The Cabaret Law did not target black venues when allegedly not allowing jazz instruments in non-licensed establishments.

When challenged, those having a belief that the Cabaret Law was racist justify their belief by claiming that the Cabaret Law allowed classical music instruments playing in non-licensed establishment, and prohibited typical jazz instruments thereby targeting black establishments. There are several problems with this claim: those provisions were placed in the Cabaret Law in 1961 as a way to liberalize the law allowing some live musical performance. This belief ignored the large number of non-black musicians playing jazz during the Jazz Age and the Flapper era. The second reason oft cited for this belief in the language to the introduction of the 1926 bill.

The Muchmore litigation irresponsibly represented to the Court that the 1926 law contained these limitation to three musicians and types of instruments. This was blatantly false. Showing discriminatory intent would allow the Court to grant attorneys fees under a specific statutory provision.

The Cabaret Law when adopted had no provisions relating to musical instruments or types of musical instruments. Believe your eyes by reading the original text of the law.

Muchmore falsey stated in its amended complaint at paragraphs 19  and 20.

“19.The discriminatory intent behind the Cabaret Law is further demonstrated through the Cabaret Law’s original language prohibiting musical instruments commonly used in jazz music, including wind, brass and percussion instruments, and exempting instruments commonly used by white musicians, including piano, organ, accordion, guitar and stringed instruments.”

“20. The Cabaret Law was a direct response to the Harlem Renaissance, and its original text and legislative history make clear that it was targeted at black musicians and inter-racial association.”

Muchmore then in the next paragraphs  misleadingly referred to Chiasson 1. There is nothing in Chiasson I which states that the provision  was in the “original text of the law.”  Chiasson 1 clearly describes that these provision were not included until 1971.

“The original text of the law targeted wind, brass and percussion instruments, commonly used in jazz music, while permitting piano, organ, accordion, guitar and stringed instruments. See Chiasson v. New York City Dept. of Consumer Affairs, 505 N.Y.S.2d 499 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. Co. 1986). [Chiasson I].”  (emphasis supplied)”

See Amicus Letter

Chiasson I:

“In 1936, the definition of a cabaret was amended to add the exception for mechanically reproduced music and for a player piano. In 1961, the administration of the law was transferred to the Department of Licenses (now under the Department of Consumer Affairs) and a special licensing system for coffeehouses was established. Local Laws, 1961, No. 95 of City of New York provided an exception for those “coffee houses” which provided incidental musical entertainment without dancing, either by mechanical devices, or by not more than three persons playing piano, organ, accordion, guitar, or any other string instrument. Thus, only certain coffeehouses had to be licensed, others which provided only incidental musical entertainment did not.”

Categories: Cabaret Law History, Cabaret Law Racist Intent?, Muchmore, Three Musician Limit