Saturday, June 7—Justice for Jazz Artists staged a highly effective demonstration and march at the annual Big Apple Barbecue and Block Party, which is sponsored by Madison Square Park Conservancy and receives major funding from Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG).
USHG owns and operates the club Jazz Standard.
Despite numerous attempts by J4JA to establish a dialogue on the subject of pensions for musicians who work the club, Meyer and USHG/Jazz Standard have ignored letters (including one penned by Ron Carter, Jimmy Owens, Joe Lovano, Bill Frisell, Bob Cranshaw, Jason Moran and Christian McBride) and left J4JA’s phone calls and emails unanswered.
“We are marching today,” said AFM Recording VP John O’Connor, “to remind Danny Meyer and other club owners that the needs of the jazz community are real—dozens of jazz artists retire every year in this town with nothing in the bank—and if USHG/Jazz Standard is as community minded they purport themselves to be, then they should do the decent thing and sit down with the musicians.”
At the march, a six piece brass band playing New Orleans street beat favorites like “Little Liza Jane,” “Down by the Riverside” and “I’ve Found a New Baby” mesmerized hundreds of patrons who came out to sample barbecue and enjoy the park.
Supporters passed out leaflets with slogans such as “Danny Meyer is Living High on the Hog while Jazz Musicians Have No Retirement” and “Help Jazz Musicians Bring Home the Bacon; Tell Danny Meyer to Meet with J4JA.”
At one point, a volunteer working on behalf of Meyer’s barbecue restaurant Blue Smoke appeared with a tray of freshly grilled pork sausages. J4JA musicians and supporters rejected the offer, instead asking for dialogue with Meyer and his board of directors.
NYPD officers also appeared and asked the group to leave the area, citing lack of a sound permit. But union officials from AFM, Local 802 were on hand and reminded police that permits are only necessary for amplified groups, which the brass band was not, and that J4JA was exercising their constitutional rights to free speech by marching. NYPD relented and allowed the march to continue.
Danny Meyer’s USHG owns such fashionable and celebrated NYC establishments such as Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Cafe, the Modern, and the Blue Smoke chain, which operates concessions at CitiField and at Saratoga Race Track. But USHG’s main source of income comes from Shake Shack, it’s wildly successful chain of fast food restaurants. Shack Shack operates in dozens of locations in the US and abroad, with outposts in London, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait City and Istanbul. Madison Square Park is the home of flagship location of Shake Shack, which opened in 2004.
USHG does not share financial information, but their annual gross assets were estimated in 2010 to be in the neighborhood of $430 million.
Pension for jazz musicians at Jazz Standard would cost less than $100,000 annually.