Union’s plight strikes sour note as Jazz Appreciation Month approaches

Music educators across New York State may now be preparing to teach their students about one of America’s great contributions to the arts — jazz — as April, just a handful of weeks away, is Jazz Appreciation Month. The AFT’s “Share My Lesson” program has a useful curriculum that NYSUT members may use to educate their students about jazz, past and present.

But, in New York City, Jazz Appreciation Month can also be an opportunity to teach and discuss social justice issues. Since 2006,  musicians in what is arguably the jazz capital of the United States — led by their union, Local 802 of the Associated Musicians of Greater New York — have been battling some of the city’s most prestigious and recognized jazz clubs; clubs like Birdland, Blue Note and Jazz Standard, among others. The fight is over health care benefits, retirement security and fair wages which, despite a supportive resolution passed by the New York City Council, have been denied by the clubs.

In remarks to the City Council, John O’Connor, a union officer, said: “The fact that musicians who have provided us with one of the world’s great art forms have been deprived of a major benefit that musicians working in other fields take for granted is nothing short of a travesty. Though we must acknowledge the important role the clubs have made in advancing the art of jazz, we must also recognize that it is the responsibility of those who employ these musicians to help correct the injustice.”

The union’s effort has been bolstered and promoted by the campaign, Justice for Jazz Artists. It also has the backing of numerous other labor organizations, including NYSUT which, at its 2012 Representative Assembly, passed a resolution in support of Local 802.

Justice for Jazz Artists has been endorsed by a “who’s who” of jazz luminaries, including Terence Blanchard, Regina Carter, Joe Lovano, Christian McBride, Bucky and John Pizzarelli, Tierney Sutton and many more.

NYSUT members are encouraged to incorporate the musician’s plight in their Jazz Appreciation Month curricula. To get involved, click here.

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