Jazzers campaign for pensions

Leading American players have united to seek fair pay and retirement security for jazz musicians working in New York

The archetype of the jazzman as the heroic individualist living on the edge of society was dented last week when at a hearing in New York on 17 September, members of the Justice for Jazz Artists Campaign testified in support of improving the working lives of New York’s jazz musicians with fair pay, healthcare benefits and contributions towards pensions.

The campaign, which has been running since 2011, seeks to establish legislation that ensures jazz musicians who play New York’s clubs have fair workplace benefits and aren’t forced to retire in poverty.

Musicians in support of the campaign include Harry Belafonte, Christian McBride, Bob Cranshaw and Bill Frisell, with testimony at the recent hearing delivered by Jimmy Owens, Gene Perla and Keisha St. Joan, among many others.

Cranshaw, once bassist for Sonny Rollins, said: “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 added his support: “This plan would help a lot of people who work at the Vanguard and other jazz clubs, and the jazz musicians that sorely need it.”

For those jazz musicians who work at New York’s clubs, there has appeared to be a disparity for many years when it comes to benefits and pensions compared with those who play on Broadway and in symphony orchestras, who are protected by union contracts. Justice for Jazz Artists, which aims to pass Resolution 207 A, hopes that by working with NYC’s jazz clubs they can ensure jazz musicians receive fair pay, pension contributions, protection of their recording rights and a fair grievance process.

New York City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer remarked: “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.”

Currently over 7,000 have signed a petition in support of the campaign. You can find out more and sign the petition at justiceforjazzartists.org and also see regular updates about the campaign on its Facebook and Twitter pages.

Sally Evans-Darby

Photo by Kate Glicksberg

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