the jazz swingers

African masks. The surrealists and the fetish for the African mask. The Man Ray photographs, the Demoiselles D’Avignon of Picasso in which cubsim collapsed the figurative. The African iconography and jazz was a metaphor for the exotic and a key to the passions, and a means for whites to work through identity within the context of the African, a trend that continues to this day as Bell Hooks in Outlaw culture asserted.

Still, with regard to the Nazi policy toward jazz and its relation to white supremacy the relationship was complex and ambiguous; and unsettlingly, reflects some of the same philosophies that underlies the American corporate management of black entertainment culture. Far from banning Jazz or swing- lindy hop style- the were acutely aware of its appeal and tried to engineer its presence. It was probably this jazz , with its generic, and interchangeable element that Adorno was so opposed to, his cultural snobbism aside, and later incorporated it wholesale within his general critique: the imposition of structural elements that precluded feeling and emotion and its removal out of historical contexts and de-fragmenting the music of its psych-social energy.

---the complexity of the real situation: the strange tale of guitarist Django Reinhardt, who managed not only to survive but to thrive in Nazi-occupied France, despite the fact that he was a gypsy, and a handicapped gypsy at that, thanks to the patronage and the protection of a jazz-loving Luftwaffe officer. Those last four words represent such an oxymoron that most recent encyclopedia entries on Django, who died half a century ago in 1953, make no mention whatever of Oberleutnant Dietrich Schulz-Koehn. drjazz.jpg - 80170 BytesOne of the strangest photographs of the war was taken by Schulz-Koehn outside La Cigale, a jazz club in Paris. It shows a gypsy (Django), four Africans and a Jew posed smiling beside a fellow officer. The Germans were there not to arrest these men but to listen to them play. With its whisper of collaboration, this remains an awkward detail for jazz fans to deal with, but it is even more unsettling, given the prevailing notion of the Nazis' attitude toward jazz. --- Read More:

…The Nazi authorities considered the dance craze of the Swing scene a particular menace. Swing was viewed as a very dangerous foreign import, because it was rooted in immoral Black ”jungle music” with accompanying allusions to wild, indiscriminate sex. Even worse, as far as the Nazi officials were concerned, Swing was a deliberate product of Jewish media moguls in America that, if spread to Germany, could contaminate the blood of its own youth. Youngsters caught up in a possible invasion of Swing would revert to more primitive forms of African-inspired behavior. Their blood would become contaminated as they bred babies of uncertain parentage as a result of sexual relations with multiple partners The Nazis were horrified as they imagined the prospects. Like the white bigots of 1960-era America boasted on radio shows while smashing records over desktops, “Rock & Roll has got to Go!” Only in Nazi Germany, Hitler and his henchmen were determined that Swing would never arrive. Read More:

Otto Dix. ---Jewish musicians and composers, the atonality of Arnold Schoenberg, primitive Jazz, polka (pop music), cultural Bolshevism, and modern music (the avant-garde) were all considered degenerate music. What the Nazi set out to do was a 'contradictory musical revolution' where the old was brought back to replace the contemporary without at the same time creating new music that truly represented the National Socialist ideology. In order to remove these degenerate musical elements from the music scene in Nazi Germany, the Nazis denied jobs in the music industry to the non-Aryans and especially the Jews, communists and those sympathetic to the former Weimar Republic. Progressive musical publications were banned and the avant-garde music makers were attacked in various ways. The establishment of the Reichmusikkammer was to centrally control all elements of music. Ruthlessness in the process of purging and removing undesirable music was dismissed as necessary.---Read More:

But, was German obedience to authority overrated, given the nature of these cultural rebels, though it appears culture and entertainment was the issue and not fascism and racial policies per se.  Mitscherlich wrote about almost this obedience gene, – the purer the breed, the easier to train?- something about the cultural homogeneity and upbringing where, he said you put them in a line and they keep going, plodding on. In the Riefenstahl film, Triumph of the Will, one cannot help noticing the rigid marching and the tight formations. Clearly,  the Reich leaders were not unreceptive or failed to perceive the modern arts. The point is, they were repelled in some ways from what they saw since it represented a split off, dismembered part of themselves. There was no difference between the patriarchy and misogyny in the work of Duchamp or Picasso and Nazi values. Modernist art had a power; if it did not the Nazi’s would not have reacted to it so violently.

As Sartre correctly understood, Jazz music is an existential form that defies and denies its typical presentation as an allegory for freedom which is sentimental tripe, and no more authentic than the film Cabaret masquerading as reality inside Weimar Germany. The higher Nazis seemed to grasp the underlying semantics of jazz; its contrapuntal progressions, its contradictions and flowing adaptability, a reflection of a more profound narrative between contradictory positions of slavery and freedom, liberty and servitude and for these administrators, how to convert the art form into a populist yoke as oompah and folk were….

---The 1938 Degenerate Music Exhibition included works by Jewish composers or those with Jewish parents or grandparents (eg Felix Mendelssohn, Arnold Schoenberg, Kurt Weill, Gustav Mahler), by socialists, by modernists and by jazz musicians. Why a right winger like Igor Stravinsky was included as a degenerate eludes me, but he was just as reviled as the Jewish and Jazz musicians were. For this event, a small catalogue was published that included the opening-speech by Ziegler and Goebbels, quotations of Hitler's words, photographs, caricatures and paintings as they appeared in the exhibition. Dr Ziegler must have done his job well. After Dusseldorf, the Degenerate Music Exhibition travelled to Weimar, Munich and Vienna, where the displays continued to be very popular.--- Read More:


Like many Romani musicians, Reinhardt was a child prodigy who started performing publicly at an early age. He was already recognized as an exceptional Romani musician when he was exposed to jazz in 1924 in a Parisian nightclub. Thus began the amalgam of two powerful musical streams, which grew over the years and was cemented in 1931 when Reinhardt first heard a recording of Louis Armstrong. Reinhardt burst into tears and repeated over and over, “My brother! My brother!”

Reinhardt was properly lauded in his lifetime as the genius and groundbreaker he was, but his life was not always easy. A caravan fire in 1928 left two fingers on his left hand completely useless, after which Reinhardt painstakingly retaught himself to play guitar. The Nazis murdered millions of his compatriots during World War II, and Reinhardt had to negotiate the complex Nazi attitude toward jazz, which involved outlawing jazz as degenerate music while at the same time German officers heaped praise on him in the Parisian

s. He never broke into the American entertainment world the way he hoped to, despite a 1946 American tour with pianist Duke Ellington’s orchestra, and he had to fend his way in the music business without knowing how to read or write—in fact, violinist and playing partner Stephane Grappelli was the one who finally taught Reinhardt how to sign his name.

And yet through it all, Reinhart remained true to his Gypsy roots. Even at the height of his wealth, he preferred caravans and sleeping outside to luxurious Parisian apartments. He was not particularly impressed with the niceties of the professional music world; he was renowned for showing up late (or not at all) for gigs and recording sessions, and it was not uncommon for him to simply disappear at a moment’s notice, on the road and leaving no trace. Read More:
…As those altered lyrics suggest, the artists–Charlie and His Orchestra–weren’t merely German swing enthusiasts flouting their leaders’ disapproval. They were government employees broadcasting to the enemy in the enemy’s own language and in a musical form that their employers were nominally committed to stamping out. Though less well-known than the infamous Lord Haw-Haw (William Joyce) or Axis Sally (Mildred Gillars), who broadcast on behalf of the fascist regimes, they were an important part of the Reich’s propaganda effort to smuggle a defeatist message into British and American homes.

The history of wartime jazz abounds with such ironies. That a form of music proscribed as “degenerate” should become an instrument of state policy seems more than a little perverse. Within weeks of Hitler’s coming to power in March 1933, the new Nazi government’s broadcasting authority announced the banishment of swing and hot music from the airwaves. Jazz had long been suspect and such a directive was inevitable, but in practice, it would be a further two years before Eugen Hadamovsky, the program director of RRG, could announce that “as of today, nigger jazz is finally switched off on the German radio.”

There were no more consensuses in government circles about what defined jazz than there was in the jazz clubs and cellars of Berlin and Frankfurt, where such matters were debated as passionately as in New York or London. From an ideological point of view, jazz was “Judaeo-Negroid” music and thus complicit in the “shame of Versailles.” From a Nazi point of view, defeat in the First World War was the result of Jewish treachery at home and led to still further racial defilement, most hurtfully symbolized by the presence of black French colonial troops in the occupied Rhineland. The distorted rhythms and “atonality” of jazz might originally have seemed an unconscious expression of “Negroid” sexuality, but they became–to Nazi ears–part of a new Jewish fifth column, a sinister conspiracy to undermine Aryan culture.

The more extreme exponents of anti-Semitism and cultural nationalism like ideologue Alfred Rosenberg’s Kampfbund fur Deutsche Kultur (Campaign for German Culture), would have happily cauterized cultural modernism and replaced it with a fey folk culture. To a degree, Hitler was of similar mind, but Hitler’s views on music and art were inchoate and largely unconsidered, expressing personal knee jerks rather than a coherent aesthetic philosophy. Much more significant to this story was the more thoughtful and sophisticated approach of his propaganda minister Josef Goebbels. Whatever else he might have been, Goebbels was a man of some culture and viscerally opposed to the populist strain that ran through the lower ranks of the Nazi Party. …

The piano-playing, widely read Goebbels saw an urgent need to maintain a certain level of sophistication in German broadcasting. There was no such consensus within his ministry. His deputy Hans Hinkel would have sanctioned nothing but “good German music,” which usually meant ersatz folk songs and oompah bands. Surprisingly, given his somewhat exaggerated enthusiasm for Wagner and Bruckner (light operetta was probably more his speed), Hitler took a generally pragmatic view and in summer 1942, according to transcriptions of his table talk, was suggesting that propaganda broadcasts directed at Britain and America should contain a proportion of musical material that would appeal to such audiences. This was the policy that would prevail and would lead to the formation of Charlie and His Orchestra.

… The man chosen to lead the propaganda orchestra, saxophonist and violinist Lutz Templin, was not a card-carrying Nazi and seemed to have no strong political convictions. He had no strong musical ideology either. There is a certain mythology that Templin played hot music. Indeed, it’s probably safer to talk about German swing than German jazz, since there was little hot playing to be heard until the bebop revolution swept in at the end of the war and young men like the Mangelsdorff brothers in Frankfurt, Albert and Emil, began to construct a new German jazz inspired by the most advanced American models. For the propaganda swingers of the war years Paul Whiteman’s much-derided but hugely successful symphonic jazz was regarded as the acme of taste. Read More:

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