Media Coverage & Press Releases

New York Times – New York City Council Hears Push for Benefits by Jazz Veterans – September 2014

In the middle of a City Council committee hearing at City Hall on Wednesday, notes began to stream, slowly and unexpectedly, from a fluegelhorn, alternating between blares and warbles, but unmistakably forming the spiritual “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.”

It was a clarion call for jazz musicians and sympathetic council members who gathered to listen to testimony about the performers’ economic plight.

The Nation – Aging Jazz Artists Sound Note of Protest – September 2014

Jazz is cool. Retirement is not. In a subculture built on improvisation and fierce individualism, how do aging artists settle down? Defying the genre’s reputation for freewheeling lifestyles and entertainment-industry exploitation, the elders of New York’s vaunted jazz scene are partnering with the city’s labor groups to shine a spotlight on their struggle for economic security.

The New York Daily News – Jazz musicians push for retirement help at City Council – September 2014

“Jazz musicians need pensions – they need to enjoy the same benefits received by their brother and sister musicians on Broadway and in the symphonic field,” the [Jazz great Jimmy Owens] trumpeter said. “The need is real.”

The Village Voice – New York Jazz Greats Ask City Council to Help Them Win Fair Pay – September 2014

“We perform for you under many, many different situations, and you usually never know the problems we’re having,” [Jimmy] Owens told the City Council, cradling his flugelhorn.

The New York Post – Jazz legend croons City Council in bid for pensions – September 2014

You don’t see this every day at City Hall – a jazz great playing “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” on the flugelhorn.

Jimmy Owens – who’s played with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus and Count Basie – gave a somber rendition of the spiritual at a City Council committee meeting Wednesday as part of his testimony on securing pension benefits for aging jazz musicians.

International Musician – Restless and Revolutionary

When you’re a jazz musician living in New York City, you’re jumping into the air without a net. In America, history has shown that musicians, especially jazz musicians, really have to fight. They have to fight for the music—to get through the good and bad times. I ask my students, what they think about a future in the music business. Not just how to get the next gig, but what will they gain later in life?

For jazz, there’s no retirement age. We play the music until we go because our greatest heroes have done that. But we also have to prepare for the unforeseen things that happen, or if we can’t play anymore—God forbid. How do we set up a net? We’re trying to find a solution for musicians.”
[Justice for Jazz Artists has]…promoted a lot of conversations musicians don’t talk about. We want to make sure we secure, in some way, a future for musicians who continue to play these clubs. So, I’m a supporter of the campaign and I’m making sure the message gets out. Musicians have tried to secure a way for future musicians to take care of themselves and their families and to take care of their art form. We can make these changes.

—Jason Moran on Justice for Jazz Artists, International Musician, July 2013

NY1 Television – NY1 Online: Musicians Make The Case For Live Music – March, 2013

JAZZed Magazine – Justice for Jazz Musicians – And Pensions? – December, 2012

The club owners obviously need much deeper re-education in jazz community relations at a time when, as Todd Weeks points out, “there are scores of ‘retired’ jazz performers here in New York… living hand to mouth and with no discernable safety net.” – 99 Picket Lines: Justice for Jazz Artists – August, 2012

As I talked to one of the local 802, who told me of the unique difficulties of organizing a group of so many different types of workers spread all around the globe all the time under incredibly different conditions, I understood how hard the musicians’ struggle to find a voice as labor could be. – Justice for Jazz Artists – March, 2012

Perhaps nothing is more emblematic of the city’s music scene than the jazz artist. And while the genre isn’t as popular as it once was, these talents are still in demand at many of the world-famous jazz clubs in Manhattan, like the Blue Note and the Village Vanguard. In fact, many of these clubs still turn tremendous profits. Yet, jazz musicians — freelancers who are paid per gig with no benefits — are second-class citizens in American Federation of Musicians Local 802, through which the bulk of the union’s symphony and Broadway members enjoy employer-paid medical benefits and pensions.

In These Times – In Growing Labor Struggle, Jazz Artists Harmonize Music and Justice – February, 2012

Many jazz artists, both bandleaders and side musicians, hustle from gig to gig, often at the mercy of club owners who have little or no obligation to provide basic benefits like medical or unemployment insurance. With New York’s exorbitant cost of living, a single bout of illness or rent hike could tip musicians and their families into poverty.

New York Times – Jazz Musicians Start a Pension Push – December, 2011

“It’s just a sin that we have no pension,” said Keisha St. Joan, 72, a jazz vocalist who was distributing leaflets. “I will not have a pension before I die.”

Village Voice – Local Nightclubs Need to Stop Resisting Pension Payments for Jazz Musicians – November, 2010

When I was a kid, a favorite song of mine was the union-organizing rallying cry: “Which side are you on?” New Yorkers going to jazz clubs in this city and its boroughs will increasingly be asked to answer that question. – The Jazz Session Special Report: Justice for Jazz Artists – September, 2009

In 2007, Local 802 fought and won tax relief for NYC jazz clubs, with the expectation of state legislators that the clubs would use this money to provide pension benefit contributions for jazz artists. Now that the tax money has been made available, the club owners have yet to put the money towards benefits.



Thursday, March 1, 2012  


Jazz Musicians to Protest at 6 Top NYC Jazz Clubs Tonight! 

“Justice for Jazz Artists” asks profitable jazz clubs to contribute to musician pensions;

Launches new ad campaign, social media program and website:

NEW YORK, NY – March 1, 2012:  The top jazz artists in the world live and work in New York City—yet many older jazz musicians are forced to retire in poverty. Even those musicians who play in the most prestigious and profitable jazz clubs are denied basic benefits and pensions. While musicians who play on Broadway and in symphony orchestras are protected by union contracts, jazz musicians are not. The Justice for Jazz Artists campaign seeks to work with clubs to ensure that jazz musicians receive fair pay, modest pension contributions, protection of their recording rights and a reasonable process for addressing grievances.

Though the top jazz clubs in New York City profit greatly from the musicians that bring in their customers, they have refused to work with musicians to address pensions or any other work-related issues. This is despite the fact that in 2007 the Justice for Jazz Artists (J4JA) campaign helped New York City jazz club owners to successfully lobby the State Legislature to waive the sales tax on admission charges, with the express understanding that a portion of this savings would be directed toward a modest pension contribution on behalf of musicians. Since the law’s passage, not one club has made any pension fund contributions.

“Several efforts have been made to engage the clubs in being part of the solution, without success,” says Ron Carter, Grammy Award-winning jazz bassist. “Now it is time for jazz fans to let the clubs know that exploiting jazz artists is no way to show respect for the men and women who fill their venues and sustain this great American art form.”

J4JA Launches New Website, Social Media Sites and Ad Campaign

Today, Justice for Jazz Artists launched a new website that allows site visitors to sign a petition and send emails directly to club owners. The site is accompanied by social media—Facebook, Google +, and Twitter.

J4JA also began a major ad campaign that strikes at the heart of the issue (ad attached above). Adjacent to the hands of an elderly jazz pianist are displayed the words: “Older jazz musicians are living in poverty while jazz club owners are getting rich.” These ads will appear online and in print in a range of publications covering jazz.

Protest Expands to Six Major NYC Clubs 

Tonight, the campaign will expand its grassroots awareness-raising efforts, handing out leaflets between 7pm and 10pm at six major New York City jazz clubs—Birdland (315 West 44th St. New York, NY 10036), the Blue Note (131 West 3rd St. New York, NY 10012), Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola (33 West 60th St. New York, NY 10023), the Iridium (1650 Broadway, New York, NY 10019), the Jazz Standard (116 E 27th St. New York, NY 10016) and the Village Vanguard (178 7th Ave S. New York, NY 10014).

“All we are asking is for club owners to agree to sit down and discuss a viable solution to a situation that they should frankly be ashamed of,” said John O’Connor, Recording Vice President of Local 802 AFM. “Making these minimal contributions to a pension fund would show they truly value the hardworking and skilled musicians who bring patrons through the doors of their clubs every single night—and who deserve to retire with dignity.”

Founded in 1997 by the Associated Musicians of Greater New York, Local 802 AFM, Justice for Jazz Artists enjoys the support of prominent jazz musicians including Ron Carter, Jimmy Owens, John Pizzarelli, Bucky Pizzarelli, Dave Liebman, Bertha Hope, Bernard Purdie, Bob Cranshaw, Randy Weston, Janet Lawson, Wycliffe Gordon, Kenny Davis, Dr. Larry Ridley, Gene Perla, Rufus Reid, James Spaulding, Phil Woods, David Amram, Ed MacEachen, Butch Miles, Charli Persip, Carline Ray, Kenny Davis, Junior Mance, Charles Tolliver, Keisha St. Joan, Regina Carter, James Carter, David Amram, Judi Silvano, Jason Moran. The late musicians Hank Jones, Dr. Billy Taylor and Benny Powell also were passionate J4JA advocates.