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NEA Surveys Jazz

An extensive new National Endowment for the Arts survey finds jazz musicians are well educated but underpaid and lacking benefits. Hey, we could have told them the same thing for a lot less cash.

Released yesterday, “Changing the Beat: A Study of the Worklife of Jazz Musicians” contains survey results from about 2,700 jazz musicians located in New York, Detroit, San Francisco and New Orleans.

The study found the following:

-Jazz musicians are primarily male and well educated, with about 45 percent holding a bachelor’s degree or higher.

-$20,000-40,000 was the most commonly chosen income range, which is a considerably lower annual salary than men with the same education levels in other professions ($52,985 for men with bachelor’s degrees and $66,243 for men with higher-level degrees).

-Of those surveyed who have received grants or fellowships during their careers, 90 percent received $5,000 or less.

-The most commonly listed primary instruments were piano and drums.

A.B. Spellman, deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts and author of Four Lives in the Bebop Business, says, “Changing the Beat gives us a much clearer picture of the working life of the jazz artist. With this detailed information, the Arts Endowment and other funders can develop programs that better address the concerns and challenges jazz musicians face in creating and playing their music.”

We quote the following directly from the press release: “To compensate for the difficulties involved in identifying jazz musicians, survey targets were chosen from a random sampling of American Federation of Musicians (AFM) members and by Respondent-Driven-Sampling (RDS), a chain-referral method that included both union and non-union musicians. Of the AFM respondents, 85 percent reported being employed full-time in the music business, compared to only 55 percent of the RDS musicians. More than three-fourths of AFM respondents reported having at least one retirement plan and over 80 percent of them had health coverage. In the RDS group, 57 percent had no retirement plan and only 43 percent had health coverage.”

The survey also asked what jazz musicians thought were important steps to help jazz thrive, in terms of jobs and emergency and health funds for musicians and attention from the public. Increasing affordable health care, pensions and relief funds for the ill or elderly were cited, as was education, from teaching schoolchildren about the music to helping musicians better understand the business and economics of jazz. Other items that musicians deemed important include:

-More grant money from foundations and the National Endowment for the Arts to support recordings, performances and concept development.

-Standardized club fees.

-Tax breaks for providing free public performances.

-More Internet-based resources for jazz musicians.

More suggestions from survey respondents can be seen at, and PDF version of the executive

summary of “Changing the Beat: A Study of the Worklife of Jazz Musicians” can be downloaded from

For more information or to receive a hard copy of the report, contact the NEA Office of Communications at (202) 682-5570.

“Changing the Beat” was conducted by the Research Center for Arts and Culture at Columbia University Teachers College under a cooperative agreement with the National Endowment for the Arts and the San Francisco Study Center. The survey was supported by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Grammy Foundation, American Federation of Musicians, American Federation of Musicians Local 802, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, and the Nathan Cummings Foundation.

Originally Published