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Jazz Music During the Third Reich

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Jazz Music During The Third Reich

In the 1930s and 1940s Jazz was at its height of popularity in the United States. Prior to World War II erupting, Jazz was even enjoyed in parts of Europe that would eventually come under Nazi rule. Jazz music was viewed as a threat to the third Reich’s ideals as it did not embody anything that the party stood for. These German leaders were afraid that the creative and artistic soul of jazz would go against all of their teachings, and they tried everything in their power to choke jazz music out of the country. “This style of music was immediately recognized as a threat because it embodies qualities that undermine totalitarian authority: creativity, nonconformity, and innovation.” (Taylor) As a political party that stripped its subjects of their free will and taught them to exist as a collective society, this creative style of music embodied free form thinking, individualism and improvisation. Not to mention, jazz was a multi cultural music, enjoyed and performed by Blacks, Jews and Gypsies. This was not the collective ideal that the Nazi party wanted to teach. Simply put, Jazz was alien to them.

Ironically, the Nazis’ failure to eliminate jazz changed this form of art into a symbol of political rebellion. Members of the Nazi party painted Jazz music as a dangerous art of foreign influence. However those who opposed the teachings of the Nazi party embraced Jazz music and used it as a form of defiance towards the Nazi regime. This term paper will show why Jazz music was so hated by Hitler and the Third Reich, as well as how it was used amongst the anti-Nazi youth as a form of political resistance.

How though did American Jazz music ever enter Germany? World War I had actually marked the beginning of Jazz music in Germany. American troops that invaded Germany introduced foreign music from the United Stated to the Germans. By doing so, the Germans were positively receptive to this style of music. Although soldiers departed, their music did not leave with them. American jazz became well known in European pop culture and quickly spread nationwide especially in Germany. “The creative, social, and sexual liberation of the Weimar Republic cultivated an even more receptive audience for the avant-garde genre. American jazz musicians quickly gained substantial European fan bases, and soon German musicians began to incorporate elements of jazz music in their own compositions.” (Taylor) According to website theWeimar Republic refers to Germany between the end of World War I in 1918 and the rise of Nazism in 1933. The Weimar Republic hoped to create a democracy within a country that only knew authoritarian and militarism. However this bold approach did not work as there were high levels of unemployment, inflation, and eventually a great depression that ended this period. The end result was extremist Adolf Hitler and the nazi regime rising to power and the country giving way to totalitarianism.

Amongst other values that were enforced in Nazi Germany, Jazz music was considered a danger to society. Jazz music represented a both cultural and racial foreign influences. Jazz was not only rooted in American culture, but was extremely deep-rooted in the African American community. According to Author Michael Kater of the article “Forbidden Fruit? Jazz in the Third Reich”, “In the period from 1933-1935, jazz, the creation of blacks and Jews, tended to be berated as the inferior product primarily of the Negro race, inferior because of the constituent qualities of atonality and rhythmic chaos that were ascribed to “Niggers.” This was stated from Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, a widespread German Music Periodical that was widely published during the Nazi regime. Kater continues that during this time of the Nazi regime, that there was more of an anti-black policy than an anti-jewish one. Therefore implying that in German society Black people appeared to “have been the more immediate racial enemy…”.(Kater) Kater continues to write about four main factors about why the Nazi’s wanted to rid Germany of Jazz music. The first, Jazz represented freedom, it was the quintessential product of improvisation, musical freedom and music equality. To the Nazi’s it was an utter disgrace to a dictatorial society that wanted to rob all citizens of free will and manipulate its people towards an imperialistic society. Secondly, the Nazi’s viewed Jazz as a music that was created by “degenerate Blacks and Jews” and is some cases by gypsies in Europe. Third, “the syncopated rhythm of jazz, too complex for a study marching beat, did not lead itself to the transmission of (repetitive) propaganda message…”. (Kater) Lastly, Jazz was not as Kater states, racial-communal, it was too individualistic, as the Nazis prided themselves on collectivism ideologies. In his article “Swing Time For Hitler” by Brian Morton, he writes “it was a music of racial impurity, lumped in with other examples of entartete Kunst or “degenerate art,” damned as “Judaeo-Negroid” and not fit for the ears of good Germans. (Morton)

The Nazis’ tried to enforce a ban on Jazz music but failed. It is the survival of Jazz music during Hitler’s Regime that reveals the Third Reichs imperfect system of social control. Many different types of attempts were made to extinguish Jazz from Germany. The Nazis’ tried to manipulate, monitor, and censor Jazz music in several different ways. Some attempts failed because German leaders or officials did not have the expertise or were not knowledgable enough about the genre to spot Jazz music. This confusion led to a loss of control, as bootleg and secret records were imported and circulated. Additionally, it would be almost impossible to completely ban 100% because it would require them to confiscate all types of jazz music in Germany, whether that be on imported sheet music, records, or bootleg records. Prior to the rise of Nazism Jazz was already widespread and a staple of German culture. For those that listened to and enjoyed Jazz music, these people were not advocates for the racial theories that the Nazis tried to implement in the minds of citizens regarding Black and Jewish performers. (Taylor)

Radio censorship was a large tool that the Nazis used to limit the public from hearing banned jazz music. The radio was constantly and closely monitored by members of the Nazi party to ensure that any traces of jazz were not being played. In 1933 it was officially banned but did not take full effect until 1935. Ironically, in December of 1935 “the Frankfurt Radio Station and Reich chamber of Music joined together to create a program called, From Cake-Walk to Hot, which intended to mock jazz and condition listeners to view it as the product of inferior, foreign races.” (Taylor) This attempt backfired on the Reich as it only



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