Max Roach: High Taxes Killed the Big Bands


SKF NOTE: The 1940s federal government entertainment tax (or cabaret tax) and the Musicians Union’s bans on recording music are two incredibly shortsighted policies that devastated the Swing Era. Coming across these incidents for the first time, many years ago while studying music history, I felt so sad for all the music lost, all the music careers damaged.

National Public Radio’s Terry Gross just reposted her 1983 Fresh Air audio interview with Max Roach. Here’s a portion of Ms. Gross’s interview where Max talks about the affect of the entertainment tax.

GROSS: You were one of the first drummers to play bebop, and…one of the first people to figure out how to drum in the…fiery sessions…being played. What were some of the challenges that…presented to you?

ROACH: …Instrumental virtuosity prevailed because during the War…. [During] the Second World War we had an extra 20 percent cabaret tax…. [A musician]  entrepreneur…had to pay…a city tax.., a state tax, and a federal tax. On top of that he had to pay a 20 percent government tax called entertainment tax. [T]his really heralded the demise of big bands during that time. This tax was just awful….

So the people who really got the jobs were the virtuoso instrumentalists. And everybody went home and practiced, practiced, practiced. And then that was the beginning of bebop….. Everybody began to sit and listen to the music rather than…dance to it. That was the beginning of it.

Full interview

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