[Dixielandjazz] Musician's Union

Steve Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sat Nov 4 14:17:04 PST 2006

When, in 1950, I first joined Local 802, AF of M in New York City, like Don,
I had to take a test. I did come with some help from clarinetist Hank
D'Amico and trombonist Charlie Butterfield, both of who were studio
musicians and had some clout. Plus, I had recently joined a band that had
just gotten a 6 month steady weekend gig under union contract rules.
Otherwise, I think I would not have passed the first time.

The local was VERY STRONG back then. You couldn't work a NYC gig (in almost
any venue) without being a member. The business agents would come around and
check your card, as well as the contract which had to be on file at the
venue. If a club was not in line, they would picket and/or send Guido around
to persuade the owner to book union musicians.

The union also ran a hiring hall, like the dock workers shape ups. It was at
Roseland, every Tuesday. Musicians and contractors would show up there and
network. Everyone schmoozing everyone else. And that's how the jazz guys,
like Erwin or Cutshall or whomever, got the higher paying private party gigs
with Lester Lanin, or Meyer Davis. That's why Condon worked with so many
musicians. He had to, because he often had to sub when a regular got a more
lucrative casual. Any muso who was make a living performing, showed up.

That's how it was until I left NYC in 1962. When I did so, I quit playing
and 2 years later, dropped my membership.

Thirty years later, when I retired from my day gig and started playing again
I discovered that most gigs in Philadelphia, Washington/Baltimore, Atlantic
City, etc., where I sought musical work were non union. Even the hotel rooms
were non-union. So I never re-joined.

But I did stay aware of the union scales. (One guy in the band retains union
membership) and never undercut them. In fact, never came close to
undercutting them.

Bottom line is that in this area, the unions are pretty much dead except for
symphony players. And the "union supplied" gigs, (very few) pay scale, which
is horribly low. 

If things were like they were when I was a kid in NYC, I'd join the union in
a heartbeat, but times have changed, at least in this area. Basically
because the demand for live music is much less than it was in the 1950s, and
there are far too many musicians around who give their services away without
regard for those who depend upon the performance of music for a living.

I think Dave Hansen's situation in Atlanta is different.

Steve Barbone


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