Nazi Suppression of Jazz

In our country, in this day and age, it seems almost impossible to believe that at certain times and in certain places specific genres of music were prohibited. On the radio today you can choose from countless genres and countless radio stations: each person has their favorites. In Nazi Germany, however, a ban was placed on jazz like a ban was placed on so many other things in society. After conducting preliminary research I believed that this ban on jazz was only due to the fact that Germany was at war with the United States, the U.S. being the birth country of jazz. It soon became clear that this was only part of it. To start, one of the greatest elements of jazz is the genre’s mix of cultural traditions. Well, it will surprise no one that such mixing of cultural traditions was not appreciated by Nazi Germany. The fact that many of the bandleaders of the time, like Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman, were either black or Jewish musicians, alone, did not sit well with the “master race.” Because of this, according to Czech writer Josef Skvorecky, the Nazis had a special name for jazz: “Judeonegroid” music. In his 1977 book The Bass Saxophone, Skvorecky includes a list of Nazi restrictions on music. Here are a collection of them:

“pieces in foxtrot rhythm (so-called swing) are not to exceed 20 percent of the repertoires of light orchestras and dance bands;

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;

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 (the so-called hot jazz) or in solo performances (so-called breaks) be tolerated.”

To think that these were rules is utterly astounding. The rules are so full of stereotypes that it’s hard to believe anyone ever took them seriously. Indeed, this is exactly Skvorecky’s point. At the time only a teenager, he and his friends had a jazz band and played around Czechoslovakia despite this ridiculous ban on jazz. Despite their best efforts, jazz continued to be loved throughout Nazi-controlled Europe—a testament to the importance of music and the effect jazz has of making people feel free, if only in spirit. It is impossible to quantify how helpful jazz was during WWII using numbers, but I think it’s clear that it had a very important role indeed. This is, I believe, why jazz was banned by the Nazis. The Nazis were attempting to diminish the morale of the people it conquered, and jazz was standing in their way. Though the U.S. did not get militarily involved in the war until 1941, our music had been fighting the war from its beginning.

Jazzy Jots

This blog will be used to post the highlights of my research on jazz, especially the role of jazz during the World War II era. Coming soon will be short biographical excerpts on certain musicians and bandleaders of that era, along with musical excerpts and maps showing the locations of the hotspots of jazz during the war. Like learning about jazz? Like learning about people like Glenn Miller and Django Reinhardt? Then stay tuned! I will also post on particularly interesting things going on in the jazz world today.