|© 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
The stream of American musicians and their music resumed after 1945 with a renewed intensity. Channelled by the American armed forces and its need for entertainment the exchange of musicians continues to this day.
This time jazz came back within the political frame of occupation, re-education, and the Cold War. 44)
Though Americans had come as victors after both wars, in 1945 the collapse of German culture was so complete that it lacked any authority particularly for its young: it had abgedankt. On the micro social level of everyday praxis American democracy entered as a “swinging” democracy. As children we noticed how different the G.I.s walked and talked. 45)
The liberating motor behaviour of the American jazz culture signified, when adopted by German jazz fans, a tacit political statement and marked a political place in the post-war, cold-war spectrum. Who had hated Jazz? Victorians, Nazis, the conservative restoration in Germany, J. Edgar Hoover, Stalin, the Klan and Fundamentalist religions. The choice was clear.
Let me briefly summarize a generational conflict that this bastard of American culture helped to radicalise. The post-war generation of adults born before 1920 who had lived through the Nazi period and through the ravages of the war had lost their own political culture; willy nilly they embraced the political system of the “Schutzmacht USA” since all alternatives, monarchy, dictatorship and fascism, had been tried and found wanting. It helped that the old anti-communism of the Nazis translated smoothly into the new anti-communism of the Cold War making instant Cold War democrats out of many a devout Nazi. As a consequence of the ideological vacuum this older generation opted for a pragmatic and at times cynical acceptance of Western Democracy as a lesser evil. Yet, their grudging acceptance of American policy was accompanied by an almost visceral rejection of all American populist, mass or grass roots culture.
The Nazi indoctrination against American modernist “jazz-culture” as represented by Weimar had enjoyed a wide popular base that continued into post war restoration. Indeed the "fiasco of Weimar" was regularly trotted out as an instance of “moral political decay,” an experiment that should be avoided at all cost. And there was a tacit understanding that the decline of Weimar Germany had in part been caused by the liberalization of its culture through American influences. This gave a negative political spin to the avant-gardes and secessions as well that had been interested in the jazz idiom. The pro-American politics of the Adenauer restoration was therefore enveloped in a total rejection of American pop culture. “Boy, turn off that nigger music,” was heard in many German homes during the fifties.
While Dad embraced the Cold War rigidities of John Foster Dulles, the post-war generation of youngsters was marching to a different drummer. They wanted a radical political break with the authoritarian past and had many questions to ask their parents. Hence they embraced modernist culture, high or pop, because their parents rejected it, and they also began to have doubts about the hidden logic of the Cold War which framed their parent's world. If Hitler and Goebbels had been against jazz, there had to be something to it. If Konrad Adenauer and Hans Globke were for authoritarian restoration, the young pulled the other way. 46)
But jazz served not only as a boundary marker against older totalitarian or authoritarian systems, but also as an instrument that could be marshalled against current American racist practice. After the ideological moratorium of the fifties had run its course young Germans began to ask questions about the American handling of Civil Rights which made the parent generation furious. To younger Germans the deeply racialised nature of jazz was quite apparent; hence a natural coalition between German jazz fans and Civil Rights activists began to emerge. The second, post-war generation made a critical choice in what it would accept from the US: popular mass democratic modernism yes, Cold War pathology and racism no.
American Blacks were perceived both as victors and as victims of the victors. Their balancing act between European musical achievement and American racist ascription was quickly noticed and understood by their fans. To their own surprise Black musicians became a role model for European jazz musicians and for the young. Whereas in Europe the color line became increasingly more perforated, it remained firmly in place within the military ghetto. This situation radicalised their double consciousness. As American citizens and soldiers they remained in the prison house of American racism, as jazz musicians they enjoyed universal acceptance in Europe. And their musical talent, so strongly appreciated by the European young, remained unacknowledged or grudgingly acknowledged by the white American musical power structure. The special care accorded to Black American jazz artists by Europeans at first caused some consternation, and it took awhile before the State Department recognized their value as a weapon in the Cold War. Reinhold Wagnleitner puts it in a nutshell: "jazz, rock'n'roll, and Hollywood did not need U.S. cultural propaganda as desperately as U.S. cultural propaganda needed jazz, rock'n'roll and Hollywood." 47)
And in 1961 Louis Armstrong signifies on the belated discovery of jazz as a political instrument in the Cold War: “The State Department has discovered jazz.” 48)
Meanwhile, for Germans riding on this racial dilemma was a way of compensating for the collapse of their world by pointing out the flaws in the victor's moral order. Having learned the lesson of anti-racism from the American teacher the embrace of black jazz was a way of returning the moral lesson. Earlier, Paris had given refuge to the Lost Generation and to Josephine Baker; now a variety of European cities became the favoured place for black and white jazz expatriates: Examples were Oscar Pettiford, Herb Geller, Mal Waldron in Germany, Kenny Clarke, Bud Powell in France. Don Byas in Holland, Dexter Gordon in Denmark.
In contrast to Weimar, when dance halls dominated the process of adoption, after 1945 the communication systems and distribution circuits had become more professional, particularly radio, which became now the chief vehicle of musical communication. After radio the second most important multipliers of jazz were the clubs. Transnational jazz cohorts emerged from the automatic fraternization of musicians in post-war occupation Germany. Here the armed forces and its institutions served as multipliers, since German musicians found their first employment in G.I. clubs and German jazz fans found in the American Forces Network radio a new jazz friend.
After 1950 a German club scene began to evolve and became an important element of youth culture in Germany. These were places of the jazz avant-garde with a bohemian touch and with that gesture of existentialism provided by the Paris left bank. And these German clubs were in turn patronized by Black musicians who were made to feel welcome. Gigs ran from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., eight hours of slave labour as Naura, the pianist, says. He called them the coal mines of German jazz. These were the training stations for the “imitative period” or according to Naura “plagiarist period” of German jazz. In his own case, Naura says, he changed his role models like shirts and graduated over time from George Shearing to Dave Brubeck to the Modern Jazz Quartet. It was typical for the jazz socialization of German musicians that as a first step musical fathers were chosen who were still figurable within classical, European music-making, then a gradual conversion to black models and only at end of 50s a turn to hardbop. This German evolution of a club scene was an unexpected spin-off of the project of re-education, for the top brass at State or OMGUS had not considered jazz as part of the curriculum. But Jazz clubs began to serve as a high modernist countercultural alternative to Nazi culture. Until the end of the forties the Club scene of the military was an important vehicle of transit. Since most white American clubs favoured hillbilly or Hawai hits, German musicians gravitated to the black clubs where jazz was being played.
Albert Mangelsdorf, the most prominent German jazz musician after WWII writes:
We always tried to get gigs with black units. There we could play our type of music and still be appreciated...At any rate it was a lot simpler to play jazz for black soldiers than in white clubs where we met resistance and had to play hillbilly (Hauber, 369).
Public Radio in each occupational zone played a crucial role. Within the system of federal autonomy that emerged after 1945 in Germany each regional radio station had a big band, and employment opportunities for jazz musicians proliferated at the NWDR, SDR, SWF, BR, HR, SFB, RIAS, ORF radio stations. Hence there existed the odd situation that post-War Germany and Austria had more publicly funded big bands than the US, and the orchestras of Kurt Edelhagen, Willy Berking, Franz Thon, and Werner Müller were only too glad to hire well-trained, expatriate Americans; and these liked the steady income. The music these orchestras played remained imitative and merely borrowed from American jazz. There was little creative freedom in the early phase, and Bebop, Swing, Boogie-Woogie, Dixieland were all played in a generic jumble. However, these bands were places of employment for those musicians who were tired of the underpaid club scene.
Jazz concerts became cultural ritual events for young Germans. Public jazz concerts began in the early fifties and provided a platform for national bonding among jazz fans. During the sixties jazz festivals in Germany became increasingly European and were soon an important pillar of the international jazz market. By the 1970s the public jazz concert scene in Europe had become a most important source of income for American jazz musicians whose home markets had been taken over by Rock’n Roll. Without the European fan support the American jazz avant-garde would have collapsed.
The role of radio cannot be overestimated. Attractive was the foreign language aura of the British and American Forces Network stations, but most of all their excellent programs in American music. These programs created listening communities and role models: Bill Crozier's « Cool Corner » in the BFN, or the light-hearted « Luncheon in Munchen » of the AFN, and Sim Copans and Lucien Malson on France Musique.
Most important was Willis Connover, anchor man of the “Voice of America Jazz Hour” broadcast via Tangier at 9 p.m. on short wave and at midnight on long wave. Willis Connover created conspiratorial listening communities all over the world, but particularly in Central and Eastern Europe and, like Sim Copans in France and Joachim Ernst Berendt in Germany, created the wetlands for the growth of American Studies. There is hardly an early American studies career that does not involve a commitment to American music.
At school jazz friends from vastly different age groups would form groups and cohorts. Typical visiting patterns emerged in my community between those who had the best radio and who had records. Among the ritualistic paraphernalia necessary for these listening sessions were Nescafé, French cigarettes (Gauloise), black Bebop clothes, berets, and a laconic, cool style. Underneath the Cold War there existed the subculture of the "Cool War". I remember listening to Miles Davis and Bud Powell with Rolf-Dieter Brinckmann, the German beat poet for whom jazz became an important lyrical muse.
Records and record collecting grew into a ritual fad. I recall getting my first shellack record from my oldest brother in the early fifties: Oscar Peterson playing Jumping with Symphony Sid and Get Happy. During the Nazi period there had been a veritable cult among the truly addicted of collecting those very records which were “verboten”. After the war record companies emerged that serviced the European jazz fans: Jazztone Society marketed a rather sophisticated program of traditional and modern jazz on 10-inch long play records. The (musically excellent) Jazz Sampler of the Jazztone Society became for many the first affordable long-playing record.
Jazz of course remained embedded in the larger cultural scene. While Jazz transported a good deal of its American musical significance, it soon acquired a German social and artistic meaning. European existentialism, which included a denial of all older models of European normativeness, functioned as a receptive, cognitive mode for jazz. Indeed, Jazz became the musical accompaniment to reading Sartre, even to reading Heidegger. It was music for the isolation of the hipster, for what Mailer means in his influential essay “The White Negro” and for the “Protean man” of the Beat Generation. There was an interesting cognitive difference, if not a pattern of mutual misapprehension.
In America jazz was the chosen music of a small elite, but was stuck with a low social status that was inevitably weighted down by its racial heritage; in Europe it was received as countercultural avant-garde, as an existential, ceremonial music, as a secret code, a language of the initiated, and it was decidedly not lower class. America's “nigger music” was Europe's social and artistic avant-garde. Certainly, for Europeans the “black connection” did not have any social connotations or carried a racialist mortgage. It took awhile before the State Department realized what an important and effective instrument jazz could be in the Cold War to catch the attention of the elites.
The “downward percolation model” ("gesunkenes Kulturgut") and the elite vs. popular classifications are inadequate models to situate jazz in a cultural hierarchy. We need a differentiated model of historical agents making choices. On the other hand, the question of hegemony and power relations persists, particularly in the allocation of public funding. There is an interesting development in terms of jazz in the German public sphere. Since the sixties many small municipal communities in Germany (Moers, Freiburg, Burghausen, Unterschleißheim, Darmstadt) have set aside public funding and become supporters of jazz. Metropolitan centers continue to be global players in the world of opera and theatre and often have no funds left for jazz. This choice is of course a function of budget size since jazz is not quite as costly as buying James Levine. In this context it would be interesting to compare the American and European legitimization of jazz as culture by using the measuring stick of public or municipal funding. 49)
Clearly there are differences in the stratification of culture in America and stratification of culture in Europe. Also in the degrees of commodification of music, particularly of jazz which spans the entire gamut from highly commodified to elite and avant-garde forms. Hence it covers the entire spectrum of cultural stratification; yet there is also an all embracing tolerance in most jazz audiences and a continued conspiracy. Today, American music and jazz are as German as Schweinebraten. In the popular sphere, Dixieland has by now become the aging urban professional's Ersatz for Ompah brass bands and is now played in Bavarian beer gardens. Mainstream jazz has become a “quotidian vernacular” and has lost its elite appeal. Indeed, jazz radio stations in Munich or Berlin are beginning to show a slightly anti-intellectual slant catering to a professional, non-academic group. An important, even remarkable event was the first exhibition documenting one hundred years in the history of jazz organized by Ekkehard Joost and Joachim Ernst Berendt in 1988. 50)
It was the first serious exhibit of its kind in the world, and it may surprise that this event was not staged by cities important in the evolution of jazz such as New Orleans, Chicago or New York, or at least by European centers such as Paris or Berlin. Instead a provincial city in Southwest Germany, Darmstadt, albeit one with an older commitment to avant-garde modernism honoured this by now global music. Surely this adoption of jazz into regional, municipal cultural politics is the conclusive evidence that jazz has become as German as spaetzle—or as Jewish as matzo or as Japanese as shushi or as French as steak and frites. In short it is a global idiom stabilized worldwide by regional variants that have begun to grow local roots thanks to inspired workers in the vineyard of jazz who advertized its call to freedom word-wide.
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
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."