Jazz – The Sound of Multi-Culturalism
The musicians that emancipated American music from its European roots, such as Buddy Bolton, Luis Armstrong, and Jelly Roll Morton, were born at the turn of the century. These sons of the Reconstruction found expression in the emancipated voices of their people, and converted the destitute moans of Gospel into the vibrant incantations of freedom.
The trajectory between 1846 and 1946 saw the effects of taking a population of slaves and releasing them onto a free society. The evolution of jazz is the embodiment of evolution that took place from emancipation to Reconstruction, and onto the Civil Rights movement. Jazz is a purely American art from that is the direct result of all those interactions during that time span. Jazz is the antithesis to the formal and regimented music that is written by the composer and played faithfully by the orchestrated efforts of the conductor. Jazz has no composer or conductor. It is very literally based on a horizontal admixture of several agents free to improvise and express their individuality over a simple set of rules. There is no jazz without improvisation or without the highly individualistic interpretations of the personalities that populate its history.
The famous director of documentaries, Ken Burns, did a multi-part documentary on Jazz. Famous living jazz musicians and critics were interviewed. The story of jazz simply cannot be told without telling the plight of the emancipated slave, and neither can it be told without telling the story of the individual musicians that contributed, and how their contributions emerged from very personal life experiences. According to the documentary “jazz” is about “the individual personality expressed through their instruments” and “the freedom and power to have their own voice.” The critic Gerald Early states that jazz was for the emancipated slave “the aesthetic that will free them of minstrelsy, freedom from the burden of minstrelsy, freedom of the degradation of minstrelsy, and what emerges from that is the blues.” Jazz personalities such as Lois Armstrong, Buddy Bolton and Jelly Roll Morton cannot be separated from the product of their art. Jazz cannot exchange the anonymous musician that can be interchangeably plugged in to play in an orchestra performing Wagner or Beethoven. Lesser jazz musicians can imitate the jazz greats, but even then, jazz the multitude of personalities now imitated. Jazz evolved from the Dixieland minstrel show, the Gospel music of the afro-Baptist churches, ragtime and the blues. It is ragtime marches combined with the moans and groans of the gospel singer, which in turn evolved into the incantations of the solo trumpeter, saxophonist, and pianist expanding the range and quality of those moans, groans, and outcries.
Technically, jazz is a 12-bar sequence that allows for an infinite number of variations, and it is the emergent variations, as opposed to faithful repetition which makes the music vibrant. It is intensely personal, and it tells a different story with every interpretation. It is what is called “the big four” for its accent of the second fourth beat of what otherwise would be a ragtime Civil War march. It is very literally the surplus of the military instruments of the Civil War recycled and appropriated to express the distinctiveness of the individuals they emancipated. All its growls, shouts, and cries embody the reality of the hot, humid and sexually charged nature of a Reconstruction Era New Orleans.
On the stage, a jazz musician is as free as Hayek’s individual business man in a laissez-faire economy; the result of the interaction between the horn, clarinet, drums, piano and bass are greater than the sum of each part, as Aristotle might observe. Each individual improvisation is the embodiment of the personality speaking through their instrument. Each individual performance is unique every time they go on stage, and definitely if different individuals are exchanged to play the instruments. There is no composer or orchestrated result. The journey is all important and the destination is forever irrelevant. It is sultry, sexual and about the experience, the interaction, the self-expression and dueling competition to one-up what the previous instrument contributed. Jazz is American individualism incarnate. It is the art of freedom. It is the voice of liberty. As for the jazz musicians, who is to say that they, and not Abraham Lincoln, truly emancipated the slave? Even after a prolonged application of Lincoln’s vision of reconstruction, the mind and spirit of African-Americans remained in shackles. This is evidenced by the somber moans of gospel music. It is not until these somber outcries were transformed into the vibrant enunciations of jazz music that African-Americans began to feel enfranchised in mind, body and soul. By no coincidence, this was the beginning of what historians now call the Afro-American Renaissance. For the first time, Harlem nights became something to escape into, instead of escaping from. Jazz exuded individualism. Jazz musicians taught the world how to march without a master.
The one person that was keenly aware of this liberating aspect of jazz music was Adolf Hitler. On August 18, 1941, more than 300 “Swingjugend” were arrested for violating the National Socialist ban on jazz music. The measures against them ranged from cutting their hair to the deportation to concentration camps. The Swing Kids were a group of jazz and swing lovers in Germany in the 1930s, mainly in Hamburg and Berlin. Most of them were 14 to 18-year-old boys and girls in high school, mostly from middle- or upper-class families. They were enamored with the British and American way of life, defining themselves in swing music and opposing the National-Socialist ideology, especially the “Hitlerjugend,” or Hitler Youth that their countrymen expected them to join.
Jazz music only started to become known in Germany around the year 1919, after the end of World War I and the end of war time restrictions. Jazz, with its high spirits, fun and originality, offered a release and reprise from the war years. Jazz was viewed as any other youthful movement until the National Socialists came to power, upon which it was identified as a cultural pollutant detracting from what the National Socialists viewed as authentic German culture. It must first be remembered that the xenophobic National Socialists viewed their German culture to be under attack by “International” forces, whether it be from the high influence of German Jews in art and music, or from the move to create an “International” one-world Communist government. Hitler was a failed artist, after all, and a devoted fan of Richard Wagner, the anti-Semitic composer whom had once denounced all “Jewish” influence in art. Hitler was a faithful follower of all things Wagner, especially his views on what was “legitimate” and “authentic” art. Hitler hated all things counterculture, namely modern Architecture, which had ceremoniously labeled itself the “International Style” and claimed the German Bauhaus as its epicenter.
As with all other things National Socialism, the ban on jazz was not the product of a single law, but the outcome of a total control over all aspects of society by a totalitarian regime. Legislation that placed control over all economic, cultural and social events in the hands of the governing elite allowed for minor laws and decrees to be leveraged for the desired outcome of “cultural” and “social” cleansing. In fact, some laws didn’t even need to mention ethnicity. All they had to do was leave the decision of inclusion or exclusion from cultural life in the hands of a National Socialist bureaucrat, which in turn created his own minor decrees within the jurisdiction of the respective ministries. A good example is the August 1941 prohibition by the Theater Chamber, which formally prohibited the employment of blacks and Negermischlinge (mixed black) from performing in German theaters. National Socialism had taken control of unions and professional organizations and converted them into arms of the government that could exert a significant amount of control and coercion at the individual level by controlling operational permits and licensing. Furthermore, these ministries were given control “over the type and form of contracts between the professional groups.” Thus, the National Socialist inserted themselves into every commercial transaction. As the heads of the various ministries were typically SS or SA members, policing and enforcement of the various decrees happened with the eager cooperation of Hitler’s Stormtroopers and Brownshirts. Alan E. Steinweis, author of the 1993 book, “Art, Ideology, & Economics in Nazi Germany,” provides the example of a group of architects that would show up to voting sessions of their professional organization wearing their SA uniforms in order to intimidate the vote to sway in their direction. Alan E. Steinweis explains how this happened in the specific case of Jazz performances:
Goebbels allowed the Music Chamber to institute formal controls on jazz music beginning in late 1937. In December, the Music Chamber issued an Order Concerning Undesirable and Dangerous Music. – This new order stipulated that all foreign music required clearance before publication or distribution with a newly created Reich Music Examination Office (Reichsmusickprüfstelle) in the Propaganda Ministry. (Pg. 141, “Art, Ideology, & Economics in Nazi Germany”)
This ministry published the list of music it deemed to be “undesirable” and “dangerous.” Most of the blacklist was comprised of jazz music, namely the complete works of Irving Berlin. National Socialists found jazz music to be offensive, because it was often performed by blacks. They called it “Negermusik” or “Negro Music” or “degenerate music,” deemed to be part of what the Third Reich had identified as a larger threat to German culture as “entartete Kunst” or “degenerate art.”
The National Socialists deliberated on exactly how to deal with popular cultural influences and habits, such as smoking, jazz music, modern art and alcohol consumption. Many of them, as in the case of beer drinking, were central to German culture, but inconsistent with the total social control the National Socialists felt the government rightfully had, and definitely against their concept of bodily purity. Joseph Goebbels mobilized his propaganda infrastructure to convince and persuade via anti-Jazz-propaganda. Forbidden fruit is tempting, or in German, “verbotene Frucht reizt,” and Goebbels attacks were part of a larger scale propaganda war on “degenerate art” designed to demean and debase any cultural influence deemed to be unauthentic or infectious to German purity. The effort was intended to conceptually segregate by having German performers elevated in their performance of high-art such as Strauss or Beethoven, and the Jews denigrated by limiting their performances to music portrayed by Goebbels’ ministry as undesirable.
Most importantly, swing was understood as the individualistic art of American democracy, and thus pitted against the National Socialist need for total social solidarity and devotion to its movement. National Socialism could not survive if it had to compete for the hearts and minds of its public, especially if it was competing against a cultural movement in which the individual reigned supreme. When the Swing Kids organized dance festivals and contests and invited jazz bands, part of the fun was to mock the Third Reich and its insistence that German youth join their movement unconditionally and uncritically as was expected of the Hitler Youth, hence the famous “Swing heil!” mocking the infamous salute “Sieg Heil!.” Incidentally, part of the anti-jazz crusade was a ban on speech that was associated with the music. According to Alan E. Steinweis, author of the 1993 book “Art, Ideology, & Economics in Nazi Germany,” phrases such as “yes sir” were prohibited due to their popular association with the American art form. Swing Kids wore long hair and hats, carried umbrellas, and met in cafés and clubs. These adolescents dressed a little differently than the others who were opposed to swing. For example, boys added a little British flair to their clothes by donning homburg, growing their hair long, and attaching a Union Jack pin to their jacket. Girls wore short skirts, applied lipstick and fingernail polish, and wore their hair long and down instead of applying braids or German-style rolls.
The National Socialist understood music and art as the battleground upon which the hearts and minds of the German youth would be won. Like the Swing Kids, the National Socialist understood that options to joining the Hitler Youth would undermine the control and obedience the regime required of its peons. This can be underscored by National Socialism’s attitude towards religious performances. The same infrastructure that was used to exert total control over the music profession was used over any and all performances of music. In this way, the National Socialists were able to exert control over religious performance of music inside churches. According to Alan E. Steinweis, suppression of Catholic performances started in 1935 by controlling the activities the church had traditionally organized for its youth. Both the Music and Theater Chambers collaborated in the suppression of church-sponsored musical and theatrical programs, namely during the Christmas season of 1937. Goebbels’ ministry saw in these performances a detraction away from the Hitler Youth, and as a dissemination of ideology that was not necessarily friendly to National Socialism. According to a website dedicated to the Swing Kids topic, Hitler announced the draconian methods he would use to stifle youthful interest in non-German ways as part of a speech at Reichenberg, December 2, 1938:
(…) Our Youth must learn nothing else, but only to think like and act like Germans! We must get our boys into a Party organization at the age of 10, where they can be immersed for the very first time in the totality of pure German spirit. Then, after four years, they will be transferred from this Young Folk (Jungvolk) into the Hitler Youth (Hitlerjugend). There we will keep them for another four years. One thing for certain, we will never surrender them back into the clutches of the enemies of our German State. Instead, we will immediately place them into our Party! Following this, we will put our young men into the ranks of the mandatory Labor Front (Arbeitsfront), the Stormtroopers (SA), the Party Guards (SS), the Motorized Party Unit (NSKK) and so on. Then, after they have been members of these organizations for up to two years but failed to become true National Socialists, we will reprocess them back through the mandatory Labor Front for another half-year of curative treatment. Everything will be united under one symbol, the German Spade of the Workers! And, if they still retain smudges of class consciousness or aloofness from Germandom, then the Armed Forces (Wehrmacht) will deal with them for another two years. Furthermore, if they return after two, three, or even four years, we will immediately put them back into the ranks of the SS, SA or other fit organizations in order to protect them from the slightest relapse from German Will. In this manner, they will not live freely apart from the service of Germany for their entire lives!” – (German Swing Kids website: www.return2style.de)
The National Socialist solution to the problem was apparently less than a total success. These measures, like the anti-smoking measures, must be analyzed for their timing as well as their intensity. At the height of the war, the Reich Ministry of Justice lamented excerpt from Reichsjustizministerium Report of early 1944:
(…)One of the most striking appearances among dangerous groups within the Reich is the so-called Swing Youth. They are reported to exist in many different parts of the country — Their mistaken ideals of individual freedom (which, in Nazi opinion countered true German freedom to help the greater community by ridding it of pestilence and Jews) leads them to openly oppose the Hitler Youth. (German Swing Kids website: www.return2style.de)
Jazz did represent American individualism. However, more than that, it represented a cultural dialogue that spanned across ethnicity, culture and religion. While jazz did originate from mostly African American influences in New Orleans, it was a true product of the American “melting pot.” The best evidence that the National Socialists desired a cultural segregation is the fact that the cultural laws which were set up to prevent the performance of jazz, or the display of modernist or “Bolshevized” art was that these laws also worked in reverse. According to Alan E. Steinweis, documents in his book that the flip-side of the laws preventing the performance of non-German music by “Aryan” performers was that Jewish performers were not allowed to perform music authored by “Aryan” composers like Strauss and Beethoven in their segregated “ghetto” performances.
A police arrest on more than 300 youths in one night, large as the operation may have been, was much more than the arrest of a bunch of rebellious young people. At least to the National Socialists, the importance of the measure ran much deeper than the arrest of a handful of teenagers. As Alan E. Steinweis reports, the Führer’s intentions were to centralize control over propaganda and cultural life. The National Socialist state demanded a “single will” and “solidarity” from its populace. The fulfillment of the “national revolution” entailed instilling in the populace “the idea of the movement.” Hitler wanted more than propaganda; he was calling for “popular enlightenment.” Hence, the name of Goebbels’ ministry was the Reich Ministry for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda (Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda). Hitler’s decreed that the ministry would be “responsible for all tasks relating to the spiritual development of the nation.”
EXCERPT: This chapter did not make the final edit of “From a ‘Race of Masters’ to a ‘Master Race’: 1948-1848” and is presented here with all of its defects and imperfections.