet with union representatives to discuss ways of diverting the windfall the clubs received from a 2006 law that rescinded a tax those clubs were required to pay before the law was passed. Though the clubs were contacted months ago, none have responded to Local 802’s request to talk.

We must be realistic. Jazz clubs are businesses and they are unlikely to agree to pay pension benefits for their musicians without due pressure from the union, the public, elected officials and musicians.

The arguments about the justice of our struggle have all been made.

If the clubs are to do the right thing, they will do it only when they are pressured to do so.

They will tell us that they are not the employer.

They will tell us that musicians don’t really want this.

They will tell us that the union should stay out of their business.

We will have to be tenacious, patient and persuasive.

And we will have to remember what Ghandi said about the just cause: “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.”