Jazz Festival musicians hit out at organisers

By Kiri Gillespie, Carly Gibbs


Musicians who played in the cash-strapped 50th National Jazz Festival have been told they must wait at least another month for payment.

Festival organisers have sent out a group email to performers telling them the event is in deficit and they hoped to pay the "majority" of performers' fees on May 20.

However, if they couldn't pay all bills on that day, payments would likely be delayed further.

Tauranga musician Derrin Richards manages local blues artist and 2012 jazz festival musician Grant Haua. Mr Richards, who signed a 2012 jazz festival contract, said he was angry musicians like Mr Haua had not been paid.

"It's bloody not on and it's not bloody good enough," he said. "I think it's irresponsible ... to have these musicians play on the Saturday and Sunday when odds were surely they knew there'd be no money to pay them after the weekend."

Mr Richards accused organisers of undervaluing professional musicians who needed to be paid without delay.

"The number one rule in music promotion is you've got to be able to pay your bills," he said.

"What really got on my goat was that they were still 'tallying invoices'. That word invoice, it sounds very passive. These are people's wages we're talking about. The musicians' figures are not an unknown quantity, having been contracted for weeks and months. In our case it was a set fee (a 'mere' $300 plus GST) dictated by the organisers."

Mr Richards last performed in the festival in 2006 and was paid before he even got on stage. It should still be like that, he said.

While the council funded a substantial deposit for headline act Earth, Wind and Fire, it appeared many other acts had not received a cent.<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />

Wellington performer Bill Watkins from The Lounge Lizards said the band played to a crowd of about 300 at Baycourt Theatre.

Despite the audience paying for tickets, he said the band had also been notified they would not be paid until May 20, or beyond.

Los Angeles-based musician Diana Harris had also not been paid.

"I got a text the other day saying it's all mucked up and we don't know if we are going to get paid," Harris said. "We just don't know. I'm trying not to think about it."

She enjoyed the gig so much, she wanted to remember the fun of the festival.

"I got a lot out of it. I'm just trying to find something positive about it.

"I have no idea what is going on. I'm sure I'll hear when it's settled."

In an email to performers, a festival administrator wrote: "... We sincerely apologise for the inconvenience this may cause at your end. It is a difficult situation for us, but we are committed to sorting this all out. Thanks for your patience."

Festival director Arne Herrmann said performers would get paid. However, the $1.5 million event failed to break even. There would be a delay in payment while organisers established the shortfall.

"It is not ideal but we are completely on top of the situation and sorting it out," he said.

Mr Herrmann said if the festival was unable to pay everyone, it was not able to prioritise a single party.

"We're just being extra careful and we ask that they give us a couple of weeks so we can sort out the accounting situation, and then pay out the contract as to our agreement."

Every contractor and musician had a different contract.

If deposits had been due, they had been met by organisers, he said. Mr Herrmann refused to say which artists that applied to, as all contracts were confidential.

"Everyone is blowing this up now to the size of an elephant, and it's not. It's really disheartening for us to see. In the past, we've been so on to it, [artists] have walked out of a venue with a cheque in their hand and that's set a precedence. The festival is on a different scale now. This is a $1.5 million event and if the shortfall is $50,000 that's insignificant - that's 3 per cent off budget."

Mayor Stuart Crosby said he met with Mr Herrmann and the jazz festival accountant immediately after the event and they established there was a funding shortfall.

Mr Crosby said he did not know which musicians, if any, had been paid yet.

"I do know they had to pay a substantial deposit [for Earth, Wind and Fire] because that was what the council funded to help."

Ratepayers would not be funding the loss.

"At the meeting I made it quite clear to the director and president of the jazz society that we will not be putting any more resource into the shortfall," Mr Crosby said.

Brilleaux front man Graham Clark said he preferred to stay out of the dispute.

"It's nobody's business. It was a contact between the jazz society and myself," Mr Clark said.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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