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Different Drummers: Jazz in the Culture of Nazi Germany by Michael Kater

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"Different Drummers: Jazz in the Culture of Nazi Germany" by Michael Kater

There has only been one moment in history when jazz was synonymous with popular music in the country of its origin. During the years of, and immediately prior to World War II, a subgenre of jazz commonly referred to as swing was playing on all American radio stations and attracting throngs of young people to dancehalls for live shows. But it wasn't only popular amongst Americans; historian Michael H. Kater, in his book Different Drummers: Jazz in the Culture of Nazi Germany, has turned his eye away from the United States in order to examine the effects jazz had on German culture during the years of swing popularity. In his introduction, Kater explains the state of Jazz in Germany during the Weimar Republic, prior the rise of National Socialism.

The Republican years in the country have gained a reputation as being a time of hedonistic excess (especially in certain cities, i.e. Berlin), including sexual promiscuity and the tolerance of homosexuality. Along with the socially liberal values found within the dense urban centers, came the pulsating and syncopated sexual rhythms of a new music called jazz. Kater argues that the first Germans to hear jazz were probably prisoners of war being held in France during the first World War. Jazz had already crossed the Atlantic and gained a fan base in both France and England. The postwar Germans were understandably in need of some sort of entertaining pastime in order to take their minds off of the massive casualties and humiliating defeat that their country had just endured. One cure for their collective ennui manifested itself in the form of dance fever. The foxtrot, the tango, and the Charleston all had bright and shining moments on the German dance floors. It is no wonder that Jazz caught on so quickly in such an atmosphere considering how jazz lends it self to dancing.

But jazz also had its many detractors. As with its critics in the United States, those Germans who found jazz distasteful, tended offer its artistic inadequacies as the reason for their opinion. One famous critic of the genre was Theodore Adorno who, while priding himself on being an avant-gardist, refused to categorize jazz as an actual art form, instead he relegated it to the class of "arts and crafts." This view of the music could be fairly attributed to underlying prejudices that were ingrained in the German psyche.

By the time the Nazi Party had gained significant political power, they had begun to successfully exploit the ignorance of the general populace regarding the characteristics of dark-skinned peoples. Although during the republic there were a number of African and African-American jazz musicians occupying spaces in German bands, as well as in foreign bands touring through the country, German culture was not as accepting of people of color as, say, France was at the time. One reason for this racism that stood out in Kater's book was the mistreatment of German women by North African colonials in the French Army during the occupation following World War I. But even those exceptionally tolerant Germans who praised the African-Americans that invented jazz still regarded them with a paradoxical objectification that attempted to hold the black man up on a pedestal for his mystical musical skills, but consequently turned his image into a threatening one. This concept would be later known as "Crow Jimism" in American bebop circles.

What the Nazis found threatening about jazz, according to Kater, was its spirit as well as what it represented politically. Its popularity among the British and the French was an initial strike against it. Ostensibly, the reasons given by Geobbels and other National Socialist culture ministers for the censorship of jazz lay in its moral degradation. Because they believed that America "constituted a corrupt people devoid of sophistication, with a childlike mentality that countenanced fun and games but was incapable of profundity or erudition," it wouldn't be illogical to assume that its own native contribution to music would be sub-par.

Then of course, there was the Jewish problem. There were so many reasons given to

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