|The Weimarer era
Due to the first world war and the economic
blockades it brought about, Jazz music only started to become known in
Germany around the year 1919. The end of the war meant the end of the imposed
restrictions, which lead to a “dance rage” . The people’s desire for enjoyment
encouraged Jazz music.
Between the years 1919 and 1923 Jazz spread
quickly throughout the country. Because of the widely spread rumours that
the word Jazz meant Jazz music, which many orchestras understood as noise
(and noise in their opinion was represented by drums, until then recognised
as the most important Jazz instrument; hence - meaning of Jazz = Drums)
a Jazz band was expected to perform in a way similar to that known in America
as ”nut Jazz“ with clowning, high spirits and unusual instruments like
Placard advertising a Musical Première
Between 1924 and 1928 Jazz reached its peak
in Germany. There was an increasing opinion that the Jazz music of the
earlier years was a step in the wrong direction and that the new Jazz sound
was a sort of “taming” of the old wild Jazz and should be considered
as something distinctly separate from the loud hullabaloo and din which
had previously been recognised as Jazz. One prime example of this new Jazz
was the “Symphonic Jazz” played by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. The “ Jazz-boom”
up until the year 1928 was so big, that apart from the Jazz music
there was even a so-called Jazz fashion.
The economic depression which set in towards
the end of the 1920’s led to a world-wide depression for Jazz music.
music, with its high spirits, fun and originality, was viewed of as democratic.
Moreover with its ”non-Aryan” roots Jazz was considered a product of the
American lifestyle and was therefore frowned upon by the Nazi’s who found
the Jazz music degenerating. Until 1935 Jazz music was, in general, left
to its own means i.e. undisturbed (Goebels motto: convince and persuade
via anti-Jazz-propaganda rather than prohibit). To a certain extent, in
order to satisfy the tastes of the majority of listeners, Jazz was even
played over the German radio networks in between popular dance numbers.
In 1935 a law was passed banning Jazz from being played over the radio,
but this couldn’t be implemented. Besides, the Nazi definition of Jazz
music was so unclear that it was virtually impossible to try to classify
The ”Swing era” of the mid 30’s through to
the end of the 40’s originated from America. Swing music was played as
set arrangements in a big band. This had the effect of limiting improvisation,
which also meant that the Afro-American influence was less apparent.
|The style of musicians such as
Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey was even tolerated by the
Nazi’s for a short time as good dance music and was considered to
be a cultivated replacement of the old wild Jazz. To satisfy the public’s
tastes, Swing music was often played in many German movies. Even Swing
numbers originating from America were played openly.
The peak of the Swing-wave in Germany was
in 1936, when Swing music was played openly by international (and German)
guest musicians at the Olympic games in Berlin.
In 1937 the German government tightened its
formerly lax policy in the field of music. Controls were carried out in
order to try to prevent the playing of such “unwelcome” music. As
the musical criteria for the definition of Jazz was still unclear (fun-loving
dance music = Jazz?) criteria such as the race of the musicians etc. were
predominantly used to decide if the music was Jazz or not. Non-Aryan musicians,
composers, songwriters and singers were arrested – but the Jazz music itself
was left untouched. Therefore up until the beginning of the second world
war the Nazi’s regime against Jazz and Swing music was not really successful.
Two pages from the catalogue linked.
Backpage of BRUNSWICK Swingmusic
catalogue from 1936,
("Swingmusic in Adolf-Hitler-Street."
||A favourite trick to try and get
around the rules against Jazz music was to ”Germanise” the English song
title e.g. ”Tiger Rag” became ”Schwarzer Panther” (Black panther),
the song ”Joseph! Joseph” (a song with Jewish origins) became ”Sie will
nicht Blumen und nicht Schokolade” (She wants neither flowers nor chocolate)
Sie will nicht Blumen
und nicht Schokolade
Joseph ! Joseph !
The Second World-War
The start of the war changed the situation.
Listening to foreign radio stations (often playing Swing music) was strictly
forbidden. As many of the musicians were called up for military service
bands were forced to split up.
Under these circumstances it is astounding that
Swing music not only existed during wartime Germany but actually between
1941 and 1943 reached a new peak, a so-called ”Swing Revival”. Following
the victories in western Europe, the Nazis concentrated their energy on
the successful war situation and neglected the controls set in the entertainment
and cultural sectors.
(NS-Propaganda, early 40s)
"A dagger into the neck of listeners
of foreign radio stations! Pessimists to the pillory!"
Listen to "Tran" and "Helle":
NS-Propaganda against listening
to foreign radio stations
Foreign bands from the occupied countries,
which were often called upon to entertain the German forces, brought ”hot”
Swing music to Germany, which the German bands imitated. Many jazzy numbers
were smuggled in amongst other records. In particular the German youth
were wildly enthusiastic about Swing music.
The arresting of Swing-crazy
youths, that had begun in 1940 couldn’t put a stop to the Swing revival.
Besides, the needs of the soldiers, who wanted to relax at home listening
to enjoyable music during their periods of leave, took priority. Now and
again regional or local regulations were tightened and enforced. In 1941
there was a regulation which almost actually prohibited Jazz. This was
supposed to have the effect of reducing the hot, Swing orientated music
– either the originals or copies. However, as was also the case before
the war, this had virtually no effect.
|In the year 1944 the war experienced
a turning point. This led to the closing of many bars and music halls.
Hence, the requirements necessary to play Jazz were becoming difficult
to obtain. However, the fact that Jazz-prohibition and anti-Jazz propaganda
continued, proves that Jazz did exist right through to the end of the war.
"The rat-catcher from
A German article about Benny Goodman,
(1 page: 235 KB)
|The Nazi’s used Jazz
for their own means over the radio at the war front in the so-called “radio-war”.
For example during 1939 “Charlie and his Orchestra” was founded. The repetoir
was made up of popular English and American songs which sounded very close
to the original versions but with “new” lyrics full of sarcasm or rude
insinuations concerning the enemy. Often the texts contained anti-Churchill,
anti-Roosevelt, anti-Stalin or anti-Jew phrases or misleading comments
regarding the state of war.
Slumming on Park Avenue
||Words from "Slumming
on Park Avenue" Charlie and
his Orchestra, March 1941
Let's go slumming, take me slumming,
Let's go slumming on Park Avenue.
Let us hide behind a pair of
and make faces when a member
of the classes passes.
Let's go smelling where they're
sniffing everything the way
Let us go to it, let's do it
why can't we do it too.
Let's go slumming, nose-thumbing
on Park Avenue.
Here is the latest song of the
Let's go bombing, oh, let's
just like good old British airmen
Let us bomb the Frenchmen who
once our allies!
England fights for liberty,
we make them realize,
from the skies.
Let's go shelling where they're
shelling Nanette, Fifi and Lulu.
Let us go to it, let's do it,
their food-ships too.
Let's go bombing, it's becoming
quite the thing to do.