Jazz for justice

From the September-October 2012 issue of News & Letters:

Jazz for justice

New York—It’s in the air, an edgy current that awakens the spirit. When did it start? Was it the Arab Spring? The Occupy Movement? What? Where?

May Day 2012 was a day of expectation. New York musicians marched, played music, fed the soul with protest and pride, marched on the jazz clubs. What do the musicians want? Justice for Jazz Artists! What’s that?

Fifteen years ago a movement, Justice for Jazz Artists, developed inside New York Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians. In 2006 the sales tax was eliminated on admission charges at night clubs. The musicians’ union agitated for this, believing that tax relief would free up money for musicians’ pensions.

Instead club owners appropriated the money, leaving nothing for the pension fund. We leafleted six major jazz clubs, acquainting patrons with the “justice” of our demands for health, retirement, and other benefits.

The mundane minutiae of creeping craft unionism is as necessary as the stale air we breathe: we want to stay alive. But now we also dream, we think, we create and the memory camera in my skull plays back an image of Charles Mingus on the bandstand, intoning an angry opus: “Fables of Faubus.”

His bass strings snap with righteous rage while Danny Richmond, cymbals hissing, sneers, jeers, conjures up a baleful image of Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus, who would deny an education to the children of Little Rock.

This is the legacy of jazz: the pain, the joy, the anger of the likes of Charles Mingus. We must continue this wherever we perform.

—New York musician

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