Skip to Content

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.

Available Files

  • The_Creative_Life_of_Law.pdf

    203 KB | application/pdf


Improvisation is, simply put, being and living this very moment. No one can hide in music, and improvising in music is to be truly in this very moment and being completely yourself, with all your qualities and faults. It is probably the most honest state for a human being to be in.

– John McLaughlin in an interview with Daniel Fischlin.