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The Trombone ForumCreation and PerformanceThe Business of Music(Moderator: BGuttman) A Study of the Worklife of Jazz Musicians
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Graham Martin
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« on: Jan 07, 2006, 07:31PM »


The above link will take you to a PDF document that is entitled "Changing the Beat" - A Study of the Worklife of Jazz Musicians in New Orleans, New York and San Francisco. The survey is designed to address a long-standing question: How best to support the continuing growth and development of jazz and the musicians who create it.  It is interesting that trombonist, educator David Baker heads the list of the Advisory Committee.

I believe any aspiring jazz musician should read this so that they know what they are in for. The summary states that “Clearly, the jazz life, for all its artistic rewards, can be difficult. Many jazz musicians are woefully underpaid – almost 66 percent earned less than $7,000 in the year 2000 for their work as jazz musicians in the San Francisco area, according to the RDS study – especially relative to the level of higher education that they have attained. The study also showed that while a respectable percentage of union members had retirement plans and health coverage, more than half of the musicians surveyed through RDS had no retirement plans or no health coverage.”

Although this is a desperate situation in America, I am surprised it is not worse based on what I know about the working life of professional jazz musicians in Australia. The suggestions from musicians for improving the situation were interesting although I don’t see any major new ideas that will lead to vast improvement.

The information is five years out of date but I do not think things have changed much.

Any comments?

Any suggestions not included in the survey?


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Mike Suter
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« Reply #1 on: Jan 08, 2006, 10:57AM »

I've been aware of this study for some time and have received a lot of 'heat' for my response to it.

I won't waste much space talking about it beyond pointing out that it exposes the greatest detriment to $$$ in jazz by continually whining that other entities (the 'public', the government, record companies, ad infinitum) should step in and help these poor folks.

BULL! (I'll save you a bunch of asterisks by not finishing the word.)

The biggest detriment to jazz in America are jazz musicians themselves. Musicians who in general are unwilling to take responsibility for their own careers. Musicians who are constantly looking for a handout instead of creating new outlets for their music. Musicians who (in America, at least) have spent the last few decades sitting back waiting for 'the next big thing' to show up and revitalize their careers.

The guys who do it right make good money. The guys who do it wrong - the majority - don't deserve the pittance they're taking home now.

Flame away, children. But you better be able to come up with a better argument than 'well I know thid guy here in Podunk who makes a lot of money with his jazz wedding band . . .'

Mike Suter
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Mike Suter
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« Reply #2 on: Jan 08, 2006, 01:53PM »

This looks to be a good foundation for some good discussion of a subject that affects many of us, so I plan to read the study and come back by for some give and take.

Thanks for the link,

Chip Tingle
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« Reply #3 on: Jan 08, 2006, 09:02PM »

Much ado about nothing.  This study fails to address the real cause of the apparent "low wages" of jazz musicians, which is that SO many people love jazz that they are willing to play for vitually nothing, and they drag the stats down.

It is a question of supply and demand, and the fact is that people play jazz because they want to, in the face of knowing that only the top 40% of players make real money.  That passion and enthusiasm is precisely why the supply of people wanting to play jazz survives, even when there's no money in it -- the fact that the love for the music causes people to play it for peanuts means that jazz is still often being played for the right reasons, and that makes it the most healthy artform on the planet!

How about ballroom dancers!  Isn't it horrible that most ballroom dancers don't make money?!!  Sheesh.  Next they'll do a study on the horrible economic condition of the mime industry.

I mean, COME ON, 33,000 jazz musicians in New York City?!!  How can anybody think it is deplorable that only 15% (5,000!!) of jazz musicians in NYC alone are making more than $70 or $80K?!!  lol.

As I have posted repeatedly in these tiresome "doom and gloom" topics, exponentially more people are making exponentially more money than the musicians were making in jazz's supposed "golden years" of the 1940s, in real dollars.  And I have not been challenged on that assertion.

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