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The NYC-Based Justice for Jazz Artists Campaign

The pension plight

New York City Council members, musicians and Local 802 staff and officers in front of City Hall in Manhattan in October 2014

It’s not every day that the New York City Council issues a formal declaration in support of financial relief for jazz musicians. Shepherded through by Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer and several other council members, Resolution 207 passed on Oct. 7. It affirmed the body’s official support for Justice for Jazz Artists (J4JA), a campaign by Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) to convince the major New York jazz clubs to begin contributing to a union-run pension fund. (The sole “no” votes were two Staten Island Republicans.) Though it has no legal force, Resolution 207 could signal the beginning of a change in how jazz musicians, union and non-union, think about their long-term economic prospects.

Back in the mid-’00s the union was actively negotiating a pension arrangement with the clubs. That communication has ended. J4JA’s current targets-the Blue Note, Village Vanguard, Jazz Standard, Birdland, Iridium and Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola-are by and large refusing to engage the union (and the media, for that matter) in the face of occasional curbside demonstrations and other confrontational tactics. Meanwhile, the list of high-profile J4JA endorsers keeps growing. It might be the only area of agreement ever between Stanley Crouch and the late Amiri Baraka.

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