All about Django Reinhardt

Liberating modernism, degenerate art, or subversive re-education? - The impact of jazz on European culture
© Berndt Ostendorf., Amerika Institut, Munich

Cuts and Breaks
Jazz: A Modernist Quest for Liberation
Running Jazz through Historical Changes: 1900-1933
Jazz as subversive re-education after 1945

Swinging Nazis?
In Nazi Germany jazz was first criminalized and then after 1938 forbidden. While it went underground in Germany, it found a refuge in Nazi-occupied Paris. Django Reinhardt, the Hot Club de France, Charles Delauney, Hugue Pannassie and later André Hodeir were important French promoters of jazz, a firm base on which the post-war generation would build.
During the thirties few American musicians held on to employment in Germany, and the onset of the Second World War effectively stopped the activity of American musicians in Europe as transmitters of jazz. Yet jazz flourished despite the Nazi ideology, which classified it as degenerate art (verjudete und vernegerte Musik).
One of the most interesting chapters in the history of jazz is its survival in Nazi Germany, and in the areas occupied by Hitler's army: The spiritual and physical threat by dictatorship, militarism, fascism gave rise to the astonishing phenomenon, that the jazz life flourished with a remarkable intensity.
Jazz was the incarnation of freedom, democracy, and individualism.
Jazz was the symbolic resistance to repression and Gleichschaltung, writes Rainer E. Lotz. 41)
Bonding between German and French jazz fans endured the political conflict. Dietrich Schulz-Köhn, who served as a high ranking German officer in Paris, and Charles Delauney, who was a member of the cultural resistance, remained good friends. Schulz-Köhn was able to protect his jazz friends in Paris and he did so with little interference from his superiors. There was an interesting ideological split at the top levels of the Nazi brass. Though officially jazz was considered a non-Aryian music, many of the young SS officers openly appreciated the innovative “modernity” of jazz and patronized bands that could play the “new” music. In that sense jazz profited from the double consciousness of German Nazis who were torn between ideological traditionalism and sociotechnical modernisation.
Young Nazis could not quite make up their minds whether jazz was a child of “modernism” and hence degenerate, or a product of Henry Ford’s modernisation and hence in tune with the Aufbruch. Jazz managed to survive in this margin of ambiguity. Only when jazz fans began acting up against the system and became a “public nuisance” for the authorities, as did the Swing boys in Hamburg, the machinery of repression was rolled out.
In a letter of the “Reichsführers der SS” to Heydrich dated 16. January 1942, Heinrich Himmler gives voice to his profound hatred for the lifestyle represented by the Swing boys:
The entire leadership, male and female, and all teachers that are hostile to the Nazi movement and supportive of swing are to be put in concentration camps. There youths should be whipped, be given strenuous exercises and put to hard labour. Just any work or youth camp will not do for this scum and their good-for-nothing female fans . . . Only by setting a brutal example will we be able to stop this anglophile [sic] tendency from spreading at a time when Germany is fighting for her existence. 42)
But Himmler's repressive apparatus did not cover all areas or penetrate all strata.
Schulz-Köhn claims that jazz enjoyed “Narrenfreiheit” in occupied France. 43)
In Germany popular orchestras dropped the word jazz from their names, but continued to play jazz-inspired music. Some simply rechristened evergreens; thus “How High the Moon” could pass as “Serenade an den Mond” and “Tiger Rag” became a harmless fun-piece “Schwarzer Panther.”
My oldest brother who served as a musician at the Russian front never had to abandon jazz as his muse.
In the later phases of the war "hot music" or Swing were played as a lagniappe for the rank and file, and the Nazi regime employed a jazz combo for purposes of subversive propaganda.
Hence in the history of jazz in Germany there was no “zero hour,” there was not a new beginning after 1945. The disruption occurred mostly on a personal level, since the Nazi and War period had ended the constant influx of musicians from America to Europe and thus had terminated the influx of new sounds.

1). Alan P. Merriam & Fradley H. Garner, “Jazz-The Word,” in: Robert O'Meally, ed., The Jazz Cadence of American Culture (New York: Columbia University Press 1998); Paul Oliver. “Jazz is Where you Find it: the European experience of jazz.” In Chris Bigsby, ed. Superculture. (Bowling Green: University Popular Press 1975.) For a fine overview of the aesthetics and meaning of jazz see Stefan Richter. Zu einer Ästhetik des Jazz. (Frankfurt: Peter Lang) 1995. Eric Hobsbawm explains how “Jazz Comes to Europe,” in Uncommon People. (New York: New Press 1998) 265-273. Among classical critics Henry Pleasants and William Austin deserve credit for calling attention to the leading role of jazz as a modernist avantgarde. Henry Pleasants Serious Music – and All That Jazz. New York: Simon & Schuster 1969 and William Austin Music in the 20th Century New York: Norton, 1966.

2). Paul Berliner. Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation. (Chicago: U. Chicago 1994)

3). Art Hodes. Selections from the Gutter. Berkeley: Univ. Of California Press 1977. Ann Douglass. „Ragging and Slanging“. Terrible Honesty. Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s. New York: Giroux, Farrar & Strauss 1995.

4). Berndt Ostendorf. «What Makes American Popular Culture so Popular : A View from Europe. Amerikastudien in print. See also Henry Pleasants « Introduction » Serious Music -. And All That Jazz.

5). But then the waltz was accused by reactionary circles at the time of the Vienna congress for having caused the French revolution. Fritz Giese. « Das tanzende Amerika » Velhagen & Klasings Monatshefte 41, 11 (July 1927), 542-48. Also his Girlkultur. Vergleiche zwischen amerikanischem und europäischem Rhythmus und Lebensgefuehl. Munich 1925.

6). Guenter Berghaus. « Girlkultur-Feminism, Americanism and Popular Entertainment in Weimar Germany. » Journal of Design History. Vol 1. Nos.3-4, 193-219. Siegfried Krakauer became an eloquent commentator of the new urban culture.

7). Berndt Ostendorf, “Bebop und die Beat Generation: Avantgarden oder Subkulturen,” Amerikastudien/American Studies, Jg. 30, 4 (1985):509-535.

8). Jazz and Americanism were related to a new « body feeling ». Rudolf Kayser writes in Vossische Zeitung: « To it corresponds the new appearance of the European : beardless, with sharp profile, determined gaze, narrow, steeled body, and of the new type of women : boyish, linear, lively in gesture and gait. In general, the method of Americanism strongly expresses itself in physical terms, in the body-soul. » See also Paul F. Berliner. « Jazz as a Way of Life. » Thinking in Jazz. The Infinite Art of Improvisation. Chicago. U. Chicago Press 1994.

9). Mezz Mezzrow describes it so in Really the Blues. Cf. my review of Jeffrey Melnick, A Right to Sing the Blues. African Americans. Jews, and American Popular Song (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press 1999) 275 S. Jon Parish. The Color of Jazz. Race and Representation in Postwar American Culture (Jackson: University of Mississippi, 1997) 165 S, Jahrbuch für Volksliedforschung, forthcoming.

10). Neil Leonard, “The Reactions to Ragtime,” in John Edward Hasse, ed., Ragtime. Its History, Composers, and Music (New York: Schirmer, 1985).

11). On the role of German-Americans in trying to elevate American musical taste in the late 19th century and to stave off the native American influence see my “The Diluted Second Generation: German-Americans in Music 1870-1920,” in German Worker's Culture in the US: 1850-1920, Hg. Hartmut Keil (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1988) 261-287.

12). “Demoralizing Ragtime Music,” Musical Courier 66 (21 May 1913): 22-23.

13). Quoted in Kenneth Aaron Kanter, The Jews on Tin Pan Alley (New York: Ktav Publishing House, 1982). See my review in Popular Music, vol.4, (Cambridge University Press 1984), 323-327. More on the theme of Jewish-Yankee opposition in music in McDonald Smith Moore, Yankee Blues: Musical Culture and American Identity, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985). See my review in Popular Music vol. 6, no. 3, October 1987. In that context the music of Henry Franklin Belknap Gilbert (1868-1928) is of interest. Gilbert, a classical composer, wrote a number of pieces with a ragtime inflection: "Comedy Overture on Negro Themes" (1905) and "Dance in Place Congo," (1906-8) which was rejected by Karl Muck as "niggah music" unfit for the concert hall. He then rewrote it as a ballet score with a premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in 1918. By this time the shock of hearing negro inflections in classical music had worn off, and reviews of his earlier works were quite favorable, but Gilbert withdrew from what he called his "Negro phase". Charles Hamm. Music in the New World. (New York: The Norton Company 1983), 419-20.

14) A bestseller of the time, Otto Weininger's Geschlecht und Charakter which saw 17 editions between 1904 and 1928 and which was read by all modernists spells out the oriental temptation. Most classical composers of the time were dismissive of jazz. See Henry Pleasants “American Music and the Musical Establishment.” In: Serious Music... op. cit. 112ff.

15). It is no accident that E.L. Doctorow’s chose the title Ragtime for his novel that pivots on the modernizing shock of the new. The traditional American world is represented by father, orthodox Europe by Jewish Tateh before his conversion; the “liberated” modern and popular world is consummated in the marriage of Tateh, the film tycoon, and mother, who in that encounter discovers her own sleeping beauty. And all of these conversions are energized by the musical color line. See my "The Musical World of Doctorow`s Ragtime," American Quarterly Vol. 43, No. 4 (December 1991), 579-601. Cf also my ”Some Contradictions in the Americanization-of-Germany Debate,” in Elliott Shore and Frank Trommler, ed. Being Present in the Other Culture. New York: Berghahn Books 2001

16). See my "Anthropology, Modernism, and Jazz" in: Harold Bloom (Hg.). Ralph Ellison. (New York: Chelsea House, 1986), 145-172 for a fuller statement.

17). “The Charlie Christian Story,” Shadow and Act. New York: New American Library 1966, 229. More about the jazz aesthetic in Albert Murray and John Callahan, eds. Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray. (New York: Modern Library 2000). Reviewed by Darryl Pinckney “Riffs,” New York Review of Books, (January 11, 2001) p. 19-23.

18). « The Negro on the Spiral or A Method of Negro Music » in Nancy Cunard, ed. Negro--An Anthology. (1933) New York : Frederick Ungar 1970.

19). The ideal of spontaneous composition was formulated by the Futurist spokesman Marinetti as a central goal for the renewal of the arts as early as 1912 in his Teoria e invenzione futurista. It sounds surprisingly similar to the Bill Evans quote (footnote 18), even in the choice of the brain-hand analogy: "The creative spirit liberates itself suddenly from the weight of all obstacles and becomes, somehow, prey of a strange spontaneity in conception and execution. The hand that writes seems to detach itself from the body, extend itself freely and stays far away from the brain. Then, the head also begins to detach itself from the body and becomes light, looking from above onto the unexpected sentences that flow from the pen." Quoted in Guenter Berghaus, "Futurism, Dada, and Surrealism: Some Cross-Fertilisations Among the Historical Avantgardes." in Berghaus ed. International Futurism in Arts and Literature. Berlin, New York, Walter de Gruyter 2000, 297. Gerald L. Bruns defines improvisation aptly: "It is deliberate but undeliberated." Inventions: Writing, Textuality and Understanding in Literary History. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press 1982, 145.

20). Literary modernism emphasised rhythm as the central structuring force in poetry. Ezra Pound and the Vorticists considered dance rhythms the most genuine creative energy. Cf. Hubertus Gaessner. « Der Vortex – Intensität als Entschleunigung. « Karin Orchard, ed. Vortizismus – Die erste Avantgarde in England 1914-18. Berlin and Hannover. Ars Nicolai 1996.

21). This remarkable session is described by Ashley Kahn. A Kind of Blue : the Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece. London : Granta 2001.

22). Stanley Crouch. "Blues to be Constitutional..." in: O'Meally, ed. The Jazz Cadence of American Culture, 154-165.

23). Benny Golson and Jim Merod. « Forward Motion. » in : O'Meally, ed. The Jazz Cadence of American Culture, 32-61.

24). The locus classicus of such discomfort caught in the logic of a binary killer opposition is Frantz Fanon's Black Skins, White Masks. (London: Weidenfeld 1968) where on page 124 he summarizes the primitive ascription of the imperial gaze: "Eyah! The tom-tom chatters out the cosmic message. Only the Negro has the capacity to convey it, to decipher its meaning, its import...Black Magic primitive mentality, animism, animal eroticism, it all floods over me...Yes, we are – we Negroes – backward, simple, free in our behavior."

25). Berndt Ostendorf. "Rhythm, Riots and Revolution: Political Paranoia, Cultural Fundamentalism and African American Music." In Ragnhild Fiebig-von Hase and Ursual Lehmkuhl, eds. Enemy Images in American History. (New York, Berghan Books 1998), 159-182.

26). Manuela Thurner, « Girls, Girls, Girls –The American Girl inherits Old Europe through Dance », Girlkultur and Kulturfeminismus. Gender and Americanism in Weimar Germany 1918-1933. Ph.D. Diss. Yale Univ. Dec. 1999. Thurner shows convincingly how « gendered » the jazz reception was in Germany. A conservative critic introduced his guide to a happy marriage with the words : « Marriage is no jazz », 184.

27). Heinrich Baumgartner. 'Jazz' in den zwanziger Jahren in Zürich. (Zürich : Hug & Co 1989), 36.

28). Paul Stefan "Jazz " , Musikblätter des Anbruch 7.4 (April 1925)1.

29) James Snead submits the explanation that Stravinsky's Petrushka and Sacre du printemps "resemble black musical forms not just in their relentless "foregrounding" of rhythmic elements and their use of the "cut" but also in being primarly designed for use in conjunction with dancers." "Repetition as a figure of Black Culture." In R. O'Meally The Jazz Cadence of American Culture (New York: Columbia 1998.)

30) "The Negro on the Spiral or A Method of Negro Music." In: Nancy Cunard, ed. Negro: An Anthology (1933) (repr. New York: Frederick Ungar 1970). One of the best short analyses of jazz in Weimar is J. Bradford Robinson. "Jazz Reception in Weimar Germany: in search of a shimmy figure", in: Bryan Gilliam, ed. Music and performance during the Weimar Republic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 107-34. The book by Paul Bernhard. Jazz. Eine musikalische Zeitfrage. (München : Delphin Verlag 1927) represents an early and impassioned plea for the acceptance of jazz. Rumor has it that it was written by the musicologist Bernhard Diebold. He predicts: "The characteristic sound of the European orchestra will have to change. The primacy of rhythm looms large." He concludes his book: If any form of creativity is capable of healing the European soul, then it would be jazz-inspired music. It has the force to unify the world across social and ethnic differences (110). For Jazz in Weimar see also Bernd Hoffmann, "Alptraum der Freiheit oder: Die Zeitfrage Jazz." In: Rösing, Hellmut, ed. "Es liegt in der Luft was Idiotisches..." Populäre Musik zur Zeit der Weimarer Republik. Baden-Baden 1995, 69-81.William Austin places jazz next to Stravinsky and Schönberg in terms of importance for the music of the 20th century in Music in the 20th Centur.

31). E.Ansermet, "Sur un orchestre Nègre", La Revue Romande. IIIe serie, No. 10. 15 Octobre 1919,10-13. Reprinted in Anette Hauber, Ekkehard Jost, Klaus Wolbert. Hg. That's Jazz. Der Sound des 20. Jahrhunderts. Catalogue of the Jazz exhibition. (Matildenhöhe, Darmstadt, May 29-August 28, 1988.) "

32). Recorded examples on : Jazz in Deutschland I & II. Munich, Historia H 630-631.

33) Aaron Copland. The New Music 1900-1960. New York: Norton 1968,64.

34). Hubertus Gassner, « DerVortex – Intensität als Entschleunigung » in : Karin Orchard, ed. Vortizismus – Die erste Avantgarde in England 1914-1918. Berlin & Hannover : Ars Nicolai 1996, 24-26.

35). Luigi Russolo "The Art of Noises" in : Pontus Hulten, ed. Futurismo, Futurismi. Milan: Bompiani 1986, 561. George Gershwin would incorporate those urban noises in the introduction to his An American in Paris. It is interesting that the initial title for « Fascinating Rhythm » was « Syncopated City ».Antonio Gramsci recognized the revolutionary character of Futurist prophecies: « [The futurists] have grasped sharply and clearly that our age, the age of big industry, of the large proletarian city and of intense and tumultuous life, was in need of new forms of art, philosophu, behavior and language....In their field, the field of culture, the Futurists are revolutionaries. » "Marinetti the Revolutionary." in Selections from Cultural Writings, ed. David Forgacs and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith. Cambridge: Harvard University 1985, 51.

36). Robert Goffin in his essay "Hot Jazz" (translated by Samuel Becket) points to the affinities between surrealism and jazz. Negro: An Anthology, p. 239.

37). It is interesting to speculate on the music Adorno understood as jazz. Little of what he could have heard on the Frankfurt radio station would be considered jazz today. Adorno's dismissal of the music that he actually heard was well-founded, but he was not talking about jazz, but about popular dance music.

38). Eric Hobsbawm makes a valid point: the difference between England and the Continent. In England jazz remained primarily a working class music whereas on the continent it was the accepted music of avantgardes and secessions. "On the Reception of Jazz in Europe." in: Theo Mäusli (ed.) Jazz und Sozialgeschichte (Zurich, 1994).

39). Negro: An Anthology. 1934.

40). On America as a source of libertinism : Berndt Ostendorf, " `America is a Mistake, a Gigantic Mistake':Patterns of Ethnocentrism in German Attitudes Toward America," In Their Own Words Vol. III. N.2. 1986, 19-47 and "Deutsch-amerikanische Kulturbeziehungen", in Gert Richter und Dieter Lang (Hgg). Deutschland, Europa und die Welt, (Gütersloh, Bertelsmann Lexikothek Verl. 1986), 227-235.

41). In That's Jazz. Der Sound des 20. Jahrhunderts, 296-7.

42). Ibid., p. 384.

43). Mike Zwerin. La Tristesse de Saint Louis : Jazz Under the Nazis. (New York : Beech Tree Books, 1985).

44) An excellent summary of the contradictions between the political "Cold" and cultural "Cool" War is Reinhold Wagnleitner's "The Empire of the Fun, or Talkin' Soviet Union Blues." Diplomatic History, 23.3. Summer 1999, 499-524.

45). Carl Gustav Jung noticed that difference as early as 1930: "Your Negroid and Indian Behavior." Forum XXIII/4 (New York 1930, 193-199).

46). Ralph Willett. "Jazz: The Sound of Democracy", in The Americanization of Germany 1945-1949. (London Routledge 1989). Hans Globke wrote the legal commentary for the Nuremberg laws, yet was hired by Konrad Adenauer to head the Chancellary.

47) "The Empire of the Fun", 512. Wagnleitner demonstrates in detail how efforts on the part of State to counterveil allegations of "Kulturlosigkeit" by promoting American "high" culture failed when measured against the success of its jazz greats Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington and Miles Davis. Though Europeans respected Dos Passos, Faulkner, Copland and Barber what they really craved was jazz, Sinatra and Presley. 512, 519.

48) In: Dave Brubeck. Vocal Encounters. Columbia CK 61551

49). Ralph Willett. "Jazz: The Sound of Democracy", in The Americanization of Germany 1945-1949. (London Routledge 1989). Hans Globke wrote the legal commentary for the Nuremberg laws, yet was hired by Konrad Adenauer to head the Chancellary.

50). Rainer Lotz in That's Jazz. See my review in Popular Music 9/2 April 1990, 245-248

Abstract: Jazz entered Europe in two waves after the First and Second World Wars. Both times the mood was divided between profound hostility and intense appreciation. This paper will argue that the introduction of jazz involved a radical break concerning the rules of performance and habits of reception in Western musical culture. It was not just another case of selective borrowing; it had more to do with a paradigm change in music as described in Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo, a confrontation of antithetical musical cultures that would continue to have far-reaching repercussions. Although a child of the gutter jazz satisfied more of the high cultural prophecies of Futurism and more of the avantgarde and transgressive desires of modernism than any single one of the traditional arts. The new music spoke to the agendas of surrealism, primitivism, radical democracy, multiculturalism, post-colonialism and urban cosmopolitanism. It promised to modernize, to liberate, to innovate and ushered in a new way of being in the world-- all at once. But it gave to these high cultural, modernist desires a decidedly vernacular spin, a cultural camouflage which allowed it to subvert European cultural habits "from below." ________________________________________ •^• ?

<- Back    Homepage