The NPR program, Jazz Night in America, recently produced an excellent 9-minute video, narrated by jazz artist Christian McBride, that provides an exposé on the infamous use of the cabaret card. The cabaret card was issued by the New York City Police Department from 1940 to 1967.
The cabaret law was a requirement that all New York City musicians carry a “cabaret card” to perform at bars and clubs. This cabaret licensing law also banned dancing by 3 or more people unless you obtained a special cabaret license.
Losing your cabaret card meant jazz musicians could not perform in clubs in New York City. And, essentially, it meant losing your main source of income. Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday are two examples of jazz artists who lost their cabaret card at critical points in their career. Leaving us and history to wonder what may have been different had they not been victimized by this licensing system.
Thanks to Jazz Night in America, this video provides an informative history of the cabaret card and its negative impact on jazz.