Skip to comments.How the Taxman Cleared the Dance Floor (How a 'cabaret tax' brought the decline of Big Band Music)
Posted on 03/27/2013 7:36:37 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
These are strange days, when we are told both that tax incentives can transform technologies yet higher taxes will not drag down the economy. So which is it? Do taxes change behavior or not? Of course they do, but often in ways that policy hands never anticipate, let alone intend. Consider, for example, how federal taxes hobbled Swing music and gave birth to bebop.
With millions of young men coming home from World War IIeager to trade their combat boots for dancing shoesthe postwar years should have been a boom time for the big bands that had been so wildly popular since the 1930s. Yet by 1946 many of the top orchestrasincluding those of Benny Goodman, Harry James and Tommy Dorseyhad disbanded. Some big names found ways to get going again, but the journeyman bands weren't so lucky. By 1949, the hotel dine-and-dance-room trade was a third of what it had been three years earlier. The Swing Era was over.
Dramatic shifts in popular culture are usually assumed to result from naturally occurring forces such as changing tastes (did people get sick of hearing "In the Mood"?) or demographics (were all those new parents of the postwar baby boom at home with junior instead of out on a dance floor?). But the big bands didn't just stumble and fall behind the times. They were pushed.
In 1944, a new wartime "cabaret tax" went into effect, imposing a ruinous 30% (later merely a destructive 20%) excise on all receipts at any venue that served food or drink and allowed dancing. The name of the "cabaret tax" suggested the bite would be reserved for swanky boîtes such as the Stork Club, posh "roof gardens," and other elegant venues catering to the rich.
(Excerpt) Read more at online.wsj.com ...
Economics....Rock and Roll came along, and it only took 2 or 3 musicians......and then rap came along, and you didn’t even need musicians anymore.
“.........and then rap came along, and you didnt even need musicians anymore.”
Or the ability to speak English.
But you do need a gun.
I had no idea but always wondered what really killed the Big Bands so quickly after the war. Leave it to the FEDS to screw up a good, no GREAT thing.
Yep, I agree. More of the same now...only going to tax the rich.
Interesting read. I’ve generally always bought into the notion that after the war ended, the public actually wanted a little less rambunciousness in their lives, and tastes veered from loud bands to calming vocalists. It does make a fair bit of sense.
The draft really killed off a lot of bands well before 1946, though. They were struggling, with sidemen being taken away left and right, needing constant replacements, etc.
Looks like the government made a few offers that Big Band leaders couldn’t refuse.
Interesting article, something I’ve wondered about but never gave much thought to.
I’m not subscribing to the WSJ to read the story, but it’s a specious conclusion that some sort of tax caused the decline of BB music. Evolving tastes and teens with money who liked RnR a lot more than BBm probably caused it’s decline. There were still plenty of big bands around when I was a kid, but my parents never bought one stinking music album. In fact, they used to listen my Tijuana Brass albums. But few teens wanted to hear brassy music. They wanted to hear that rock and roll guitar a lot more.
That said, I have to note the questionable value of posting article here that cannot be read in totality except by subscribers.
That and ASCAP’s royalty collection caused the demise of small groups peforming at your local watering hole. That feud also brought on Rock and Roll to radio with rival groups representing “recording” artists which broke ASCAPS stranglehold .
No, there was a pretty long gap between the big-band craze and the rock-n-roll craze. The latter didn’t replace the former. There was indeed a huge cratering of big-bands in 1946, when both major bands and minor ones disbanded. Some of the milder bands (like Les Brown) generally seemed to survive a bit better, and ultimately lasted many decades, but at a much lower profile.
It had nothing to do with music moving on to a new genre, like 1950s Rock -n- Roll?
All of it occured before I was born, but my Grandfather and his brothers were all in bands prior to the war. Aftewards, from what I recall, he said the bands just weren’t around anymore for whatever reason.
Seems Rock and Roll didn’t really pick up popular steam until around ‘54/’55 - that’s almost 10 years after the article cites the big band death.
Curious what was happening in the interim. Sinatra was definitely around, but IIRC, that between period coincides with a lull in his career as well.
Better sound systems and more affordable records and the prevalence of radio may have been a factor. Eventually TV too - Lawrence Welk started in ‘55 so there must have been some demand for big band music still around.
I’m not saying rock and roll immediately replaced all bb music. I stated that bb music was around in the sixties and into the seventies. I watched them on the Ed Sullivan Show and other venues. But my parents, who grew up during the BB era, never bought one album of any type of music. However, the future was dictated in the fifties when teens started getting their grubby hands on more money. Teens liked rock and roll and shunned bbm. When those teens got older, they didn’t start buying BBm albums, they started buying more r and r. If BBm would have been popular, it still would have made money.
Federal taxes caused bebop? Baloney.
The whole big band thing had gone stale once into the 40s, cabaret tax or not. Creative musicians were stifled in big bands, and they moved on to something new.
I also always wondered why the big bands died so quickly.
Interesting to hear.
I am no fan of cabaret or any other form of tax. I believe the compelling theme for taxing the rich is the simple vice of covetousness. (I want what you have and give it to me now or at least share it with everyone else - or else)
But I believe like others here that the death of the Big Band would have happened anyway.
For this reason - people love the loud sound of many instruments.
The difference to the ear between the acoustic way of doing this with many instruments vs. the electronic way of reproducing lots of sound is pretty small.
And as an unfortunate side note - electronic sound can get much louder.
You can read a succinct summary here:
The issue is why would people suddenly be willing to pay for a 4-piece band, when they used to be able to get a 30-piece band? There’s no denying that music would have evolved anyway, but it would not necessarily have evolved in the direction it went.
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