Despite the threat of thunderstorms and soaring temperatures, Justice for Jazz Artists (J4JA) activists and musicians were out again this week in New York City’s historic Union Square, playing for hundreds of onlookers, many of whom signed the J4JA petition, demanding that the Danny Meyer owned club, Jazz Standard, negotiate with Local 802/J4JA.
On Thursday, September 12, the six piece J4JA Brass Band, featuring a stellar New Orleans-styled “street beat” rhythm section, played “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “Down By the Bay,” “After You’ve Gone” and other crowd pleasers while passersby stopped and met with J4JA/802 organizers and musician-volunteers, who passed out leaflets and explained the basic premise of the J4JA campaign: Fair treatment of jazz musicians in New York City and beyond.
After playing in Union Square for about an hour, the band moved on to set up in front of Danny Meyer’s flagship restaurant, Union Square Café, on East 16th Street.
Union Square Café is owned by Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, which also owns the club Jazz Standard.
USHG/Jazz Standard has refused to answer any phone calls or letters from Local 802/J4JA, and has ignored advances from prominent elected officials in their attempts to initiate dialogue between the two parties. Among other demands, J4JA seeks pension contributions from Jazz Standard and other local clubs. Every year, scores of jazz musicians retire into poverty, with no safety net, and are forced to rely on charitable foundations to support them in their old age.
As patrons passed in and out through Union Square Café’s entrance, they were treated to a blast of expertly rendered collectively improvised music, and many took leaflets. In keeping with prior demonstrations, Union Square Café management did not respond directly to queries about a meeting with J4JA, but only dispatched wait staff with lemonade for the musicians, attempting to mollify them. Most chose not to accept the drinks.
J4JA activists also leafleted at the Midtown Shake Shack, an upscale fast food restaurant on 8th Avenue, earlier in the day.
Shake Shack, with 33 restaurants worldwide, has locations in Boston, Westport, CT, Manhattan (multiple locations), Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C, Kuwait City, Abu Dhabi, Istanbul, and London.
The chain is also owned by Meyer’s USHG.
In 2010, the group’s annual gross income was estimated by CNBC to be over $71 million. It is significantly higher today. Recent unscientific estimates range into the hundreds of millions.
Based on conservative estimates by J4JA, pension contributions for all musicians who work at Jazz Standard would total less than $100,000 annually.