Waxing & musings. From the days of Prohibition, club owners and jazz musicians have had an uneasy relationship. Clubs pay jazz musicians to perform, and jazz musicians give clubs a reason to open each night and charge a cover and premium for drinks. But in recent months, a little-known feud has erupted in New York between the jazz club and the jazz musician over pension payments.
At issue is a musicians' union retirement fund. Back in 2007, the American Federation of Musicians' Local 802 says, it was instrumental in convincing the New York State Legislature to repeal the 8.375% admissions tax. The AFM says it lobbied for the repeal so that the clubs could donate the sum to a union pension. The clubs were supposed to continue collecting this extra sum and donating it to the fund, according Justice for Jazz Artists! (JJA), a musicians' advocacy group.
Then the 2008-2009 recession rolled in, and many clubs and festivals have been lax in making the pension payments. Some dropped the admittance tax charge to lower their cover and make it more attractive while others have pocketed the sum to help make ends meet. At the JJA's site, a video for the group complains, "Jazz musicians who work in the New York City area receive no pension or health benefits. Many are forced to retire without income to fall back on in their later years."
I'm not fully familiar with all of the details, and I haven't spoken with club owners to get the other side of the story. But I know that freelance writers, grocery workers, dancers and many other good, hard-working, creative people in New York do not have pensions or health benefits either.
Like everyone in that unfortunate situation, jazz musicians must save in IRAs and SEPs and buy insurance coverage on their own, hopefully as members of a large organization so that the premiums are reduced. It stinks that work-for-hire employees have to save and spend for coverage in a country this wealthy. But it stinks for everyone, not just jazz musicians.
The other issue is a different matter. If New York State truly abolished the admittance tax so that clubs could contribute the sums collected at the door to a musicians' union pension fund, and if clubs are reaping the rewards, this is wrong. But sadly, as jazz musicians are discovering, it's virtually unenforceable.
The state has the power to erase a tax but it can't dictate what the benefactors must do with the savings. That's a matter of honor. And in a recession, honor tends to take a back seat to a club's mortgage and payroll.
But surely there's a fair solution. Like the proverbial farmer and cowman, the jazz musician and club owner should be friends. Instead of compelling clubs to fork over what they probably can't afford, perhaps the onus of ponying up should fall on the club audience. After all, if the club doesn't charge patrons an extra 8.375% at the door, the patron is the one who has reaped the savings, not the club.
My suggestion is this: All club cover charges should be handled via a phone service similar to those used to buy movie tickets today. You'd choose your club, type in your credit card number and pick up your tickets at the door. The club would receive its cover charge and the union's pension fund would automatically receive 8.375% of the total.
Then of course, it's up to the musicians to make sure their union or the fund's trustee does the right thing with the assets.
Legends and technology. Last Sunday, I posted about jazz legends' reluctance to use the computer. In response, photographer Hank O'Neal sent along the following e-mail:
"I can remember the days when many musicians didn't even own a record player, and if they did, they could barely use it. Gene Krupa didn't have one. Johnny Costa didn't even have a piano at home. Eddie Condon had a record player, courtesy of CBS, but he didn't know how to turn it on or off. His solution was to leave it turned on but unplugged. If he wanted to play a record, he'd plug it in, wait until it got up to speed and then put the needle in the groove. And he didn't do this very often."
CD discoveries of the week. Jazz musician and educator Bill Kirchner turned me on to Camila Meza's fabulous album, Retrato. Camila is a gifted jazz guitarist and vocalist from Chile who currently is living in New York and studying at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. On Retrato, Camila takes on standards Love Dance, Gentle Rain, I Only Have Eyes for You and Goodbye Porkpie Hat as well as Led Zeppelin's The Rain Song. There also are a handful of lesser-known songs and an original, Purpura.
Camila [pictured] approaches songs with a zest and poetic innocence that gives them fresh life and intelligence. Camila wisely treats this album as a jazz outing, showing off her playing chops and vocal range.
You can sample and buy Retrato here.
If you dig Bill Evans, you're going to enjoy pianist David Thompson's Introspect. His feel and phrasing on this solo album are unmistakably influenced by Evans, almost to the point that I thought at first he was sight-reading through Evans transcriptions. All the Evans arrows are in Thompson's quiver, including Make Someone Happy, The Days of Wine and Roses, The Touch of Your Lips, Stella by Starlight and others. In part, I wished Thompson [pictured] had taken on a few tunes that Evans didn't record but should have, like Johnny Mandel's The Shining Sea and Anthony Newley's Once in a Lifetime. But that's just a quibble. Fact is the more you listen to this album, the more enjoyable it becomes.
You'll find David Thompson's Introspect at iTunes and here.
Oddball album cover of the week. Here's an album cover with a title and photo that seem to be at odds with each other. Vocalist Tony Travis [pictured below] recorded this one for Verve in 1958 with Russ Garcia and His Orchestra. Travis was a vocalist who sounded like dozens of other casual, with-it crooners in the late 1950s. He also was an actor in teen films such as Jamboree and The Beatniks. Funny how the album's title provocatively asks us to swing while the model's pose says "Not tonight." A better title might have been, Did You Pick Up My Bayer?