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The Creative Life of Law: Improvisation, Between Tradition and Suspicion

Sara Ramshaw

Published: 2010-05-06

Originally applying solely to chefs, waiters, dishwashers and the like, New York City regulations governing cabaret employees were altered in 1943 to include musicians and entertainers, who until the late 1960's would be required to hold a NYC Cabaret Employee's Identification Card. The introduction of these notorious "police cards" occurred roughly contemporaneously to the emergence in after-hours night clubs in Harlem of a new, and supposedly "wild," improvisatory brand of jazz: bebop. This article uses the cabaret cards to explore the uncertain terrain between law and improvisation, between tradition and suspicion.

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If people talked the way they drummed in improvisation, then I think the world would be a lot nicer…

– Youth participant, ICASP improvisation workshop