New York Times And The New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund - It's Mainstream Media Month

Below are excerpts from Sunday's New York Times Article which the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund, Inc. was interviewed for, as well as Hot 8 Brass Band trombonist Jerome Jones. Jerome is one of the dozens of musicians who stays in the NOMRF Apartment when he comes back to town to gig. This is Jerome with Joe Topping (right) who walked across America for New Orleans and has a song on our download page ("Lord Willing") and NOMRF Founder Jeff Beninato (left) of the dB's, who also has a song on the download project ("Rains Around Here').

NOMRF thanks the New York Times for pointing out that, as we discussed with them, tourism is down, locals can't always afford cover charges anymore and musicians like Jerome are choosing to relocate to Houston for safety reasons.

Want to know how to help?

Your ReDefine 8/29 Music Download will directly aid NOMRF's efforts. Our 17 songs include Dr. John's "Wade in the Water"' The Kaiser Chief's brand new "Out of My Depth" and Ian Hunter's "How's Your House". It's the perfect Katrina Anniversary present to New Orleans musicians.




The Katrina Effect, Measured in Gigs
The New York Times Money Section
Published: August 5, 2007

ON a recent sultry afternoon here, Tipitina's — arguably the most famous musical haunt in a city famous for its music — is eerily quiet. This ramshackle, two-story yellow joint at the corner of Napoleon and Tchoupitoulas won't start jumping until after dark, when Ivan Neville and his band, Dumpstaphunk, take center stage.

But upstairs, past balconies smelling of stale beer and cigarettes, past walls plastered with yellowed concert posters, musicians are working. Some edit concert fliers, tweak Web sites or research overseas jazz festivals; others get legal advice or mix audio and video; others simply chatter about who has found gigs and who is still struggling.

Since late 2005, just a few months after Hurricane Katrina tore through this city, more than 1,000 New Orleans musicians have become members of Tipitina's three cooperative music offices. "I go in sometimes and all I'm doing is checking my e-mails," says Margie Perez, an effervescent blues singer.

For Ms. Perez and others trying to rebuild fragile livelihoods as artists, grass-roots efforts like the co-ops have been a boon, helping them to replace lost or damaged instruments and sound equipment, arranging and subsidizing gigs and providing transportation, health care and housing. The Tipitina's Foundation, the club's charitable arm, has distributed about $1.5 million in aid; in all, Tipitina's and other nonprofit groups have marshaled tens of millions of dollars in relief from around the world to help bolster the music business here.

But it remains to be seen how long a loose-knit band of charities can stand in for coordinated economic development in one of New Orleans's most important business sectors. Although New Orleans is one of the country's most culturally distinct cities, a large-scale recording industry never took root here, even before Katrina. Yet the informal music sector, the kind visitors find in clubs and bars, and large-scale musical events like Jazz Fest, is a mainstay of the city's tourism business.

In fact, local authorities say, music and cuisine are the twin pillars of the tourism industry here; the leisure and hospitality businesses account for almost 63,000 jobs in the city and for about 35 percent of the sales taxes. Both of those figures are larger than those of any other business sector, including the energy industry.

Still, nearly two years after Katrina, there are fewer restaurants and bars offering live music, and the ones that do are paying less, musicians say. As the reality of the slow recovery has set in, fewer locals feel that they can afford cover charges or even tips, so clubs that used to have live music four or five nights a week have cut back to two or three.

Conventions, typically a strong source of music gigs, are running at 70 percent of 2004 levels, but leisure travel remains far below pre-Katrina levels, according to the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. Over all, visitors generated $2.9 billion in spending in 2006, down from $4.9 billion in 2004, according to the bureau. About 3.7 million people visited the city in 2006, compared with more than 10 million in 2004.

Compounding the music scene's slow revival is the challenge of tracking musicians — who are typically paid in cash and often hold down other jobs — in order to get them financial support. Habitat for Humanity, which is building what it describes as a "musicians' village" in the Ninth Ward, initially struggled to find creditworthy applicants — just one instance of relief for artists failing to meet its mark.

Other organizations also tried to put some financial muscle behind the local music business. The New Orleans Musicians Clinic paid musicians to play at the airport and offered $100 guarantees to musicians who could find gigs for themselves elsewhere. The Jazz Foundation of America also subsidized performances. The New Orleans Musician's Relief Fund, a charity started by the former dB's bassist Jeff Beninato, offered a temporary apartment to musicians.

For artists dependent on support, such backing was invaluable.

Indeed, even as crowds come back, littering Bourbon Street with beer cans and daiquiri cups, musicians say they're not seeing their incomes rebound. Wil Kennedy, a guitarist and singer who plays for passers-by in Jackson Square, says the situation is still "as bad as it was after 9/11," with his tips down as much as 75 percent from the peak period before 9/11. In the clubs, guarantees of a minimum payout are now less common; many clubs offer musicians just the take at the door or a percentage of drink sales.

"They've kind of gotten used to getting the music cheap when people were so desperate they'd play for a sandwich and a $20 bill," says Kim Foreman, secretary and treasurer of a local branch of the American Federation of Musicians, which has lost about 120 of its 800 dues-paying members. Poverty keeps many musicians living with substandard housing and health care, Mr. Foreman says.

Others are scared off by the rampant crime and lack of basic services here, despite an economic need to be back in the Big Easy's cultural stew. "Right now, New Orleans is not fit for my family," says the Hot 8 Brass Band trombonist Jerome Jones, who has relocated to Houston with his wife and four of his five children. Mr. Jones, whose bandmate Dinerral Shavers was murdered here last December, says he plans to commute to New Orleans for gigs and band business.

It's an article of faith among New Orleanians that the music scene is an indelible part of the city's appeal. But the city and state historically haven't recognized the role that musicians and other creative workers play in driving tourism and improving the quality of life, advocates say. As a result, they say, the city and state have underinvested in the cultural sector of the economy.

"People don't think of artists as a category of workers," says Maria-Rosario Jackson, director of the Urban Institute's Culture, Creativity, and Communities Program, which found that the city's infrastructure for "cultural vitality" even before Katrina rated in the bottom half of the country's metropolitan areas.

Figuring how "to translate that authenticity to economic development has been the challenge for all these years," says Scott Aiges, who headed the city's music office before Katrina and is now director of marketing and communications for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation, which owns Jazz Fest.

Just weeks before the storm, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu unveiled a new strategy for developing what was described as the "cultural economy." Since then, the state has pushed through tax breaks for arts districts, musical and theatrical productions and sound recordings and made sure that events like Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, which provide work for many musicians, survived.

But a separate individual tax break for artistic earnings failed in the State Legislature because of concerns that it wasn't fair to other working people, and other large-scale attempts have languished because of a lack of financing. In May 2006, the Bring New Orleans Back Commission, which was formed by Mayor C. Ray Nagin, recommended plowing $648 million into the cultural sector to create jobs, rebuild damaged facilities and open a national jazz center. But those ideas were shelved with the rest of the commission's work, and subsequent, scaled-back proposals still await financing.

New Orleans "needs some anchors around which the economy can begin to rebuild, and arts and culture are an obvious one," says Holly Sidford, a principal at AEA Consulting in New York, which developed the recommendations for the commission's cultural subcommittee at the request of the trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. "But without investment, really deliberate and coherent investment, that won't happen."

Ernest Collins, the city's executive director for arts and entertainment, says of the commission's recommendations, which Mr. Nagin endorsed: "That was a very large price tag. And needless to say, we don't have that money."

Leaders of nonprofit groups and organizations like Tipitina's say they are resigned to filling the void left by the public and private sectors as long as they can. Mr. Aiges, whose group owns Jazz Fest, is using receipts from the event to add new festivals, build an Internet-based system that will allow musicians to connect with talent coordinators and potential licensees, and put on a networking event for musicians during next year's festival.

But musicians say they wonder if New Orleans will ever nurture their careers the way it once did. The Hot 8 Brass Band, which was featured prominently in Spike Lee's documentary film "When the Levees Broke," is concentrating on touring elsewhere in the United States and abroad — even if that might mean missing Mardi Gras — so it can play for outsiders. Outsiders, say band members, seem to value them more than their hometown.

"They make you feel how valuable you are to New Orleans," says Raymond Williams, a trumpeter for the band. "I feel like maybe the city should treat musicians in the same way.

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