View from New York: J@LC - Notice Something Missing?

View from New York: J@LC – Notice Something Missing?

Monique Buzzarté Photo by Kaia Means Is jazz so low-status that what would be unthinkable at the New York Philharmonic goes unnoticed in the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra? After all, both ensembles are acknowledged as being among the finest in their genre. Both are resident companies of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Both receive… Read more »

Written By

Monique Buzzarte

Monique Buzzarté
Photo by Kaia Means

Is jazz so low-status that what would be unthinkable at the New York Philharmonic goes unnoticed in the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra? After all, both ensembles are acknowledged as being among the finest in their genre. Both are resident companies of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Both receive considerable amounts of public funding from New York City and New York State as well as from federal sources. So what’s the difference? The New York Philharmonic employs women musicians. The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra does not.

In fact, women are members of all of the other performing musical ensembles housed in Lincoln Center: the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Opera, the New York City Ballet, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. None of these organizations exclude women musicians, and all have adopted audition procedures that allow for musicians to be selected for membership on the basis of demonstrated musical abilities regardless of gender. If only these statements were true of the LCJO.

While historically big band leaders have hired (and fired) their side musicians at will, these band leaders were private employers, neither accountable to others nor the beneficiaries of public funding and support. That is not the case with the LCJO. The absence of women now and throughout the band’s history, indicates that a different, more contemporary, hiring process is necessary if women are ever to become members of the ensemble.

Bill Moriarity, president of Local 802 (New York City) of the American Federation of Musicians, has been quoted in the press as stating, “This contract is probably our worst.” (Lara Pellegrinelli’s November 14, 2000 Village Voice article “Dig Boy Dig: Jazz at Lincoln Center Breaks New Ground, but Where Are the Women?“) Even today, LCJO musicians hired by LCJO’s artistic director and leader Wynton Marsalis do not enjoy the basic protections taken for granted by orchestral musicians: there is no job security, no dismissal process, no procedure for hiring substitute musicians, and no audition procedure.

However, it is precisely these protections which can help break down patterns of institutionalized discrimination. A clearly defined audition procedure for the LCJO would provide opportunities for women as well as men who are not “part of the club.” All qualified candidates could submit their resumes and recordings for consideration. Using an anonymous process to weed out less qualified candidates, the applicants could be distilled to a few finalists of the very highest caliber. These musicians could then be invited to audition in person. A similar system could be used for hiring substitute players.

Combined with “blind” auditions (where candidates perform anonymously with screens concealing their identity), the adoption of these or similar types of audition procedures by Jazz@Lincoln Center would help ensure that even the appearance of impropriety is avoided in LCJO hiring practices. Is this a cumbersome process? Perhaps. But this is the price that must be paid if J@LC accepts millions of dollars in public financing while performing in publicly-funded and publicly-supported venues.

Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of “Blind” Auditions on Female Musicians,” a study by Claudia Goldin and Cecilia Rouse published in the September 2000 issue of the American Economic Review, showed that the adoption of screened auditions in symphony orchestras resulted in an astonishing 50 percent greater rate of advancement for women from the preliminary to the semi-final audition rounds, and much greater likelihood that they would win in the final round. The use of screened auditions in American orchestras began in the 1950s, but was not customarily adopted until the 1970s and ’80s. This study confirms the existence of sex-based hiring by major orchestras, and illustrates the value of screened auditions in addressing this form of discrimination. From 1970 to the mid-1990s, female orchestra members increased from approximately 10 percent to about 35 percent. Rouse and Goldin attribute 30 percent of this gain to the increasing use of screened auditions.

J@LC, the parent organization for the LCJO, currently uses a variety of spaces in Lincoln Center for its programs, but is scheduled to move in the fall of 2004 to a new $115 million facility devoted exclusively to jazz. New York City taxpayers have dedicated $25 million towards the new Frederick P. Rose Hall, through funding from the Office of the Mayor, the City Council, and the Office of the Manhattan Borough President, and $5.7 million of that figure has reportedly already been disbursed. State taxpayers have donated the facility’s Columbus Circle core and shell to J@LC at no cost through the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Lincoln Center and J@LC both receive sizeable amounts of public financing from New York City, New York State, and the federal government. Lincoln Center is a designated city-funded cultural institution. Located on city-owned property, Lincoln Center is a public/private partnership in which the institution provides the programming and the city provides and maintains the building and premises. New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) provides operational support and capital design, construction and equipment funds.

The LCJO is the resident orchestra of J@LC and is highly featured in all aspects of their three-part mission of education, performance, and broadcasts. The exclusion of women from the LCJO has an effect that extends far beyond this particular bandstand. The financial remuneration and artistic prestige members of the LCJO receive are uncommon enough.

But what is less tangible and more difficult to measure are the innumerable opportunities which arise from a LCJO affiliation. When the most prominent, most well-known, and best paying big band in America employs only male musicians, opportunities for women are curtailed throughout the field. Perhaps the most insidious side effect of the LCJO’s current roster is the impact it has on children. Throughout extensive educational outreach programs featuring the LCJO as an ensemble and individual LCJO members as clinicians, J@LC constantly sends the obvious message to students that playing in a big band is a man’s profession.

Last, but not least, the le
gal and activist communities should take note that the public financing received by the LCJO, J@LC, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and Lincoln Center, Inc. requires that women are offered equal employment opportunities. The lame excuse offered by J@LC’s Board Chair Lisa Schiff in a recent NewMusicBox interview that “half of our staff members and many of our board members are women” would be unlikely to convince a judge or jury that equal employment opportunities exist for women in all programs of J@LC. More importantly, it does not address the real issue: no women perform onstage as members of the LCJO.

Fighting gender discrimination in any field is difficult, exponentially so for the female jazz artist. The women most directly affected by the LCJO’s male-only status quo are freelancers who depend upon the goodwill of bandleaders and contractors in a small, close-knit world for their employment opportunities. Being labeled as a “trouble-maker” or someone with “an agenda” or “an ax to grind” has a direct effect on the ability to earn a livelihood, and those who speak up run the risk of being blacklisted.

In theory women may file complaints regarding discrimination in employment with New York City’s Commission on Human Rights, which is charged with enforcing NYC’s Human Rights Law prohibiting discrimination in employment based on gender. But in practice, filing such a complaint is impossible since it must be filed within one year of the last alleged act of discrimination and no formal opportunities for employment exist with the LCJO.

It is vital that organizations which appear to condone or practice discrimination receive complaints and that representatives of public funding sources be alerted. Discrimination flourishes when it is silently tolerated or goes unchallenged. If J@LC cannot or will not provide equal employment opportunities for women to become members of the LCJO, public funding and public support for the organization should not be renewed.

Direct your comments to:

Lisa Schiff, Chairman of the Board
Wynton Marsalis, Artistic Director
Bruce MacCombie, Executive Director
Jazz@Lincoln Center
33 W. 60th Street
New York, NY 10023
Phone (212) 258-9800
Fax (212) 258-9900

With copies to:

Michael Bloomberg, Mayor
City Hall
New York, NY 10007
Phone (212) 788-9600
Fax (212) 788-7476
web-based comment form:

Nicolette Clarke, Executive Director
New York State Council on the Arts
915 Broadway
New York, NY 10010
Phone (212) 387-7000
Email: [email protected]

Eileen Mason, Senior Deputy Chairman
National Endowment for the Arts
1100 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20506
Phone (202) 682-5415
Fax (202) 682-5064
Email: [email protected]

Monique Buzzarté is a trombonist/composer living in New York City specializing in new music. An author and educator as well as a performer, her advocacy efforts for women in music led to the integration of women into the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in 1997. Email: [email protected]