[Dixielandjazz] Unions - Musicians - Cabaret Card

Fred Spencer drjz at bealenet.com
Mon Nov 6 08:40:47 PST 2006

Dear Steve,
Thank you for your excellent summary of this fiasco. "Gigs. Jazz and the 
Cabaret Laws in New York City" by Paul Chevigny (Routledge, 1991) and "The 
Police Card Discord" by Maxwell T. Cohen (Scarecrow Press and the Institute 
of Jazz Studies, 1993) describe the case. Cohen was an attorney who 
represented some of the musicians. Another lawyer in the settlement was 
David Ostwald, the tuba and bass sax leader of the Gully Low Jazz Band. I 
had a chat with him in 1987 when he played at Red Blazer Too in NYC. The 
Casa Loma clarinetist Clarence Hutchenrider was in the band. In the 
intermission I told my son to greet him and say only--"Smoke Rings"! 
Clarence said" Where did you get that from? and sat down with us for a 
drink. He said "I haven't played that for years but I'll ask the band if 
they know it?" He did and they did, so his beautiful solo came out loud and 
clear, perhaps for the last time-he died, aged 83, in 1991 .Cheers.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Steve Barbone" <barbonestreet at earthlink.net>
To: "DJML" <dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com>
Sent: Sunday, November 05, 2006 11:50 AM
Subject: [Dixielandjazz] Unions - Musicians - Cabaret Card

> Mike asked about who killed the unions? And whether in my 802 days you had
> to have a Cabaret Card to work in NYC. Here are my opinions.
> First the Cabaret Card. Yes, you had to have a Cabaret Card. It was issued
> by the NYC Police Department and necessary because "musicians" were scum 
> and
> needed to be readily identified as possible perps when drug and sex crimes
> occurred in public Dance Halls and Cabarets. Especially jazz musicians. It
> contained your passport type photo and your thumb print. along with the
> usual ID information. That was the first time I was ever fingerprinted.
> Damn, where was the ACLU. :-) VBG (Remember, in those days "seduction" was 
> a
> crime and even Frank Sinatra was wrongly charged with it)
> You could not work in a club in NYC if you did not have this card. And the
> police could arbitrarily take it from you upon "suspicion" of a crime or
> immoral act. No conviction necessary.
> When I got my first one, (good only for 2 years at a time), I was a young
> teen, and will never forget the smirking cops taking my photo and prints 
> and
> making comments about how, as a "jazz musician" (occupation listed on the
> card) I was probably a drug addict scumbag, or thief. I still have the 
> last
> one issued to me, Mar 1, 1961, expired Mar 1, 1963. I keep it in my 
> clarinet
> case as a reminder of how musicians were once treated by the police in 
> NYC.
> The unions? Well, their demise is very complicated. Lots of reasons
> including the general "musician" population. Some reasons below:
> 1) Greed and Corruption of the union leaders. They were in power too long
>   and power corrupts. (Just ask the Republicans in the Government today)
> 2) Greed of the Club Owners. They want the bands as entertainment and 
> could
>   care less about QUALITY. So they went for the cheapest price out there.
>   Artie Shaw learned this in the 1930s with his first band when he talked
>   about how he hired the best musicians in NYC. The club owner said:
>   (paraphrasing here) "I don't give a Goddam about how good your band is.
>   If the customers come in here to see you drop your pants and take a crap
>   on stage, then I'll pay you to do just that, every night, as long as 
> they
>   come here to see you do it."
> 3) Changing live music scene. Its all about entertainment. Nowadays there
>   are many more competitors for the entertainment dollar and many venues
>   discovered that live music didn't make a difference. Somewhat helped by
>   those bands which act as if the music is enough and look bored.
> 4) Amateur bands who give the music away. With the exception of those on
>   this chat list, most fans haven't got the vaguest idea what good music
>   is. They hear Joe Schlump and his Dixiecats as being as good as Condon
>   Groups, Turk Murphy, Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong et al. So when Joe
>   Schlump plays free, or for beer money, or pays his own transportation to
>   play in Europe or Asia for beer money, or plays a jazz cruise for no
>   money, the venue is delighted. No union can exist if the competitors 
> give
>   it away. And face it, by and large, the public, even some who attend 
>   Jazz Festivals, does not notice the difference in the music.
> 5) Too many musicians in each market competing for too few paying gigs.
>   Local 802 in NYC gets $35 for parking + scale in many venues, but those
>   venues that thumb there nose at the union, pay $40 a night and the
>   musicians flock to perform there.
> 6) The passage of "Right to Work" laws.
> Cheers,
> Steve Barbone
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