Hitler and hot jazz

Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels makes a point. Still from 1930s German film footage.

Amid the collection of thugs, sycophants, stone-eyed killers and over-promoted incompetents who comprised the wartime leadership of Nazi Germany, Joseph Goebbels stood out. For one thing, he was genuinely intelligent—he had earned a doctorate in Romantic literature before becoming Hitler’s propaganda chief. For another, he understood that his ministry needed to do more than merely hammer home the messages of Hitler’s ideology.

Goebbels knew he needed to engage—with an increasingly war-weary German public, and with the Allied servicemen whose morale he sought to undermine. This clear-eyed determination to deal with reality, not fantasy, led him to some curious accommodations. None, however, were quite so strange as his attempts to harness the dangerous attractions of dance music to Hitler’s cause. It was an effort that led directly to the creation of that oxymoron in four-bar form: a Nazi-approved, state-sponsored hot jazz band known as Charlie and His Orchestra.

By the late 1930s, swing and jazz were by far the most popular music of the day, for dancing and for listening. But, originating as they did in the United States, with minimal contributions from Aryan musicians, the Nazis loathed them. The official party line was that these forms were entartete musik (“degenerate music”), and that their improvised breaks and pounding rhythms risked undermining German purity and discipline. In public speeches, the Nazis put it more harshly than that. Jazz, Goebbels insisted, was nothing but “jungle music.”

Throughout the war years, it was German policy to suppress the music, or at least tame it. This resulted in some remarkable decrees, among them the clauses of a ban promulgated by a Nazi gauleiter in Bohemia and recalled (faithfully, he assures us—“they had engraved themselves deeply on my mind”) by the Czech dissident Josef Skvorecky in the introduction to his novella The Bass Saxophone. They are worth quoting in full:

1. Pieces in foxtrot rhythm (so-called swing) are not to exceed 20% of the repertoire of light orchestras and dance bands.

2. In this so-called jazz type repertoire, preference is to be given to compositions in a major key and to lyrics expressing joy in life rather than Jewishly gloomy lyrics;

3. As to tempo, preference is also to be given to brisk compositions over slow ones (so-called blues); however, the pace must not exceed a certain degree of allegro, commensurate with the Aryan sense of discipline and moderation. On no account will Negroid excesses in tempo (so-called hot jazz) or in solo performances (so-called breaks) be tolerated;

4. So-called jazz compositions may contain at most 10% syncopation; the remainder must consist of a natural legato movement devoid of the hysterical rhythmic reverses characteristic of the barbarian races and conductive to dark instincts alien to the German people (so-called riffs);

5. Strictly prohibited is the use of instruments alien to the German spirit (so-called cowbells, flexatone, brushes, etc.) as well as all mutes which turn the noble sound of wind and brass instruments into a Jewish-Freemasonic yowl (so-called wa-wa, hat, etc.);

6. Also prohibited are so-called drum breaks longer than half a bar in four-quarter beat (except in stylized military marches);

7. The double bass must be played solely with the bow in so-called jazz compositions;

8. Plucking of the strings is prohibited, since it is damaging to the instrument and detrimental to Aryan musicality; if a so-called pizzicato effect is absolutely desirable for the character of the composition, strict care must be taken lest the string be allowed to patter on the sordine, which is henceforth forbidden;

9. Musicians are likewise forbidden to make vocal improvisations (so-called scat);

10. All light orchestras and dance bands are advised to restrict the use of saxophones of all keys and to substitute for them the violin-cello, the viola or possibly a suitable folk instrument.

The cover to a 1938 museum guide published to coincide with an exhibition on “degenerate art” organized by Dr. Hans Ziegler. The exhibition was divided into seven sections, each attacking a different artistic form; Igor Stravinsky and Paul Hindemith got sections to themselves.

It is possible to trace the Nazi’s fear of jazz and swing back at least as far as the radical nightclubs of Weimar Germany (setting for the musical Cabaret), which Goebbels described in his diary as “a Babylon of sin.” But the Reichsminister also recognized, Horst Bergmeier and Rainer Lotz note, that “National Socialism set to music was not what most listeners wanted when switching on their radio sets,” and as the war years bit into German morale and bombs rained down on German cities, he began to make compromises that would have been inconceivable before 1939.

There was still reluctance to allow real American swing and jazz to be heard on the home front; Dr. Fritz Pauli of German state radio sketched the criteria for a “model dance band” that would have seemed alien to Glen Miller: twelve violins, four violas, brass, bass, drums–and a zither. Goebbels went further; he ordained that jazz be banned from the airwaves altogether, and all radio dance programs be prefaced by “a neutral march or overture.”

Behind the scenes, though, Hitler’s propaganda chief was hatching a plot: music deemed unsuitable for decent Germans was to be harnessed to help drive the Nazi war effort. Here Goebbels’s catspaw was a jazz fanatic named Lutz “Stumpie” Templin, a fine tenor saxophonist who had led one of the best German swing bands before the war.

Templin was an equivocal character; no Nazi himself, he had nonetheless taken full advantage of the opportunities that opened under Hitler’s regime. As early as 1935, what would become the nucleus of the Lutz Templin Orchestra ousted its Jewish leader, James Kok, in order to secure a recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon. By the autumn of 1939, Templin’s reputation as a sax player and his links to the Nazis were strong enough for the Propaganda Ministry to turn to him when it took the decision to begin piping musical propaganda to British troops.

Politically flexible jazz saxophonist Lutz Templin provided the musical and organizational muscle for Charlie and His Orchestra.

Lurking in the shadow of the new initiative were William Joyce, the notorious “Lord Haw Haw,” an Irish-American employed by Goebbels to broadcast propaganda to Britain, and Norman Baillie-Stewart, another fascist turncoat whose chief claim to fame was being the last Englishman to be imprisoned in the Tower of London. They provided ideas, and perhaps some lyrics, to a former civil servant named Karl Schwedler, the man hired to front the crack jazz musicians who made up Templin’s band.

Schwedler was a remarkable character, a chancer and a chameleon well suited to thriving in the looking-glass world of Nazi Germany. Born the son of a plumber in Duisberg in 1902, he was a flawless English speaker who revealed an unexpected talent for crooning while working for the American section of the Foreign Ministry’s broadcasting department, Kultur-R. He was good enough at his job to earn exemption from military service on the grounds that he was doing “essential war work”—and to enjoy the protection of Goebbels himself.

Schwedler seems to have developed ideas above his station. According to Baillie-Stewart, “on a finger of his left hand he sported a massive signet ring engraved with a bogus coat-of-arms [and] at times he even sported the Old Etonian tie until I mentioned the fact.” For much of the war, he lived a playboy’s life in Berlin, dressing in SS-monogrammed silk shirts and traveling widely, often to Switzerland, on the pretext of picking up the latest records and some new ideas. This gave him access to contraband (“silk stockings, liquor, soap, chocolates, cigarettes,” Baillie-Stewart recalled) which—combined with an easy charm—made his privileged position almost unassailable in an increasingly corrupt Third Reich.

Karl “Charlie” Schwedler, an employee of the German Foreign Ministry, discovered he had a talent for crooning and spent the war years heading up the Nazis’ strangest propaganda initiative: Charlie and His Orchestra. Photographer unknown.

The Templin Orchestra, renamed Charlie and His Orchestra in honor of its new vocalist, began broadcasting in January 1940 as part of a propaganda show known as “Political Cabaret.” Mike Zwerin and Michael H. Kater both report that the inspiration for the band came from the German fighter ace Werner “Vati” Mölders, a keen jazz fan who was reputed to tune in to BBC dance programs as he crossed the Channel to fight in the Battle of Britain. “Hitler had a weak spot for pilots,” Zwerin says, “[and] when Mölders complained about the unswinging music on German radio, Hitler spoke to Goebbels about it.” True or not, Schwedler’s dance stylings became the come-on for audiences who soon found themselves listening to the heavy-handed propaganda skits that broke up the music. But Joyce and Baillie-Stewart were too smart to miss the chance to mix more messages into the music. With “Charlie’s” help, they began rewriting the standards that the jazzmen played.

Musically, Schwedler’s orchestra was superior to anything else on offer in Nazi Germany, though scarcely up to the standard of the best American or British bands. It featured Primo Angeli, a virtuoso pianist, and occasional hot drum breaks supplied by Fritz “Freddie” Brocksieper, who was known to have a Greek mother but who hid the fact that he was also one-quarter Jewish. (Brocksieper, for many years the top jazz drummer in Germany, was a devotee of Gene Krupa—to the extent, Michael Kater says, that “he was known for his inordinate noise.”) The band’s ever-growing repertoire consisted mostly of dance standards, mixed with about 15 percent jazz. But it is untrue, Bermeier and Lotz insist, that it featured much “hot” jazz. Such music was regarded as beyond the pale even for propaganda broadcasts, and in any case—as even the American-born propaganda boss Edward Vieth Sittler admitted—“we cannot possibly perform this decadent ‘hot’ jazz as ‘well’ as Negroes and Jews.”

One of the few surviving 78rpm recordings made by Charlie and His Orchestra.

One of the few surviving 78rpm recordings made by Charlie and His Orchestra. Most were smashed by Allied POWs.

Many of the tracks performed by Charlie and His Orchestra were version of songs from the latest Hollywood movies and Broadway musicals, and despite Schwedler’s efforts in Switzerland it would appear that much of this music came via Nazi listening stations and was roughly transcribed from there. Czech accordionist Kamil Behounek recalled that this practice caused problems. The tracks “were picked up on short or medium wave,” he said, and “a lot of the passages were almost impossible to hear due to atmospherics or fading. So you had to help out with a lot of imagination.”

As the war went on, and more and more Germans were drafted into the armed forces, the composition of “Charlie’s” band changed and it came to include a majority of players from Belgium, France and Italy. The musicians were forced to double up, performing lively propaganda swing arrangements in the mornings and then regrouping in another studio during the afternoons to play Nazi-approved numbers for domestic consumption; by the autumn of 1943, as the bombing of Berlin intensified, they were forced to relocate to Stuttgart and restrict themselves to live broadcasts. “We were on duty five days a week,” bass player Otto “Titte” Tittmann would recall. “We did [shows] for the Anglo-American area, plus South America and South Africa.”

Even so, high standards were somehow maintained. Behounek, drafted in as arranger in May 1943, was pleasantly surprised to discover a fully professional setup:

I wondered what sort of village band I was going to be working for. But orders is orders. I got to Berlin in the evening. In the darkness I could make out the ruined buildings which bore witness to the devastating air raids. Next morning I went to the huge broadcasting centre on the Masurenallee…. I felt like Alice in Wonderland. Here was this big dance orchestra with three trumpets, three trombones, four saxes, a full rhythm group. And they were swinging it! And how! They were playing up-to-date hits from America! Lutz Templin had got together the best musicians from all over Europe for his band.

Members of Charlie and His Orchestra practice in 1942. Their base was then a mattress factory. Photographer unknown.

For most of the musicians, Brocksieper admitted after the war, collaboration with the Nazi war machine was simply the lesser of two evils. The alternative was fighting, or in the case of Behounek, working as forced labor in an armaments factory (“My mates were filling shells—I was making music. I don’t see that that is any worse.”) Brocksieper had avoided conscription by swallowing a medicine that induced such severe vomiting that he was diagnosed with a suspected stomach ulcer. Certainly it would have been dangerous for many of the musicians to have shunned the protection offered by Charlie and His Orchestra; the German singer Evelyn Künneke recalled that “there were even half-Jews and gypsies there, Freemasons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals and Communists—not exactly the sort of people the Nazis normally wanted to play cards with.”

As “Charlie,” Schwedler—who at least posed as a convinced Nazi—penned lyrics that generally followed a fixed pattern. The first verse of each song would remain untouched, perhaps in the hope of luring in listeners. But the remainder of the lyrics would veer wildly into Nazi propaganda and boasts of Aryan supremacy. Charlie’s main themes were familiar ones: Germany was winning the war and Churchill was a drunken megalomaniac who hid in cellars at night to avoid German bombs (“The Germans are driving me crazy/I thought I had brains/But they shot down my planes”). Similarly, Roosevelt was a puppet of international banking cartels, and the entire Allied war effort was in the service of “the Jews.” For the most part, Schwedler’s songs interspersed virulent anti-Semitism with attempts to convince his audience that Nazi victory was inevitable. When Cole Porter’s classic “You’re the Top” got Charlie’s treatment, the revised lyrics emerged as “You’re the top/You’re a German flyer/You’re the top/You’re machine gun fire/You’re a U-boat chap/With a lot of pep/You’re grand,” and the lyrics for “I’ve Got a Pocketful of Dreams” became “I’m gonna save the world for Wall Street/Gonna fight for Russia, too/I’m fightin’ for democracy/I’m fightin’ for the Jew.”

As for the smash hit “Little Sir Echo,” by the time Schwedler finished with it, it was unrecognisable:

Poor Mr. Churchill, how do you do?

Hello… Hello…

Your famous convoys are not coming through


German U boats are making you sore…

You’re nice little fellow, but by now you should know

That you never can win this war.

For the most part, there seems to be little evidence that Charlie and His Orchestra had anything like the impact on Allied morale that Goebbels hoped for. Schwedler might speak perfect English, but he never grasped British and American irony and understatement, and although his band recorded as many as 270 tracks between 1941 and 1943, and their records were distributed to prisoner of war camps, they were generally smashed by the POWs after an exploratory listen.

Schwedler at the microphone with trumpeter Charly Tabor and an unknown vocalist. Note the use of a banned trumpet mute–hated by the Nazis for its tendency to yield a “Jewish-Freemasonic yowl.” Photographer unknown.

Yet so important were Charlie and His Orchestra to Goebbels’ propaganda machine that the band was maintained almost to the end of the war. The last of their broadcasts seems to have been made in early April 1945, just a month before the end of the conflict in Europe and a matter of days before the U.S. Army took the Rhineland and Reichssender Stuttgart went off air, blown up by a retreating detachment of the SS.

Not that the orchestra’s main men were out of action for long. Demand for dance music was just as strong under American occupation, and by the autumn of 1945 Lutz Templin was working for the U.S. Army and touring extensively in southern Germany. He later developed his own music publishing business in Hamburg and worked in A&R for Polydor. Fritz Brocksieper spent the last few weeks of the war hiding on a farm near Tübingen. He soon resumed his stalled career as Germany’s top drummer and continued to record until his death in 1990—ironically from a burst stomach ulcer.

As for Karl Schwedler, the chameleon, he proved himself just as adaptable after 1945 as he had during the war. Old acquaintances found him working as a croupier in the casino at the Europa Pavilion in West Berlin; then, in 1960, and despite his unresolved Nazi past, “Charlie” emigrated with his wife and children to the United States. It is not known whether he ever performed there.


Adam Cathcart. “Music and politics in Hitler’s Germany.” Madison Historical Review 3 (2006); Horst Bergmeier and Ranier Lotz. Hitler’s Airwaves: The Inside Story of Nazi Radio Broadcasting and Propaganda Swing. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997; Tim Crook. International Radio Journalism: History, Theory and Practice. London: Routledge, 1998; Brenda Dixon Gottschild. Waltzing in the Dark: African American Vaudeville and Race Politics in the Swing Era. New York: Palgrave, 2000; Roger Hillman. Unsettling Scores: German Film, Music, and Ideology. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005; John Bush Jones. The Songs That Fought the War: Popular Music and the Home Front, 1939-1945. Lebanon [NH]: Brandeis University Press, 2006; Michael Kater. Different Drummers: Jazz in the Culture of Nazi Germany. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992; Horst Heinz Lange. Jazz in Deutschland: die Deutsche Jazz-Chronik bis 1960. Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1996; Martin Lücke. Jazz im Totalitarismus: Einer Komparative Analyse des Politisch Motivierten Umgangs mit dem Jazz Während des Zeit des Nationalsocialismus und der Stalinismus. Münster: Lit Verlag, 2004; David Snowball. “Controlling degenerate music: jazz in the Third Reich.” In Michael Budds (ed). Jazz and the Germans: Essays on the Influence of “Hot” American Idioms on 20th Century German Music. Maesteg: Pendragon Press, 2002; Michael Zwerin. La Tristesse de Saint Louis: Swing Under the Nazis. London: Quartet, 1988.

57 thoughts on “Hitler and hot jazz

  1. Interesting! Seeing Nazi rules for “proper” jazz is somehow both hilarious and disturbing.

    “Strictly prohibited is the use of instruments alien to the German spirit (so-called cowbells, flexatone, brushes, etc.) as well as all mutes which turn the noble sound of wind and brass instruments into a Jewish-Freemasonic yowl (so-called wa-wa, hat, etc.)”

    I never thought I’d actually ever say this, but “More Cowbell!!” 😉

    I hadn’t planned on the Cabaret making a stop in Nazi Germany, but as an irony addict I just might have to now. Benny the Moose’s Rome is already in the queue, so why not?

  2. […] Nazi Germany’s long & complex relationship w/ jazz. Yes, it’s just as weird a tale as you’d think […]

  3. […] Fabulous article on Nazi attitudes to Jazz – and their very own riposte: Charlie and his Orchestra […]

  4. As usual, Dr. Dash has thrust an intelligent dagger into what has often been said, written, made cinematic, etc, making it fresh. Interesting. And Unforgettable. Especially that. Such things should never be forgotten.
    Dash completely ensnared me with: “Amid the collection of thugs, sycophants, stone-eyed killers and over-promoted incompetents who comprised the wartime leadership of Nazi Germany, Joseph Goebbels stood out.”

    The only unfortunate thing about this particular piece, is that the subject material is factual, and that humanity is at times, so capably creatively debase, unconscionable. And that intelligence, even extraordinary intelligence, does not automatically equate decency. It goes to solidify truth that tools of intellectual, learned brilliance is only as good as those using them. And of course, to what intended end. “Proof is in the pudding”. Indeed.

    Thanks so much writing this, Dr. Dash.

    • Well said, Maggie, although my favorite quotable bit was: “that oxymoron in four-bar form: a Nazi-approved, state-sponsored hot jazz band”

  5. <Musicians are likewise forbidden to make vocal improvisations (so-called scat);>

    Scat being strictly the domain of Propagandaminister Joseph Goebbels …

    • They may have listened to her 78s, but I’m not sure Baker ever performed for the Germans. What is certain is that during the German occupation she was an active member of the French Resistance. As such, soon after the war, she was awarded one of France’s highest awards, the Legion d’Honneur.

      • Only in Weimar Germany, which was all about hysterical rhythmic reversals and such.

    • Given that he was pretty much cut from the same cloth as Hitler regarding black and Jewish culture this would make sense. Ford’s book The International Jew, the World’s Foremost Problem isn’t exactly unclear about his views, as one would expect from the title.

  6. The real point is that under Nazi notions, jazz bad because it focuses upon individualism–China et al do not like that but prefer group movements., everyone doing the same thing at same time.
    The opera made fun of the nazis but they did not recognize that…it had a world premiere in Canada before becoming a children’s book.

    • ” The real point is that under Nazi notions, jazz … focuses upon individualism”

      Hence its appeal to a fighter pilot like Werner Mölders, perhaps? The other interesting point is that, by the end of the war, the band had become something of a “safe haven” for a polyglot, racially mixed group of musicians that (ironically) ended up epitomizing the cultural pluralism that Nazis found so threatening in jazz. There’s something supremely satisfying in the idea, gestured at by the article, that the German Propaganda Ministry sponsored (and by doing so, protected from forced labour or worse) a racially mixed group of musicians that included Jews, Communists, and other marginalized figures, in order that they play a form of music that contradicted the very ethos of Nazism.

    • “He wrote of Jazz something to the effect of “it is terrible for Marching”.”

      I used to play in a Dixieland group with a German trumpet player. He used to always tell me that Germans love Dixieland because it’s like a polka that’s cool.

      “The real point is that under Nazi notions, jazz bad because it focuses upon individualism”

      What makes you say that? (This isn’t a rhetorical question, I’d be really interested to see what gave you that impression).

      I’m pretty sure it was just the standard Nazi race purity bit. I mean, they forbid Negermusik, not small ensembles or soloists. I’m not super familiar with Nazi Era German Musicians, but I’d be really surprised if there weren’t virtuosos touring around performing, or string quartets, or German Art Song being sung. Reading the quotes in the Smithsonian magazine link, discipline is mentioned, but not nearly as much as the racial rhetoric.

      Not to mention, jazz isn’t just four guys playing whatever they want. Swing Era big bands had carefully arranged charts and prize the ability of a group to play together just as much as any classical orchestra.

  7. > So-called jazz compositions may contain at most 10% syncopation…<

    "I feel we should Nazify it by…ten percent or so."

  8. I swear some of this is written by HP Lovecraft revisiting his ridiculous German stereotype from The Temple.

    Also “Politically flexible jazz saxophonist” has to be a name for something.

  9. Years ago on a gig a fellow Jazz musician was quoting me from the memoirs of a Nazi Officer in occupied France. He wrote of Jazz something to the effect of “it is terrible for Marching”.

  10. It really happened all snark aside. Visited by Hollywood making a buck of a tragedy. It is probably generational all our wars since have not involved the people. No rationing or forfeitures business as usual.

    • Swing Kids is a terrible movie, with terrible, terrible dialog (“We’ll get you, swing boy!” “Nazi by day, Swing Kid by night–it’s the best of both worlds!”), but it is the only place you’ll ever get to see Dr. Wilson from House and Batman from The Dark Knight dance together (their bit starts at 3:40).

  11. Fascinating. If you know German, here’s a Spiegel article about Charlie and His Orchestra — but even after reading that, I’m not sure I understand completely. They were exclusively meant for export as propaganda? Did Germans listen to it at all? How did they respond?

    Here’s the kind of music that was officially sanctioned for consumption: Zarah Leaner, “Ich weiss, es wird einmal ein Wunder gescheh’n”, later covered by Nina Hagen.

    • The Spiegel article muckster links to is really far more comprehensive and interesting than the one here. It explains in great detail how the music of “Charlie and his Orchestra” was exclusively for foreign consumption: it was only broadcast over long-range Short Wave (and ownership of SW receivers was very much verboten in Germany and occupied Europe throughout the war), and only a handful of records were made for distribution to the Nazis network of SW broadcasting stations throughout Europe.
      Even more interesting is the moral quandary of the musicians in the band. The music was mostly US hits with Nazi propaganda lyrics, and most of the musicians in the band were not only not Nazi, but not even German: the orchestra trawled for talent throughout occupied Europe. So, for the musicians it was a choice between helping produce Nazi propaganda and living a life of privilege, or working in an ammunition factory, fighting in the Eastern Front or even, in some cases, a one-way ticket to a concentration camp.
      Indeed, the life of jazz musicians in occupied Europe throughout the war was a complex business: although the Nazis officially despised jazz, the Wehrmacht was formed by millions of young men, in many cases exposed for the first time in their lives to the “decadence” of the neighboring countries. They wanted entertainment, and the Nazi hierarchy was not so obtuse that it was going to put itself too much in the way of such entertainment for their cannon fodder. And performing in nightclubs and mostly for German soldiers and those sufficiently well-connected to ignore curfew orders put those musicians often enough directly in contact with the black market.

  12. “Behind the scenes, though, Hitler’s propaganda chief was hatching a plot: music deemed unsuitable for decent Germans was to be harnessed to help drive the Nazi war effort. ”

    Which is par for the course for totalitarian regimes. I read a few years ago that Cuba’s outward-facing media outlets are banned in Cuba itself because, in order to remain credible abroad, they have to say or acknowledge things that are forbidden internally.

  13. Dark instincts alien to the German people? I must have that out of context. All the Germans I know (and am married to) are totally at home with their dark instincts. It’s what makes them irresistible to me

  14. This wasn’t just Czech, this was German wide. The Nazis decried a large section of art as “degenerate”, including music. They created the Riechmusikkammer (Reich Music Chamber) to create rules on what art would be declared degenerate and suppressed.

    Jazz was *way* up on that list. There was a large youth movement centered on swing and jazz music, most prominent in Berlin and Hamburg, but it was pretty widespread. Himmler wrote to Reinhard Heydrich that “the whole evil must be radically exterminated now.”

    That’s a bad sentence when it’s said to Heydrich, one of the architects of the Holocaust and a good contender for worst human being ever. The Nazis came down on the kids hard, and I could easily see someone writing a set of rules that defined was was “entaretemusik” and what was good German music.

    The Gauleiter or Reichsprotektor in charge (depending on what part of Czechoslovakia you were in) would have been in charge of disseminating the list and enforcing compliance.

    • I lean towards eriko here, having looked a bit at the Entartete Kunst question. Obviously, we’re all in agreement this is from memory, so relying on precision of language is out. But it makes sense to me that a fluid musical form such as jazz could all too easily evade regulation by claiming it was swing, or big band, or blues, and so a true bureaucrat’s response would be to nail things down almost mathmatically. Sort of in the nobody-ever-got-fired-for realm. If you think of this as some gauleiter covering his ass rather than trying to divine the very essence of jazz, it sounds much more realistic.

      • I should say that my view of Nazi occupation officials is strongly informed by that of two similar fictionalized dramas about the occupation of the Channel Islands: Enemy at the Door (1970s ITV) and Island at War (BBC). Both delved into the nitty-gritty of day-to-day management of a reluctant, even rebellious, populace, and you got a real sense of how German officiousness could run headlong into messy reality (and in this case, at least, British carry-on-ability). I recommend either, or even, both; they have different strengths. The Germans in both range from well-meaning and decent to pragmatic to vindictive.

        They’re also instructive as to the long-term viability of certain other occupations that may or may not be in the news.

        Other sources I draw on include Gert Frobe’s portrayal of von Choltitz in Is Paris Burning? and To Be or Not to Be by Lubitsch, which depicts a theatre company in occupied Poland.

        It basically boils down to having only a few people yourself and needing to manage a lot of people. You’ll resort to negotiation and inane rulesets just to limit the time you need to spend on a particular problem.

  15. I find it hard to believe anyone could take the “set of regulations” at face value. The combination of the fallibility of human memory and the need of creative writers to reshape their material make it in effect impossible that this list is accurate. It may be that it represents the spirit of an actual list Škvorecký was remembering, or it may be that he made the whole thing up. Either way, of course the Nazis hated and tried to suppress jazz.

    But so did Stalin. Jazz musicians were rounded up and arrested in the late ’30s and again in the late ’40s. In this, as in so many things, Stalin wasn’t consistent; he established a State Jazz Orchestra of the USSR in 1938. The catch was that it didn’t actually play jazz but light classical schlock, aside from “a few fox-trots… and a watered-down rendition of Duke Ellington’s ‘Caravan.'” (I quote S. Frederick Starr’s Red & Hot: The Fate of Jazz in the Soviet Union, which anyone interested in the topic should read.) In 1950, Viktor Gorodinsky published Music of Spiritual Poverty, in which he explained that jazz was not (as Soviet jazz-lovers had maintained) the folk music of the oppressed American people but a tool of international exploitation manipulated by Truman, the “Resident-Führer.” (Jazz managed to survive anyway, and was even played in the Gulag. Read the Starr book!)

    • Really scat, break, and riff are the only jazz terms I really saw, and it’s not like you have to be Initiated into the 6th Mystery of Jazz before anyone will tell you what those mean.

      • There’s no way to tell from internal evidence whether it’s a fake or not. I’ve read other Nazi prohibitions that read very similarly.

        I’d also add that the fact that the writer clearly knew a lot about music absolutely does not mean it’s fake. Germany has always had a history of excellence in music scholarship, and there were numerous musicians, composers, conductors and musical academics who enthusiastically collaborated with the Nazis – it seems quite plausible it’s one of them.

  16. Also reminds me of Axis Sally (aka “The Berlin Bitch), the German version of Tokyo Rose, whose hate broadcasts were accompanied by some of the only jazz to be found on German radio at the time. Apparently her M.O. was to make soldiers feel homesick and worried. A favorite pastime was to make American soldiers worry that their girlfriends and wives were sleeping around in their absence.

  17. […] Hitler’s Very Own Hot Jazz Band. Another bizarre slice of #history from Mike Dash […]

  18. […] The true story of the Third Reich’s Jazz Combo. Stranger than fiction is an understatement […]

  19. […] Weirdest thing you’ll see today: Nazi jazz, approved by Goebbels […]

  20. […] Faszinierende Geschichte! RT @blogsupreme Turns out the Nazis, who outlawed jazz, had their own propaganda dance band […]

  21. […] Know who *really* didn’t want “more cowbell”? Nazis! Absurd restrictions on jazz […]

  22. Really, what you describe as being subject to Nazi law is a codification of the principles of Solfeggio, in large part.

    Western European music isn’t “natural,” like African tribal music, for example. It is written in a manner prescribed by Guido D’Arezzo, and each note is played in a way similar to what Guido wanted when he invented the system, centuries ago.

    Part of his system was a list of adjectival descriptives to be posted at the top of the musical bar, or staff. “Forte” meant “with power,” and “alla Zingara” meant “like the Gypsies,” or “wildly.” There were hundreds of such descriptives.

    Anyway, the Nazis could have composed a list of forbidden descriptives, or even come up with a list of required descriptives. Those lists may still surface, and would make interesting history.

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