Jazz Institute of Chicago

NEA survey finds jazz musicians are well educated, but underpaid and lacking benefits

NEA survey finds jazz musicians are well educated
but underpaid and lacking benefits
[Press release from the National Endowment for the Arts]

January 9, 2003, Washington, D.C.—The National Endowment for the Arts today released survey results suggesting jazz musicians are largely male, middle-aged, and well educated, although they make less money than the national average for their education level and many lack retirement and health benefits. "Changing the Beat: A Study of the Worklife of Jazz Musicians," produced in conjunction with the Research Center for Arts and Culture and the San Francisco Study Center, contains survey results from about 2,700 jazz musicians located in New York, Detroit, San Francisco and New Orleans.

The study found that jazz musicians tend to be male and well educated, with about 45 percent holding a bachelor's degree or higher. The income range most often selected was $20,000-40,000, a considerably lower salary than men with the same education levels in other professions. (The National Center for Education Statistics reports the national average income is $52,985 for men with bachelor's degrees and $66,243 for men with higher-level degrees.)

Of jazz musicians surveyed who have received grants or fellowships during their careers, 90 percent received $5,000 or less. The survey also addressed other aspects of jazz careers. For instance, the most commonly listed primary instruments were piano and drums. Also, respondents considered talent the most important quality needed for pursuing a career in jazz.

"'Changing the Beat' gives us a much clearer picture of the working life of the jazz artist," said A.B. Spellman, Deputy Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts and author of Four Lives in the Bebop Business. "With this detailed information, the Arts Endowment and other funders can develop programs that better address the concerns and challenges jazz musicians face in creating and playing their music."
To compensate for the difficulties involved in identifying jazz musicians, survey targets were chosen from a random sampling of American Federation of Musicians members (AFM) and by Respondent-Driven-Sampling (RDS), a chain-referral method that included both union and non-union musicians.

Of the AFM respondents, 85 percent reported being employed full-time in the music business, compared to only 55 percent of the RDS musicians. More than three-fourths of AFM respondents reported having at least one retirement plan and over 80 percent of them had health coverage. In the RDS group, 57 percent had no retirement plan and only 43 percent had health coverage.

Jazz musicians surveyed were also asked for suggestions to ensure the survival of jazz and improve the ability of musicians to work in the jazz field. Some of the suggestions related to the musicians' general well-being, such as having access to affordable health insurance and medical care, pensions and emergency relief funds for musicians who are ill or aging.

The interviewees also saw education as an important component in the preservation of jazz, from education of schoolchildren through classes and performances to education of musicians in business practices to help them manage their own careers. Respondents also asked for more grant money from foundations and the National Endowment for the Arts to support recordings, performances, and concept development. In addition, they suggested standardized club fees, tax breaks for providing free public performances, and more Internet-based resources for jazz musicians.

More suggestions from survey respondents can be found at http://www.arts.gov/endownews/news03/JazzRelease2.html

"Changing the Beat" was conducted by the Research Center for Arts and Culture at Columbia University Teachers College under a cooperative agreement with the National Endowment for the Arts and the San Francisco Study Center. The survey was supported by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Grammy Foundation, American Federation of Musicians, American Federation of Musicians Local 802, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, and the Nathan Cummings Foundation.

A PDF version of the Executive Summary of Changing the Beat: A Study of the Worklife of Jazz Musicians can be downloaded at http://www.arts.gov/endownews/news03/JazzExecSummary.pdf

For more information or to receive a hard copy of the report, contact the NEA Office of Communications at 202-682-5570.

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