Justice for Jazz Artists took the fight to New York City Hall today.
Supporters gathered this morning to testify before the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations in support of City Council Resolution 207 A, a resolution sponsored by City Council members Jimmy Van Bramer, Laurie Cumbo and Corey Johnson supporting the Justice for Jazz Artists Campaign and its attempts to gain justice for jazz musicians in New York City.
For many years, the top jazz artists in the world have lived and worked regularly in New York City, yet many older jazz musicians are forced to retire in poverty. Even those musicians who play frequently 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. And though the top jazz clubs in New York City profit greatly from the musicians that bring in their customers, they have repeatedly refused to work with musicians to address pensions or any other work-related issues.
Justice for Jazz Artist is dedicated to changing this, and Mr. Van Bramer, Ms. Cumbo and Mr. Johnson have moved things forward by introducing this resolution. At the hearing, Council Members heard testimony from legendary musicians Jimmy Owens, Jimmy Cobb, Bob Cranshaw, Keisha St. Joan, Bertha Hope, Gene Perla, John Mosca and other supporters.
Trumpeter, educator and NEA Jazz Master Jimmy Owens said: “If the clubs had implemented this plan five years ago, there would already have been up to $3 million dollars redirected into a fund for musicians. That money would have gone a long way to helping people who have no savings to begin a retirement plan for themselves and their families. This money not only helps musicians, it helps to keep the music alive.”
Jimmy Owens plays “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” Photo credit, City Council Photographer Will Alatriste
Another long-time supporter, Sonny Rollins bassist Bob Cranshaw reiterated his staunch support for J4JA’s goals, especially in getting musicians pensions to increase economic security later in their lives, “I have for years been advocating with the Musicians’ Union, particularly on the subject of pensions. I have seen countless musicians in crisis, people who were highly respected, incredibly talented people but who failed to prepare for their retirement due to a lack of benefits available to them. And that is still the case today.”
Vanguard Jazz Orchestra leader John Mosca bravely stood up to support the effort and offered first-hand testimony from someone who lives and works in NYC’s storied jazz clubs, “This plan would help a lot of people who work at the Vanguard and other jazz clubs, and the jazz musicians sorely need it. The clubs are our workspaces, and we should get benefits that other workers get on the job. I strongly urge you to support Resolution 207-A.”
The Resolution’s cosponsors did more than simply take time to support a Council measure, each of the present Council Members spoke passionately on the subject of what jazz means to the cultural and economic reputation of the city of New York, making it clear that they find it unconscionable that those who give their lives to a great American art form that has done much to shape the cultural history of New York City and America should struggle so needlessly.
New York City Council Majority Leader and Chair of the Cultural Affairs Committee Jimmy Van Bramer said, “The Justice for Jazz Artists Campaign is about equity and addressing the inequalities that exist here in New York. Currently, there are hundreds of jazz artists struggling to make a living while performing one of our nation’s greatest art forms. By passing this resolution we aim to work with New York’s jazz venues to give the Justice for Jazz Campaign the momentum it needs to improve the lives of countless musicians. Together we can give our country’s best jazz artists the opportunity to earn pensions, protect recording rights and the fair pay they rightfully deserve.”
“For too long, jazz musicians who play at some of New York’s most well-known clubs have not had the opportunity to attain workplace protections, including pensions,” said Council Member Corey Johnson, “I’m not proud that these clubs who have refused to negotiate are in my district. Jazz musicians deserve to retire with dignity, and clubs should work with musicians to give them the protections they deserve.”
Council Member Corey Johnson at City Hall, Photo credit, City Council Photographer Will Alatriste
Cosponsor and new Council Member Laurie Cumbo spoke to the massive cultural contributions provided by jazz musicians to NYC culture and promised to continue to work for justice from her place in city government, “Jazz artists—both past and present—have significantly contributed to the unique cultural experience that attracts tourists and locals to venues across New York City annually. These men and women are hard-working musicians who deserve economic stability and security to support themselves and their families. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the New York City Council to protect the livelihood of our musicians and ensure that the arts continue to flourish within our communities.”
Additional testimony was heard from John O’Connor, Associated Musicians of Greater New York, Local 802 AFM Recording Vice President, and Alex Gleason, representative of the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO.
John O’Connor, Associated Musicians of Greater New York, Local 802 AFM Recording Vice President, said, “The fact that musicians who have provided us with one of the world’s great art forms have been deprived of a major benefit that musicians working in other fields take for granted is nothing short of a travesty. Though we must acknowledge the important role the clubs have made in advancing the art of jazz, we must also recognize that it is the responsibility of those who employ these musicians to help correct the injustice. Local 802 is eager to work with any nightclub willing to do the right thing. We appeal to the City Council to pass Resolution 207-A to draw attention to this longstanding problem and help these deserving musicians correct this injustice.”
John O’Connor, Associated Musicians of Greater New York, Local 802 AFM Recording Vice President testifies at City Council, Photo credit, City Council Photographer Will Alatriste
The campaign is supported by hundreds of educators, writers, politicians, and artists including: Harry Belafonte, Christian McBride, Joe Lovano, Paquito D’Rivera, Jason Moran, Jimmy Owens, Bob Cranshaw, John Pizzarelli, Bernard Purdie, Bill Frisell and Bobby Sanabria.
If you haven’t done so already, please take the time to sign our petition in support the goals enshrined in Resolution 207 A and supported by members of the City Council of New York.
Click here for more beautiful photos of the hearing at City Hall, all taken by City Council Photographer Will Alatriste.
Fairness. Dignity. Respect. Now’s the Time!