By Dawoud Kringle
There are times when the Designer of destiny makes a fortuitous decision on your behalf.
I first met Sohrab Saadat Ladjevardi in the lobby of a hotel where a mutual friend, virtuoso pianist David Cieri, was performing. We hit it off immediately; and both knew we’d met kindred spirits. The first time we’d played music together was in Ornette Coleman’s apartment. One of my life’s regrets was that I’d not recorded that session! It was marvelous.
For a brief time, Sohrab played in my band. This was during a period where I was producing my own concerts (a project I’m returning to as of this writing: more on this later). We had some truly fine musical moments onstage. His musicianship was an enjoyable asset I was sorry to loose. But he wanted to concentrate on his band SoSaLa (whose music you need to check out, if you haven’t already), and on his new magazine project, DooBeeDooBeeDoo NY (DBDBD), which began in full force in 2009.
This was when our working relationship took a different turn. Being a writer as well as a musician, Sohrab’s offer provided a variety of advantages, as well as opportunities to promote my respected peers, my ideas, and my music. Since 2010, I have had the pleasure and honor of being one of the main contributors to DBDBD. Sohrab always gave me free reign, and although always offered ideas and suggestions, never put a lid on anything I wrote.
Once the platform of the magazine was established, Sohrab began to do his music activism. Working with the Local 802 Musician’s Union (which he’d joined in the summer of 2010), he began to fight for musician’s rights.
Once, in April 11, 2013, I was invited by Sohrab to join one of the union’s Justice For Jazz Artists (J4JA) campaign’s rallies which happened in front of the Village Vanguard and Blue Note. I reported about it in DBDBD: https://doobeedoobeedoo.info/2013/04/16/jazz-built-this-nyc-jazz-musicians-to-protest-club-owners-who-deny-promised-benefits-to-jazz-musicians/
One of the projects he was, and still is involved with is J4JA. Because of his involvement with the J4JA campaign DBDBD started to report regularly about this campaign and about other important musicians’ issues. Besides being a DBDBD contributor, I also got personally involved in Sohrab’s activism. I’d considered joining the union. But, for personal reasons, I haven’t yet.
J4JA is working to guarantee fair pay, adequate pension contributions, protection of recording rights, a process for redress of grievances, and to correct some serious injustices perpetrated against jazz musicians in NYC. Concerning the later, I speak of the time when, in 2006, Local 802 lobbied the NY State Legislature, with the support of several local jazz clubs, with the intent of passing legislation that would eliminate the sales tax on admission at night clubs in order to use that tax relief to create a resource stream for pension contributions. In May of ’05, the Manhattan Association of Cabarets & Clubs wrote a letter to then Governor Pataki supporting the legislation, and agreeing to direct the savings from the admission tax exemption to performer’s health and pension benefit funds to insure access to these important benefit programs. The legislation was intended to benefit all musicians who played those clubs, regardless of the musicians’ union affiliation. As a result of the tax law being passed in 2007, the Blue Note, Birdland, Jazz Standard, Iridium, the Village Vanguard, Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola and other small venues in this city (under 250 seats) are no longer required to pay sales tax on admission where food and drink are charged separately. However, while the clubs benefited from the tax break (the Village Vanguard, for example, now saves up to $80,000 a year as the result of this effort) they refuse to work with the union and create a way to redirect the money into pension. In other words, they lied, and cheated the very people whom they are dependent upon to earn their income and the survival of their businesses. To add insult to injury, there is no apparatus or process to make sure the club owners held up their part of the deal.
For my own part, when I learned of this, I was outraged – but not the least bit surprised.
J4JA’s supporters include (but are not limited to) Jason Moran, Christian McBride, Ron Carter, Harry Belafonte, Joe Lovano, John Pizzarelli, Bucky Pizzarelli, Dave Liebman, Fred Hersch, Bertha Hope, Bernard Purdie, Bob Cranshaw, Randy Weston, Rufus Reid, Andrew Lamb, Seth MacFarlane, Regina Carter, James Carter, Paquito D’ Rivera, Lou Donaldson, Mala Waldron, Ras Moshe, Patience Higgins, Rachel Z, Shari Belafonte, Sohrab Saadat Ladjevardi, Sean Smith, Ivan Renta, Melvin Gibbs, Onaje Allan Gumbs, Stanley Crouch, Gary Giddins, Nat Hentoff, and an impressive list of elected officials, religious organizations, and labor organizations.
On February 24th, 2014, Sohrab started the Enough is Enough NY (EIE NY) campaign. This grew out of the J4JA campaign. The goals are to change the law to require that small venues contribute a percentage of their admissions to musicians’ pension funds; and to get club owners to enter into a collective bargaining agreement with the musicians union, requiring that they pay a percentage of their admissions into musicians’ pension funds. This is, to quote Sohrab, “a direct action campaign to confront club owners and let them know that we will not tolerate injustice any longer; and a lobbying effort to get the attention of state and city politicians and set the stage for changing the law.”
EIE NY is, not formally affiliated with the J4JA and the Local 802. There is no opposition or competition between them; however it was mutually decided to work separately.
Sohrab has recorded a single promoting the EIE NY campaign. The single, “Enough is Enough NY,” is a collage of beats, saxophone brilliance, and Sohrab’s rants about the campaign and invective against the clubs and others who oppress musicians, is a musical and poetic call to action. The track is available as a free download here: https://soundcloud.com/sohrab-saadat-ladjevardi/enough-is-enough-ny.
Sohrab also created a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Enough-Is-Enough-NY/543878275709478?ref=hl. This FB page functions as a diary in which we add new content about the progress and development of this campaign. It’s also an open forum in which people can write freely how they feel about this campaign or other musician’s issues. You are welcome to join.
The list of musicians and other concerned people involved with EIE NY is growing. I have made my own modest contributions to these campaigns, and will continue to do so until these objectives are unconditionally met.This campaign could be the right platform for jazz musicians and musicians in general to organize and express openly “enough is enough” and fight together against this injustice by the NY jazz clubs. Sohrab believes that this campaign even speaks for all musicians in the US and around the world. So wherever he is, on or off stage he speaks out “Enough is enough…musicians organize and become one strong voice and make a change in our lives!”
For my own part, I would like to see another goal achieved. This is, put in the broadest possible terms (and open to interpretation and discussion), the complete autonomy of musicians in regards to independent venues, recording and distribution, touring, promotion, publicity, etc.
I say this because power respects power. Musicians are in desperate need of real power; and unless we acquire real power, we will continue to be thought of as the lowest dregs of society, condemned to poverty while others who have nothing but contempt for us will profit from our work, and to have our faces ground into the dirt. We cannot expect to be treated fairly unless we can meet our competitors on a level playing field. Without this, dialogue is futile.
One of the stereotypes that musicians suffer is that we are seen as selfish, narcissistic, irresponsible, and incompetent in anything other than self-indulgent musical proficiency. In other words, we are seen as losers: impotently wasting our lives drooling on our musical toys and making no contributions to society. This stereotype is false and must be annihilated. The only way to do this is to build, in a responsible and efficient manner, the means to be masters of our own work, art, and business affairs.
The game is on, winner takes all, the opponents are fighting dirty, and the ball is in our court. Sohrab understand this. And so do you.