Members of Local 802 and the Justice for Jazz Artists campaign came together last night, January 14th, 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 continues to refuse even to speak with union organizers, let alone fulfill the promise she made as a precursor of that effort, to contribute modestly to pensions for the sidemen who play her club.
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% capacity, the club’s gross receipts are somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 million per year. J4JA’s demand is that the club contribute approximately $19,000 annually to the American Federation of Musicians and Employer’s Pension Fund (AFM-EPF), a pittance when measured against the club’s yearly profits.
Ms. Gordon—who last night was presented with the 2013 A.B. Spellman Award for Jazz Advocacy—has steadfastly refused to return Justice for Jazz Artists’ 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 quite 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 last night Justice for Jazz Artists traveled to another offending club, Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, to leaflet 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 claimed that the sidewalk, being as it was owned by Time Warner, was not an appropriate place to voice our opinions publicly.
Last year the 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.