Month 3: Fairness, and all that Jazz


 Cultural Event: Heidi Martin Quartet at Blues Alley

Continuing with my monthly challenge, I picked jazz for November’s non-classical music event.

Blues Alley is a premier institution in Washington, DC, a town that has historically been an epicenter for jazz. It took over four years of living here, but I finally made it to this club.

Vocalist Heidi Martin is a native Washingtonian. Her quartet included bassist Michael Bowie, drummer Corey Fonville, pianist Colin Chambers, and trumpeter Donvonte McCoy.

The music that evening  surveyed the career of Abbey Lincoln, a jazz artist who significantly influenced Martin early in her musical upbringing. Love, the devastation of losing a lover, the struggle for civil rights, and the hardships of gender inequality are all themes of Lincoln’s music. Martin took on the persona of Abbey Lincoln when she spoke between charts, telling stories in the first person from Lincoln’s life. More than just a musical experience, it was almost like an autobiography came to life.

It reminded me of the “Beyond the Score” series, programs from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra that go in depth about a certain orchestral masterpiece or topic. The first half of these performances draws the audience in through, among other elements, actors portraying people who were relevant to the subject at hand. Just as Martin was doing with her Abbey Lincoln performance.

It’s a very effective concept, I think I’ll file it under “Recital Format Ideas”…

Rally in the Historic Terminal of Washington National Airport. Big windows with sunlight on the left, a clock on the wall in the middle, and a big American flag in the back on the right. The photo is taken from the middle of a big crowd of people, made up mostly of people wearing purple and yellow shirts from SEIU Local 32BJ. A congressman from Virginia speaks on a platform in the back with a yellow sign behind him advertsing for a $15 wage for airport employees.

Labor Event: Airport Workers Rally at DCA

Did you know that gratuity is expected for some services at the airport? I didn’t.

The Washington, DC Metropolitan Area is an expensive place to live. And when you earn below minimum wage working for customers who are unaware that tipping is customary, it’s incredibly difficult to keep up with the cost of living. It usually requires that you work two full-time jobs.

That’s why 400 employees at Washington National and Dulles International Airports have organized for a $15/hour wage. Through the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), workers have unionized and demanded an agreement with their employer Huntleigh USA, which is contracted by the airports. These people include baggage handlers, wheelchair operators, skycaps, and VIP service workers.

On November 29th, the employees held a rally in the Historic Terminal of Washington National Airport. Speakers at the event included Virginia state legislators, local religious leaders, and some of the workers themselves. One said that she can’t always afford to take public transit home at night, so she sometimes sleeps at the airport between shifts.

The employees, with help from AFL-CIO leadership, marched across the airport property to Huntleigh USA offices to deliver a petition that demanded a contract with $15/hour wages by December 14th. Local percussionist Bill Richards and I participated in this event, and he brought a field drum for the march.

No agreement was reached by December 14th, so the workers went on strike. And as of the time this article was published, they remain on strike.

Whatever you might think about this issue, it is a wake-up call for many of us. If someone personally handles your bags or takes you around the airport, they deserve a tip.

People march on a cloudy day outside of an airport underneath an overhang. They march towards the camera. A man with classes and gray hair wearing a black jacket is playing a field drum.

About Doug Rosenthal

No one told Douglas Rosenthal to give up playing music. Not even his patient siblings, who endured many early-morning practice sessions; even they encouraged their brother to follow his passion. As the years passed, that passion evolved from simply playing music to advocating for music, musicians, and music-lovers. Douglas is based in Washington, DC. He is the Assistant Principal Trombonist of the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra/Washington National Opera Orchestra. He currently makes his home on Capitol Hill in DC with a pug named Jake, who serves as a constant reminder to relax, eat well, and sleep plentifully.

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