Jazz in Germany  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

An overview of the evolution of Jazz music in Germany.

The 20s

One of the first books with the word "jazz" in the title originates from Germany. In his book Jazz - eine musikalische Zeitfrage (Jazz - a musical issue) of 1927, Paul Bernhard relates the term Jazz to a specific dance. When dancer Josephine Baker visited Berlin in 1925, she found it dazzling. "The city had a jewel-like sparkle," she said, "the vast cafés reminded me of ocean liners powered by the rhythms of their orchestras. There was music everywhere." Eager to look ahead after the crushing defeat of World War I, Weimar Germany embraced the modernism that swept through Europe and was crazy about jazz. In the dancing mania of the post-war period, there were not only modern dances such as the tango and foxtrot, but in 1920 also the Shimmy and in 1922 the Two-step. In 1925 the Charleston dominated the dance halls.

In 1917, in the United States, the first jazz title, "Tiger Rag," was recorded. By January 1920, it had already been marketed by a German record company. As early as the 1920s, the clarinetist and saxophonist Eric Borchard played his own recordings, which were comparable to those of the American jazz greats. But from 1920 to 1923, due to both economic turmoil and inflation, larger German jazz orchestras that played the new jazz dances were a rarity. Initially, a trio with a pianist, a drummer and a "Stehgeiger" (standing violinist), who also played the saxophone, was most common. Only after 1924 an economic stability was achieved, and an economic basis for larger dance orchestras was possible, like those founded by Bernard Etté, Dajos Béla, Marek Weber and Stefan Weintraub. It was the predominant element of improvisation that lacked understanding in Germany, where people had always played concrete written notes; Marek Weber, for example, demonstratively left the podium if its nightly band played jazz interludes.

In the 20s, Jazz in Germany was primarily a fad. The "Salonorchester" turned to the new style, because dancers wanted it so. By 1924, the first jazz could be heard on the radio; after 1926, when Paul Whiteman enjoyed sensational success in Berlin, regular radio programmes were broadcast with jazz played live. His music was also available on record and in sheet music. The Weintraub Syncopators were the first hot jazz band in Germany at their summit beginning around 1928. Musicians from many musical backgrounds, composers of classical music concerts such as Paul Hindemith, Ernst Krenek and Kurt Weill, turned to the new music genre that came from America and incorporated it in their musical language. For the classical composers, the orchestral casts, the timbre, syncope, and the blues harmonies of jazz were a synonym for the modern era. This new music genre was recognised not only as a fashion and entertainment music, but as real art. However, as early as in 1927, the composer Karol Rathaus called it somewhat prematurely a „Jazzdämmerung“ (jazz dawn). Theodor W. Adorno spoke negatively about Jazz, saying it was a part of the art industry.

Years of National Socialism, the 30s and the missing 40s

In neighbouring European countries the trend continued in the 1930s. Fan magazines were created for jazz and so-called "hot clubs". The Nazi regime pursued and banned the broadcasting of jazz on German radio, partly because of its African roots and because many of the active jazz musicians were of Jewish origin; and partly due to the music's certain themes of individuality and freedom. For the Nazis, jazz was an especially threatening form of expression. An anti-jazz radio broadcast From the Cake Walk to Hot sought a deterrent effect with "particularly insisting musical examples."

In 1935, the Nazi government did not allow German musicians of Jewish origin to perform any longer. The Weintraub Syncopators - most of whom were Jewish - were forced into exile. They worked abroad during much of the ‘30s, touring throughout Europe, Asia, and the Middle East before settling in Australia in 1937. Even people with a single jewish grandparent like swing trumpeter Hans Berry were forced to play undercover or to work abroad (in Belgium, the Netherlands or in Switzerland).

Other dance bands and musicians were not even that fortunate. For example, Mitja Nikisch, son of the celebrated classical conductor Arthur Nikisch and himself a respected classical pianist, had created a fine, popular dance ensemble in the '20s, the Mitja Nikisch Tanz Orchester, which played in prominent venues. The Nazi regime brought about its demise, leading Nikisch to commit suicide in 1936.

From 1937 onward, American musicians in Europe stopped at the German borders. Admittedly, in spite of such persecution it was still possible, at least in major cities, to buy jazz records until the beginning of the war; however, the further development of, and the contact with, the American Jazz World were largely interrupted. Officially the "Reichsmusikkammer" (Reichs Music Chamber) supported dance music that bore some traits of Swing, but listening to foreign stations, which regularly played jazz, was penalised from 1939 on.

Some musicians did not want to obey this command. The clarinetist Ernst Höllerhagen for example, left Germany, when Jazz was finally prohibited by the Nazis at the beginning of the war, and went to Switzerland into exile.

At that time, only a relatively small number of people in Germany knew how jazz music sounded in America - at that time, swing - and that it was Jazz. The Nazis even re-developed and newly produced some pieces, giving them new lyrics, in special studios. One example is the song "Black Bottom", which was presented as "Schwarzer Boden". For some Germans, the banned foreign stations with jazz programs were very popular. The Allies' stations were on one hand disturbed, but also copied by the Nazis. The band Charlie and His Orchestra is considered as a negative example, also called Mr. Goebbels Jazz Band. Here the Nazis replaced the original texts with their own provocative propaganda texts.

The situation intensified in 1942 with the entry of the United States in the war. For diplomats of foreign embassies and Wehrmacht members a couple of jazz clubs continued to remain open in Berlin. In addition, there were individual, not legitimate venues and private parties, where jazz was played. In 1943 the record production was stopped. Charlie and His Orchestra was moved in the still bombproof province.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Jazz in Germany" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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