Jazz musicians have always faced systems of discrimination in America. One insidious example was the cabaret card, a form of identification required for any musician to work in a New York nightclub from 1940 to 1967. The New York Police Department administered these licenses and revoked them for any minor infraction. As a result, some of the biggest names in the music at the time, like Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker, lost their right to work at a crucial points in their careers. In this Jazz Night in America video short, we trace the history of the cabaret card from its racist origins to its toll on the music, and we’ll reflect on what might have been.
Special thanks to Nate Chinen, whose JazzTimes piece “The Cabaret Card and Jazz” was referenced for this video.