Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Seeking Justice for Musicians in Jazz Clubs

Nat Hentoff on New York Local 802's efforts to improve benefits for jazz musicians

Soon after I moved to New York in 1953, I began to realize how tough it is for sidemen and some leaders working mostly in jazz clubs to sustain a living. Although I had helped the American Federation of Radio Artists organize a radio station in Boston, I’d never been able to figure out how a musicians’ union could organize players in clubs who appear from time to time.

Now, however, New York Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) is engaged in a jazz nightclub campaign that could expand to other cities around the country by using AFM affiliates there. Todd Bryant Weeks, Jazz Business Representative of Local 802 and author of the first comprehensive biography of Oran “Hot Lips” Page, provides the hard truth that hit this jazz fan when I began writing from New York. “The vast majority of sidemen who appear in NYC jazz clubs,” says Weeks, “have no protections, no pension, no health insurance, no social security and receive substandard wages. Busboys, who also should be paid better, make more money than most jazz musicians.” Weeks adds this important point: “By law, the musicians’ union is forbidden from discriminating against non-union musicians, so all musicians-union and non-union-stand to benefit from the Justice for Jazz Artists campaign.”

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.
Originally Published