Letters for the Week of June 29 

Readers sound off on jazz, unions, and M.C. Hammer.

"Jazz Musicians Sing the Blues," Music, 6/15

Other Musicians Are Struggling, Too

I am happy to hear that the jazz community is fighting for a living wage for their profession. There are many musicians who don't play jazz but are still professional players, and most of us don't even get a guaranteed wage. I would like to see this movement expanded upon to encompass the entire city — or Bay Area for that matter.

Bob Sanders, San Francisco

Jazz Is Dead

A lot of contradictions, but everyone has some good points.

It seems the most fair thing would be if the customers actually pay for the music. This could be done with an admission charge, or a cover charge added to their bill, or a minimum. The musicians could get the door or cover and the owner gets the sales of food and drink. (The tip jar is actually a small step in that direction, in that that money is paid by the people who really like the music! But it's limited by being strictly voluntary.)

Charging for the music seems like a win-win. Why is no club doing it? Because it probably doesn't work. I assume the experience has been that charging such music fees keeps too many customers away. All the clubs need to do it. If just one club offered a no cover/no minimum free admission, that club could probably gain customers at the expense of the others. You know jazz is not this country's favorite music anymore. There's a pretty limited audience and an even smaller one willing to pay admission fees to get into bars and restaurants.

Same thing with a musicians boycott. Unless they all do it, like in the days of powerful musician (and other) unions, the ones who boycott will be replaced by those who don't boycott.

So, jazz in clubs really doesn't have much of a future, other than the state it is in now. Dixieland jazz used to be a paying profession for musicians, and now it is only played for fun by hobbyists. Things come and go. Jazz festivals, cruise lines, recordings, and teaching seem to be where it's at for pro jazz musicians these days. It would be nice if it were otherwise, but that also applies to many even bigger issues in our current life, like affordable rents and low pollution. Good luck and best wishes to all who love to play and listen to jazz.

Steve Newman, Santa Cruz

Boycott Disco!

Be careful they don't all go back to disco — it nearly killed off live music in the late-Seventies and early-Eighties. Urge your friends not to pay a cover at clubs that have canned music — if the public demands quality live music, the bar owners will have to cave in. Boycott disco!

Marcia D'Orazi, San Francisco

Let's Work Together

One thing I want to make clear is that we are not trying to wage a war against venue owners. It is simply a matter of working together to find a fair wage that won't break the clubs but also won't exploit the musicians. Right now it is skewed to benefit the venue owners at the expense of the musicians. They don't realize the time that musicians put in outside of the actual "gig," so therefore they don't consider any of that in the pay. Bottom line is that they depend on us as much as we depend on them, so it only makes sense to sit at the table with us to discuss this further and try negotiating a wage that works for everyone.

Caroline Chung, San Francisco

Get Involved

This conversation has been happening continuously since 1978, when a change in labor law freed venues from having to pay musicians anything.

Since then, musicians have been undercutting each other in a race to the bottom, and now most musicians in the whole United States have the choice of performing for nothing or next to nothing, with no guarantee, or not performing at all.

Musicians are more likely to be valued for the free advertising they perform on their own time and at their own expense than they are their music. Not only are they the cheapest advertising a club owner could hope for, they are given no guarantee, and are often expected to bring the club the majority of its customers.

Of course, it varies from club to club, and some do treat their musicians respectfully, honoring the fact that they are professionals providing a service, one that requires roughly five hours of unseen preparation for each hour on stage.

For the most part, however, most clubs, being businesses, grab whatever financial advantage they can, and the public is none the wiser.

It's been over thirty years. How much longer are we going to sit around complaining about it? Musicians have fought larger battles together, and if we spent even a fraction of the time working for positive change in our music scenes relative to the time we spend complaining about them, real change would become a real possibility. So, get involved. This won't happen without you.

Fair Trade Music is about educating the public regarding the rampant inequity surrounding musicians performing in clubs, and giving them a better alternative. It's also about helping musicians understand that despite what venue owners and high school counselors may tell them, what they do is a service that has real value, not just a narcissistic hobby.


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