[Dixielandjazz] :What is a Professional?>>Who Needs a Union?

Charlie Hooks charliehooks at earthlink.net
Wed Mar 12 14:05:40 PST 2003

on 3/12/03 12:27 PM, Dave Hanson at jazzdude at bellsouth.net wrote:

> In Atlanta we have an in house booking agency which books our Union bands.
> Also to available to all Union members is the MPTF (Music Performance Trust
> Fund) which is sponsored by the recording industry. We receive about
> $48,000.00 annually which goes in to the pockets of our members.
> I've been involved in several discussions in the past about the "Union", but
> for me personally, just being listed in the book is worth the price of
> admission.

Dave, I am sincerely happy to hear that somebody somewhere is doing
something right, and I wish things in Chicago were as happy.  Of course,
this is Chicago, the most honest city in the country--i.e., a place where no
one even pretends he's not on the take.  The city symbol is an outstretched
palm with the motto: "Where's Mine?"  Back when The President ran things, he
(James Caesar Petrillo) ran them from here.  We understand how it's done.

Once in 1952 when I was a grad student at the U of Mich, I returned home to
Waco, Texas, one Christmas to receive a call from our local secretary about
a New Year's Eve job that would pay very well if I could raise a band where
everyone was already booked.  I put my wife on it, a drop-dead version of
Leslie Caron (remember her?) who played violin with the Dallas symphony but
not one note of popular music.  A pianist and drummer who shall be ever
nameless as both were then.   My wife was reading from some fake book,
playing all the notes exactly as they were written!  It was the worst job I
can recall ever having played, and the people loved it because they all
thought my wife so elegant in her formal gown with her Amati-copy.  Go
figure.  But the next job came over 40 years later.

My next union-procured job was in early 1990s after I'd been temporarily out
of the Chicago local and the new secretary, having persuaded me to re-join,
wanted to show off my band on the Musicians' Union float in the annual Labor
Day parade.  For this he wanted to pay me "parade scale"--some relatively
miniscule amount not nearly commensurate with fighting traffic in the Loop,
parking in some zillion dollar per afternoon lot, hassling with a damn
parade and sweltering in the September sun.  I refused, and he finally came
up with less than a hundred apiece.  Such joy!  Such honor!  Such BS!

So the union has not functioned well for me as an agent; they have only
functioned well as agents for themselves: the union here is now infinitely
cleaner than when The President (JCP) was running it; but it's no more
helpful for the jobbing musician than it ever was.  They use the Chicago
motto and symbol as their own: "Where's Ours?" is their only real question.
I could be paying for a job instead of getting paid for it, and if I filed a
contract for scale and paid them their share, they wouldn't give a tinker's
damn what I paid the guys.

Our Chicago local does have a good pension plan--not a Walter Reuther plan,
but decent enough if you worked in the studios, the CSO, the Lyric Opera, or
lots of theatre gigs.  For a long time, bandleaders contributed double and
could end with nice check every month, but that was too good to last: when I
stopped being allowed to contribute, I dropped out of the union again for
good.  I plan to live so long I'll have collected at least double what I
paid in.  

And yes, the Music Performance Trust Fund is available here if you want to
mess with it, but most good players here roll their eyes at mention of MPTF.
Still, it was one (sort of) accomplishment by the great James C., and I
guess we should all be thankful for it (sort of).  During my 25 years in
Chicago I've played two trust fund jobs.  They pay very little.

Still, I'm looking forward to hearing about all the jobs our Union has
procured for others.


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