Liberating modernism, degenerate art, or subversive reeducation? - The impact of jazz on European culture

© Berndt Ostendorf
Amerika Institut, Munich


The introduction of jazz to Europe occurred in two waves after the First and Second World Wars. Both times the mood was divided between profound hostility and intense appreciation. The excessiveness of the reaction had to do with the shock of the new that set the tradition-bound establishment against innovators, upper against lower classes, parents against children and students against teachers. Jazz served to radicalise the feeling of a crisis of modernization at this millennial threshold; for of all American cultural imports jazz represented a musical language markedly different from the well-tempered European grammar. And this musical novelty arrived at the very moment when that classical grammar was called into question by cultural self-doubt raised by secessions and avantgardes in the major metropolitan centers of Europe who, though often unaware of jazz, helped to open the doors to let it in and, by demolishing the old, prepared the ground for it to flourish.1) Yet as we look closely at the public debates during the first encounter with American novelty music a warning is in order. From the teens of the century to well into the thirties, audiences tended to attach the term jazz to whatever rhythms they found exotic, fascinating and typically American, the latter particularly so when played by Blacks. With the benefit of hindsight we may dismiss a major part of this novelty music; for it had little to do with what audiences after World War II would, with far greater discrimination and on the basis of recorded evidence, recognize as "real American jazz." Until then the label jazz (or jass) was used both as a positive and negative stereotype to mark a rhythmic revolution and as a shorthand for the larger threat of modernization or westernization through Americanisation. But what triggered this excess of hostility or appreciation at these two crucial times and who were the agents and agencies in this story? And what explains the wide range of its impact which extended from vernacular dance to avantgarde agendas?

Cuts and Breaks

This paper will argue that the introduction of jazz-derived music involved a radical break concerning the rules of performance and habits of reception in Western musical culture. This break had occurred first in America, between the years 1896 and 1910, when the African American idiom entered the musical mainstream under the generic label of ragtime. The introduction of African elements into the Euro-American canon was not just another case of selective borrowing and exchanging. Norman Mailer rightly speaks of the “knife-like entrance of jazz.” For it had more to do with a paradigm change as described in Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo, a confrontation of dissimilar, even antithetical musical cultures that would have repercussions beyond the U.S. on an international scale.2) Although initially labeled a child of the gutter or a cultural mongrel (as Art Hodes and Ann Douglass have put it)3) jazz satisfied more of the high cultural prophecies and avantgarde desires of modernism than any single one of the classic arts. The new music spoke to the agendas of futurism, surrealism, DADA, primitivism, post-colonialism, radical democracy, multiculturalism, cosmopolitanism and ushered in a new way of being -- all at once. But it gave to these high cultural transgressions a decidedly vernacular spin thus preparing a structure of feeling for the subsequent victory of a popular culture industry. 4)

This first wave of African American music entered Europe on a vernacular foot, that is by way of popular dance. It found a broad social base and it affected all types of popular music, in particular the then current dancing styles. New and exciting rhythms were ushered in by the cakewalk, ragtime, foxtrot, charleston, and shimmy, a true demotic revolution which affected most levels of society from the dancing Windsor and Hohenzollern courts to music halls and cabarets. According to a contemporary German dance critic, Fritz Giese, the American imports were so successful and novel that they 'succeeded in doing away almost completely with all European vernacular dance traditions.' Only the waltz managed to survive as a social dance.5) After the Great War urban youth embraced these new American rhythms as an alternative to stiff and corseted traditions of motor behavior. It was precisely in the realm of leisure where the mobile and expanding young working class created a new cultural space with its very own rhythms and metropolitan choreographies.6) Though rudely interrupted by the interlude of fascism this first wave had prepared the ground for a more sophisticated acceptance of jazz after the second world war. The second wave encountered a somewhat different European audience that received "jazz as a form of popularly generated high art music" (Hobsbawm). These audiences came prepared and had acquired a better understanding of what constituted jazz on the basis of records that had been available since the twenties. Now they were ready to seek out the genuine essence of jazz in night club performances or in the concert halls. Though still of questionable social status jazz could now be heard at the Pleyel or at the Philharmonic. But the audience was still divided between a large, nostalgic cohort advocating the revival of “genuine” jazz, meaning a return to traditional roots, and a much smaller, forward-looking musical avantgarde devoted to bebop and cool jazz.7) Both maintained their set of clubs and associations at a hostile distance and accused eachother of musical treason. Despite these differences of taste the same shock of recognition mobilized its followers. For many jazz fans shared the uncanny feeling that they had not only discovered a new musical genre, but a "new way of being in the world."8) The promise of musical freedom that this music imparted to its fans helps to explain why many white Americans or Europeans described their first encounter with genuine jazz in terms of a religious conversion using a rhetoric of liberation.9) But its detractors were just as adamant. The Afro-American idiom sent shock waves through the nervous system of the American and European establishments. The hysterical level of hostility in the reaction to ragtime by mainstream classical musicians allows us to reconstruct its libidinal and subversive challenge.10) Today ragtime may seem innocent enough, just the thing for encores in classical concerts or for piano students bored with Clementi. But we are the children of the musical and libidinal liberation that ragtime set in motion. For us, as for the little boy in Doctorow's novel Ragtime, "there seemed no other possibilities for life than those delineated by the music". The violent hostility against ragtime on the part of established musicians in the early part of this century was motivated by the pervasive feeling of decline common among the value-conservative ruling classes. The mood was buttressed on both sides of the Atlantic by books such as Madison Grant's The Passing of the Great Race or by Oswald Spengler's Untergang des Abendlandes. From their perspective, ragtime could be read as the tip of the iceberg, as a pathological, immoral, patently sexual, and subversive subtratum of cultural rot. James Joyce called attention to the paralysis of public live, William Butler Yeats diagnosed the lack of a center and Ezra Pound compared civilization to a bitch gone in the teeth. In that scenario of crisis innovators welcomed the new music, traditionalists read it as a symptom of decline. No wonder then that the American composer Daniel Gregory Mason greeted ragtime with the appropriate disgust: “Let us purge America and the Divine Art of Music from this polluting nonsense.” Swiss-born Hans Muck, the director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, concurred, “I think that what you call ragtime is poison . . . A person inoculated with the ragtime fever is like one addicted to strong drink.”11) Others charged that it led to permanent brain damage or that it would curve the spine and wreck the nervous system. Furthermore, “its greatest destructive power lies in its power to lower the moral standards.” A year before the outbreak of World War I, Walter Winston Kenilworth wrote a letter to the Paris editor of the New York Herald Tribune presumably to warn Europeans of this imminent danger to Western culture:
Can it be said that America is falling prey to the collective soul of the Negro through the influence of what is popularly known as “rag time” music? . . . If there is any tendency toward such a national disaster, it should be definitely pointed out and extreme measures taken to inhibit the influence and avert the increasing danger—if it has not already gone too far . . . The American “rag time” or “rag time” evolved music is symbolic of the primitive morality and perceptible moral limitations of the negro type. With the latter sexual restraint is almost unknown, and the widest altitude of moral uncertainty is conceded.12)

A New England music critic with a preference for the European musical tradition concurred and, in jumbled prose which mirrors his nativist angst, continued the argument by defining the role of the Jew in this nefarious plot to destroy Aryan America. And he also highlights the treasonable behavior of the upper classes and nouveaux riches.

Ragtime is a mere comic strip representing American vices. Here is a rude noise which emerged from the hinterlands of brothels and dives, presented in a Negroid manner by Jews most often, so popular that even high society Vanderbilts dance to it. All this syncopated music wasn't American, it is un-American. The Jew and the Yankee stand in human temperance at polar points. The Jew has oriental extravagance and sensuous brilliance. However, ragtime is a reflection of these raucous times; it is music without a soul.13)

These apocalyptic metaphors of decline and degeneracy are by now familiar stuff in the history of jazz and popular music: Orientalism, intoxication, pollution and blatant sensuality, all of these spread by tempting dance, were knocking down the gates of Western culture whose door keepers reacted by strengthening its cultural defenses with a strong dose of sexism and racism.14) They articulate a latent fear of instability and libidinal freedom that White-Anglo-Saxon Protestant cultural custodians associated with the threatening Other, represented at this time by an infectious oriental blight transmitted by Blacks and Jews, a blight that had spread to women as well.15) It would be easy to add similar German, English, French fears of such cultural assaults issuing forth from “mongrelising America”. But why did jazz and ragtime, types of music that seem so innocent and harmless today, provoke such outbursts of apocalyptic endism? A brief phenomenology of jazz may be in order to reconstruct the nature of the collision between "Europe" and "Africa" in order to understand both the anxiety of the fundamentalist international who diagnosed and feared the subversive power of the jazz idiom, and also the deep attraction it held for all non-American dissenters, for occidentals and orientals, for the Arab World, for Indians or Japanese, and particularly for Europeans.16)

Jazz: A Modernist Quest for Liberation

The jazz idiom is best described as an individualistic quest for musical literacy and freedom under conditions of a perpetual contest with peers. In communication with all other musicians the jazz musician must assert his/her individuality by enlarging the collective grammar of jazz expression. Learning from tradition by copying masters, the jazz artist's goal is to overcome peers (and former masters) in the so-called cutting contests. The progress from imitative copying to ironic quotation to critical travesty to creative reconstruction is one of increasing self-discipline and literacy both as player and as composer. Characteristic of jazz are improvisation, open-ended innovation, and versatility, a constant negotiation between travesty, quotation, and masking and a perpetual making it new as a principle of composition. Jazz is dialogic, polyphonic, combative, antiphonal, and it echoes Eliot's modernist paradigm developed in “Tradition and the Individual Talent”. Here is Ellison running jazz through Eliot's changes:

For true jazz is an art of individual assertion within and against the group. Each true jazz moment (as distinct from the uninspired commercial performance) springs from a contest in which each artist challenges all the rest; each solo flight, or improvisation, represents (like the successive canvases of a painter) a definition of his identity: as individual, as member of the collectivity and as a link in the chain of tradition.17)
Each musician when he takes a horn in his hand—trumpet, bass, saxophone, drums—whatever instrument he plays—each soloist, that is, when he begins to ad lib on a given composition with a title and improvise a new creative melody, this man is taking the place of a composer. He is saying, “Listen, I am going to give you a new melodic conception on a tune you are familiar with. I am a composer.” That's what he is saying. I, myself, came to enjoy the players who didn't only swing, but who invented new rhythmic patterns, along with new melodic concepts. And those people are: Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Max Roach, Sonny Rollins, Lester Young, Dizzy Gillespie and Charles Parker, who is the greatest genius of all to me because he changed the whole era around. But there is no need to compare composers. If you like Beethoven, Bach or Brahms, that's okay. They were all pencil composers. I always wanted to be a spontaneous composer.
There is a Japanese visual art in which the artist is forced to be spontaneous. He must paint on a thin stretched parchment with a special brush and black water paint in such a way that an unnatural or interrupted stroke will destroy the line or break through the parchment. Erasures or changes are impossible. These artists must practice a particular discipline, that of allowing the idea to express itself in communication with their hands in such a direct way that deliberation cannot interfere. The resulting picture lacks the complex composition and texture of ordinary painting, but it is said that those who see well find something captured that escapes explanation. This conviction that direct deed is the most meaningful reflection I believe, has prompted the evolution of the extremely severe and unique discipline of the jazz or improvising musician. Group improvisation is a further challenge. Aside from the weighty technical problem of collective coherent thinking, there is the very human, even social need for sympathy from all members to bend for the common result.21)

This modernist challenge to inertia and this drive for innovation have left their traces in song titles: Things to Come, Now's The Time, Tempus Fugit, Thing's Ain't What They Used to Be, Ascension, Giant Steps. In short, the essence of jazz is a constant overcoming, an artistic transcendence of the limitations of the status quo. Jazz lives in a perpetual opposition to existing systems of musical establishment. Jazz expresses for Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray the central drive and function of modernist art, empowering creative free exercize against static establishment. Protest, Ellison argues, should not be the content but the essence of such art “as technical assault against the styles which have gone before.” Stanley Crouch brings the argument home to America when he claims a consanguinity between the spirit of the First Amendment and that of jazz innovation: it is a free exercize of cultural expression.22) The language of jazz is expressive of this deep, propulsive desire.23) Those unwilling to swing through the changes were know as squares, lames or moldy figs, all words expressing stasis and paralysis, whereas jazz musicians have referred to themselves as hepcats, hipsters, swingers, and so on. These terms and those given to the music itself, jazz, boogie-woogie, rock’n’roll, jive imply dance movement, accentuate the centrality of rhythm and also connote sexual activity. Dance and sex provide the libidinal energy and the semantic charges of these names which were often assigned with the intent to denigrate. But some of the fears of its detractors are well founded when we accept their understanding of dance as a potential prelude to sex. There is an ongoing debate over the folk etymologies of the word jazz, and some linguists have identified jazz as a Creole word meaning to speed up, implying orgasm (Merriam). Radical critics have worried about this sexual mortgage of jazz. There has been many a Mr. Clean in black cultural nationalism who wanted to excise the libidinal aura of jazz, and many musicians such as Duke Ellington or Louis Armstrong have been uncomfortable with the term for its denigrating associations.24) But there is no easy way out of a folk etymology or out of a history of ascription marked by a double consciousness on both sides of the color line. Jazz arose as an antirepressive freedom zone in a basically prohibitive society, a society that for a long stretch of its history was hostile to dance, song or sex. In that sense the term did attract and collect a set of desires that the ruling culture deemed - for whatever questionable reasons - subversive.

Jazz did articulate those experiences that do not conform easily to ideology or to attempts at colonization. It is essentially anarchistic, though never undisciplined. This liberating groundbass is one reason why jazz has not fared well in totalitarian systems. In fact, jazz has become a sort of litmus test for exposing authoritarianism and fundamentalism. Therefore it comes as no surprise that not only Stalin and the communist nomenclatura, or Reichsführer der SS Heinrich Himmler and his Nazi thugs, but also American religious fundamentalists and the FBI were united in their resolve to combat this evil, each of them identifying African American music a sly and subversive invention of the enemy. Christian Crusade Publications of Tulsa, Oklahoma, a fundamentalist publishing house, argued toward the end of the Cold War that jazz, Rock'n'Roll, and even Folk were all part of a "Communist music master plan", using the fiendish instrument of dance to brainwash American youth. The call of black rhythms elicited the Pavlovian resonse of moral and political corruption. Conversely Stalinists called American pop music a Trojan horse of capitalism smuggled into the clean and safe world of communism to indoctrinate its youth with African rhythms and thus fill their hearts with the desires of monopoly capitalism. And Nazis diagnosed in jazz a superdestillation of Jewish liberalism.25) The fundamentalist international clearly recognised the liberating potential of jazz. It took its subtly subversive power and seductive charm, particularly for the young, seriously. And it found the antidogmatic and anti-establishmentarian trajectory of jazz threatening to the system. Thelonius Monk would have agreed. He writes in the liner notes to The Complete Vogue Recordings (Mosaic MR 4-112): “The best thing about jazz is that it makes a person appreciate freedom. Jazz and freedom go hand in hand.”

These contours of a jazz aesthetic may help to explain the success story of jazz music in war-ravaged Europe. The success began after WW I as a dancing revolution, and it came into its own after WWII as a radical change in the musical structures of feeling and performance. Let me choose three crucial moments in post-war history in which the process of antagonistic adoption of African American music may be best explained.
Running Jazz through Historical Changes: 1900-1933

The history of the attraction of African American music in Europe begins before and then continues after the Great War. Minstrel Shows and Ragtime had been de rigueur at the Windsor, Wittelsbach, Habsburg and Hohenzollern courts, as were American novelty orchestras and the new dance styles they introduced. James Reese Europe's Hellfighters and Louis Mitchell’s Jazz Kings came as part of the American Expeditionary forces in WW I and toured all over France, a success that spilled over into England. These were jazz-inspired marching and dance orchestras, not jazz formations as we understand them today. Yet the new sounds they introduced into European dance halls and variety theatres were considered radical enough. Many conservative German critics believed that the Americanization of Europe in terms of class and gender would occur first in what was called “Girlkultur” introduced by the “new dancing woman.”26) Heinrich Baumgartner comments on the scene in Zürich: “Jazz was played for the opening of modern variety shows, jazz articulated the difference between old and new dances in the dance schools...”Jazz” in the twenties served as an opposite to 19th century folksy music.”27) The editor of a German avantgarde magazine greeted jazz in April 1925 as follows:
Since we, dear reader, have better things to do than dwell on “decorum” we will talk jazz. The editors note with satisfaction that, when our friends talk about jazz, they are rarely agreed except on one thing: that this evil jazz could mark the beginning of a revolution. And since our journal seeks to track, nay anticipate any obliteration of the conventional, we concur that jazz when played in some dive, or even when heard on a record, is more significant than half a dozen run-of-the-mill nights spent in the concert hall. And it is more serious.. For us jazz means – Americans. Rebellious atavistic instincts against a musical culture devoid of rhythm. Image of the times: chaos, machines, noise, highest pitch of intensity – triumph of the spirit that sparks with a new melody, a new color...It means combating hypocritical Biedermeier which often gets confused with romanticism : Deliver us from Gemütlichkeit.28)

George Antheil, the self-declared Bad Boy of Music, writes that the impact of these black bands was had a similar effect on listening habits as the performance of Stravinsky’s “Sacre du Printemps” in Paris.29) Improvisation and new rhythms were the key differences in a world, where ”durchkomponierte Musik” (Antheil, 218) set the standard against which quality was measured.30) Classical conductor Ernest Ansermet marveled in his article “Sur un orchestre Nègre” published in La Revue romande about the “étonnante perfection, le haut goût” of improvising Black musicians. In particular he praised Sidney Bechet for his “pitiless execution” that reminded him of the rigor of the second Brandenburg Concerto. 31) Clearly Sam Woodings Orchestra or the bands of Louis Mitchell and of Jack Hylton that were features of the cabaret and dance scene in Weimar Germany did not deserve such effusive praise.
Indeed in Weimar Germany there was little exposure to real jazz before 1925. One reason for the relative paucity of jazz performances was hyperinflation. American jazz musicians could not expect to make the sort of money in Berlin that they received in England or France. Yet, this did not diminish the hunger for novelty music. It was Ernst Krenek’s opera Jonny spielt auf that did more to spread an enthusiasm for jazz, although his music and particularly the hit single “Jonnys Blues” had little to do with the original article. Instead Krenek's approximations of jazz helped to establish a certain Weimar jazz surrogate that Adorno would find so offensive later on. As J. Bradford Robinson puts it, the Weimar jazz age was a creation not so much of the sophisticated audience, but of the media and political class who raised the spectre of Americanisation to whip up emotions. (Robinson, 107).

Professional agents, American and European, moved into the Weimar music market after the middle twenties to introduce this music to hungry audiences. Josephine Baker and Paul Whiteman became fixtures of the entertainment scene. But also less well-known “converts” to jazz such as Lud Gluskin played a key role. After 1925 records began to change the mode of jazz reception. Gluskin was a classical percussionist who hired first-rate American musicians and made a great number of records in Germany; so did the Italo-American Michael Danzi in Berlin. Of all white ethnics the Italo-Americans and Jewish Americans were most instrumental in translating black music into a white structure of feeling. Though few of these recorded groups mastered the central elements of “jazz” and of Afro-American musical performance that Ansermet had admired in Sidney Bechet’s playing, they brought approximations of black music making to Europe.32) And all of them tried to meet a desire for “new sounds” which characterized Europe at the break of modernism.

Rather than attempt to describe the complex process of individual musical borrowing and adaptation in a historiographical narrative of clear sequences and genealogies—which would falsify the record—let me try to analyze the question: what made jazz, or whatever passed for jazz, so attractive to Europeans. This relates to questions of codes, of semiotics, of conventions. It touches on the nature of symbolic exchanges based on complex systems of signs and on conventions of organizing musical messages.

Jazz was perceived as quintessentially American precisely by virtue of its incorporation of the African musical idiom. The African part of it, most of all rhythm and improvisation, made it so different from well-tempered European traditions. In a much quoted article for Modern Music in1927 Aaron Copland named the essential contribution of jazz the “metamorphosis of rhythm from ragtime to jazz” culminating in the handling of polyrhythms.33) Secondly jazz filled the emblem of the age that Ezra Pound defined as “Make IT New” with instant meaning. It is more than just accidental that Ezra Pound and the Vorticists emphasized the centrality of “biorhythms” for a regeneration of poetry which they, like the Futurists before them, tried to free from all previous encrustations.34) Both movements used images of rhythm and dance as metaphors for the renewal of poetic energies. Jazz could be used as a strategic instrument to mark the “rhythmic” secession from the older European culture. It fit the futurist notion of “anti-passatismo” and answered Marinetti’s call: “who will deliver us from Greece or Rome?” with a resounding “America.” J.A. Rogers in his article “Jazz at home” for The New Negro (1925) quotes classical conductor Leopold Stokowski to the effect that:
The Negro Musicians of America are playing a great part in this change. They have an open mind, and unbiassed outlook. They are not hampered by conventions or traditions, and with their new ideas, their constant experiment, they are causing new blood to flow in the veins of music. The jazz players make their instruments do entirely new things, things finished musicians are taught to avoid. They are pathfinders into new realms.

Jazz gave a popular and vernacular frisson to the feeling of crisis and secession. It heralded a new relationship to reality and it lampooned the pretension of the European bourgeois world in that it was decidedly anti-status quo. Rather than invoke the “Nightmare of History” (Eliot) in semi-tragic tones, it ignored it. When Yeats said “the center does not hold,” jazz urged to throw it away and do the shimmy. And most of all it was an anti-representative art. It was also an avantgardist gesture in that it projected not only a music but a new way of living. For jazz, this is a consensus of musicians and fans, involves not only a musical genre, but a new approach to lived culture. It was a multi-ethnic hybrid, an antidote to any kind of cultural nationalism and chauvinism, and therefore it was never an exclusive music with limited access. Hence its political undertow was antithetical to what made the older Europe tick. Whereas the latter was set on social hierarchies, national cultures and the maintenance of boundaries of class and gender, jazz defied any such constraints. In the emerging metropolitan culture it was the ideal vehicle for breaking conventions and going slumming with style. No wonder the Cunards, Vanderbilts and the new urban working class fell for it, all at the same time.

What was the artistic and ideological meaning of jazz in the modernist German and French avantgardes? The reception of “Amerikanismus” that traveled under the auspices of “modernization” included Henry Ford’s cars next to jazz and emancipated, dancing flappers. It fit into the general dynamism of the period. Though New Orleans jazz was in good measure based on the rural musics of recent migrants it matured as an urban and cosmopolitan music providing entertainment for the emerging metropolis. The new music from America seemed to answer the call of futurist Luigi Russolo, the inventor of noise machines, for “street noises, atonality and irregular rhythms.” This is Russolo's revolutionary manifesto “The Art of Noises” of 1913:
If we go through a great modern capital with our ears more alert than our eyes, we can delight in distinguishing the murmur of water, air and gas in metal pipes, the mutter of motors, breathing and pulsing like animals, the throbbing of valves, the thudding of pistons, the screeching of mechanical saws, the jolting of a tram on its trails, the cracking of whips, the flapping of curtains and flags.35)

The urban structure of feeling and carnivalesque sentiment of jazz was not alien to the formerly rural an now urban folk carving out a new life in American and European cities. For it was structurally an open form with a penchant for innovation and incorporation of the other. Hence over time jazz, by absorbing and nostrifying local musical traditions, mutated into a wide spectrum of variants; there is New Orleans style, Dixieland, Swing, Bebop and Free Jazz and there are Italian, French, Gypsy, Klezmer, Indian, Japanese, and North African Jazz variants. It fraternized with Dada and Surrealism which sought out the unconscious and the Other. Not surprisingly many of the surrealists were avid jazz fans. 36). It was a fitting music for the industrialized world, a fact noticed by Hektor Rottweiler (alias Th. Adorno in 1936), though he then went on to call jazz proto-fascist, one of the most egregious misjudgments in the history of music.37) Jazz both in its instruments of choice and modes of reproduction used modern technology, but never succumbed to a taylorisation of rhythm. Its motto was make it new, but not quite on the beat; hence Adorno's allegations of taylorisation misses a central point of jazz. At its avant-garde spear-head it had an built-in resistance against such commodification. Yet, it allowed participation on many levels of increasing or decreasing sophistication since it reached out both downward to its folk roots and upward to the avantgarde. It loved to go slumming, but it aimed high in creative standards. Now wonder then that many composers within the classical avantgarde took it seriously. Yet, it fit into the New Urban Capitalism since it was part of the new leisure and entertainment industry. It used ready-made and collage as a principle of composition. It sat well with the new anthropology of primitivism since it included non-Western elements so popular among artists at the time.38) It encouraged the new internationalism of artistic cohorts which networked all principal cities from New York to Moscow to Zürich to Munich to Paris to London and Berlin. In short, jazz was a traveling, networking, urban music of the first order, hence mirroring and anticipating patterns of modern migration and secession.

Its evolutionary trajectory from New Orleans to Bebop sedimented after 1945 into a sociomusical stratification model which reached from so-called moldy figs of traditional jazz to hepcats of Bebop. On all levels of reception it was a social music since it encouraged certain forms of urban sociability comprising not only music, but dress and language. It was an urban lingua franca ready to be used and adopted by anyone. It lacked barriers against any cultural appropriation by film, variety or dance hall. Indeed there was a dual affinity between jazz and the avant-garde: both exhibit and pursue a hermeneutics of depth that tries bring up repressed feelings, strike through hypocritical masks, evoke the primitive. Yet both love surfaces with a penchant for Kitsch and trash, with appeals to populist modernism and modern marketing strategies. The second affinity ties in with its habitus of liberation concerning gender and race. A rhetoric and gesture of freedom characterize both jazz and the avant-garde. Emanipated “American girls” and jazz went hand in hand. To befriend black musicians implied a gesture of anti-colonialism. Secondly it meant a liberation of western hegemonic forms of representation and it invited a pluralism of styles as a reflection of a new international anthropology. Indeed it would be interesting to investigate the triangulation of jazz, surrealism and anthropology in the academic agendas of the French avant-garde of the twenties and thirties. Jazz was also seen as part of a new interest in African art and socalled primitve art. It was in Schiller's term a “naive” expression, straight from the heart, unreflected and “automatic” as in the experimental “automatic writing,” an oral tradition based on the art of improvisation. The Harlem Renaissance had called for the “New Negro,” a cause taken up in Europe by highly placed individuals such as Nancy Cunard the black sheep of a dynasty who edited one of the most important anthologies of Black arts with several important articles on black music translated by Samuel Becket.39) Last but not least was the hope for a (largely projected) liberation of the senses which was mirrored in the above-mentioned anxiety of the establishment that jazz through its transmission by emancipated dancing “girls” would lead to sexual libertinism.40) Weimar of course did and could not keep up the frenzied energy of the late twenties. When Hitler came to power the market for jazz had already gone into decline. Though the Nazis were secretly addicted to the glamour of modern, industrializing America there was no room the universe of Adolf Hitler for the liberating modernism of jazz.

Swinging Nazis?

In Nazi Germany jazz was first criminalized and then after 1938 forbidden. While it went underground in Germany, it found a refuge in Nazi-occupied Paris. Django Reinhardt, the Hot Club de France, Charles Delauney, Hugue Pannassie and later André Hodeir were important French promoters of jazz, a firm base on which the post-war generation would build. During the thirties few American musicans held on to employment in Germany, and the onset of the Second World War effectively stopped the activity of American musicians in Europe as transmitters of jazz. Yet jazz flourished despite the Nazi ideology, which classified it as degenerate art (verjudete und vernegerte Musik). One of the most interesting chapters in the history of jazz is its survival in Nazi Germany, and in the areas occupied by Hitler's army: The spiritual and physical threat by dictatorship, militarism, fascism gave rise to the astonishing phenomenon, that the jazz life flourished with a remarkable intensity. Jazz was the incarnation of freedom, democracy, individualism. Jazz was the symbolic resistance to repression and Gleichschaltung, writes Rainer E. Lotz.41) Bonding between German and French jazz fans endured the political conflict. Dietrich Schulz-Köhn, who served as a high ranking German officer in Paris, and Charles Delauney, who was a member of the cultural resistance, remained good friends. Schulz-Köhn was able to protect his jazz friends in Paris and he did so with little interference from his superiors. There was an interesting ideological split at the top levels of the Nazi brass. Though officially jazz was considered a non-Aryian music, many of the young SS officers openly appreciated the innovative “modernity” of jazz and patronized bands that could play the “new” music. In that sense jazz profited from the double consciousness of German Nazis who were torn between ideological traditionalism and sociotechnical modernisation. Young Nazis could not quite make up their minds whether jazz was a child of “modernism” and hence degenerate, or a product of Henry Ford’s modernisation and hence in tune with the Aufbruch. Jazz managed to survive in this margin of ambiguity. Only when jazz fans began acting up against the system and became a “public nuisance” for the authorities, as did the Swing boys in Hamburg, the machinery of repression was rolled out. In a letter of the “Reichsführers der SS” to Heydrich dated 16. January 1942, Heinrich Himmler gives voice to his profound hatred for the lifestyle represented by the Swing boys:
The entire leadership, male and female, and all teachers that are hostile to the Nazi movement and supportive of swing are to be put in concentration camps. There youths should be whipped, be given strenuous exercises and put to hard labor. Just any work or youth camp will not do for this scum and their good-for-nothing female fans . . . Only by setting a brutal example will we be able to stop this anglophyle [sic] tendency from spreading at a time when Germany is fighting for her existence.42)

But Himmler's repressive apparatus did not cover all areas or penetrate all strata. Schulz-Köhn claims that jazz enjoyed “Narrenfreiheit” in occupied France.43) In Germany popular orchestras dropped the word jazz from their names, but continued to play jazz-inspired music. Some simply rechristened evergreens; thus “How High the Moon” could pass as “Serenade an den Mond” and “Tiger Rag” became a harmless fun-piece “Schwarzer Panther.” My oldest brother who served as a musician at the Russian front never had to abandon jazz as his muse. In the later phases of the war "hot music" or Swing were played as a lagniappe for the rank and file, and the Nazi regime employed a jazz combo for purposes of subversive propaganda. Hence in the history of jazz in Germany there was no “zero hour,” there was not a new beginning after 1945. The disruption occurred mostly on a personal level, since the Nazi and War period had ended the constant influx of musicians from America to Europe and thus had terminated the influx of new sounds.

Jazz as subversive reeducation after 1945

The stream of American musicians and their music resumed after 1945 with a renewed intensity. Channeled by the American armed forces and its need for entertainment the exchange of musicians continues to this day. This time jazz came back within the political frame of occupation, reeducation, and the Cold War .44) Though Americans had come as victors after both wars, in 1945 the collapse of German culture was so complete that it lacked any authority particularly for its young: it had abgedankt. On the microsocial level of everyday praxis American democracy entered as a “swinging” democracy. As children we noticed how different the G.I.s walked and talked.45) The liberating motor behavior of the American jazz culture signified, when adopted by German jazz fans, a tacit political statement and marked a political place in the post-war, cold-war spectrum. Who had hated Jazz? Victorians, Nazis, the conservative restoration in Germany, J. Edgar Hoover, Stalin, the Klan and Fundamentalist religions. The choice was clear.

Let me briefly summarize a generational conflict that this bastard of American culture helped to radicalise. The post-war generation of adults born before 1920 who had lived through the Nazi period and through the ravages of the war had lost their own political culture; willy nilly they embraced the political system of the “Schutzmacht USA” since all alternatives, monarchy, dictatorship and fascism, had been tried and found wanting. It helped that the old anti-communism of the Nazis translated smoothly into the new anti-communism of the Cold War making instant Cold War democrats out of many a devout Nazi. As a consequence of the ideological vacuum this older generation opted for a pragmatic and at times cynical acceptance of Western Democracy as a lesser evil. Yet, their grudging acceptance of American policy was accompanied by an almost visceral rejection of all American populist, mass or grass roots culture. The Nazi indoctrination against American modernist “jazz-culture” as represented by Weimar had enjoyed a wide popular base that continued into post war restoration. Indeed the "fiasco of Weimar" was regularly trotted out as an instance of “moral political decay,” an experiment that should be avoided at all cost. And there was a tacit understanding that the decline of Weimar Germany had in part been caused by the liberalization of its culture through American influences. This gave a negative political spin to the avantgardes and secessions as well that had been interested in the jazz idiom. The pro-American politics of the Adenauer restoration was therefore enveloped in a total rejection of American pop culture. “Boy, turn off that nigger music,” was heard in many German homes during the fifties.

While Dad embraced the Cold War rigidities of John Foster Dulles, the post-war generation of youngsters was marching to a different drummer. They wanted a radical political break with the authoritarian past and had many questions to ask their parents. Hence they embraced modernist culture, high or pop, because their parents rejected it, and they also began to have doubts about the hidden logic of the Cold War which framed their parent's world. If Hitler and Goebbels had been against jazz, there had to be something to it. If Konrad Adenauer and Hans Globke were for authoritarian restoration, the young pulled the other way.46) But jazz served not only as a boundary marker against older totalitarian or authoritarian systems, but also as an instrument that could be marshalled against current American racist practice. After the ideological moratorium of the fifties had run its course young Germans began to ask questions about the American handling of Civil Rights which made the parent generation furious. To younger Germans the deeply racialised nature of jazz was quite apparent; hence a natural coalition between German jazz fans and Civil Rights activists began to emerge. The second, post-war generation made a critical choice in what it would accept from the US: popular mass democratic modernism yes, Cold War pathology and racism no.

American Blacks were perceived both as victors and as victims of the victors. Their balancing act between European musical achievement and American racist ascription was quickly noticed and understood by their fans. To their own surprise Black musicians became a role model for European jazz musicians and for the young. Whereas in Europe the color line became increasingly more perforated, it remained firmly in place within the military ghetto. This situation radicalised their double consciousness. As American citizens and soldiers they remained in the prisonhouse of American racism, as jazz musicians they enjoyed universal acceptance in Europe. And their musical talent, so strongly appreciated by the European young, remained unacknowledged or grudgingly acknowledged by the white American musical power structure. The special care accorded to Black American jazz artists by Europeans at first caused some consternation, and it took awhile before the State Department recognized their value as a weapon in the Cold War. Reinhold Wagnleitner puts it in a nutshell: "jazz, rock'n'roll, and Hollywood did not need U.S. cultural propaganda as desperately as U.S. cultural propaganda needed jazz, rock'n'roll and Hollywood."47) And in 1961 Louis Armstrong signifies on the belated discovery of jazz as a political instrument in the Cold War: “The State Department has discovered jazz.”48) Meanwhile, for Germans riding on this racial dilemma was a way of compensating for the collapse of their world by pointing out the flaws in the victor's moral order. Having learned the lesson of anti-racism from the American teacher the embrace of black jazz was a way of returning the moral lesson. Earlier, Paris had given refuge to the Lost Generation and to Josephine Baker; now a variety of European cities became the favored place for black and white jazz expatriates: Examples were Oscar Pettiford, Herb Geller, Mal Waldron in Germany, Kenny Clarke, Bud Powell in France. Don Byas in Holland, Dexter Gordon in Denmark.

In contrast to Weimar, when dance halls dominated the process of adoption, after 1945 the communication systems and distribution circuits had become more professional, particularly radio, which became now the chief vehicle of musical communication. After radio the second most important multipliers of jazz were the clubs. Transnational jazz cohorts emerged from the automatic fraternization of musicians in post-war occupation Germany. Here the armed forces and its instititons served as multipliers, since German musicians found their first employment in G.I. clubs and German jazz fans found in the American Forces Network radio a new jazz friend. After 1950 a German club scene began to evolve and became an important element of youth culture in Germany. These were places of the jazz avant-garde with a bohemian touch and with that gesture of existentialism provided by the Paris left bank. And these German clubs were in turn patronized by Black musicians who were made to feel welcome. Gigs ran from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., eight hours of slave labor as Naura, the pianist, says. He called them the coal mines of German jazz. These were the training stations for the “imitative period” or according to Naura “plagiarist period” of German jazz. In his own case, Naura says, he changed his role models like shirts and graduated over time from George Shearing to Dave Brubeck to the Modern Jazz Quartet. It was typical for the jazz socialization of German musicians that as a first step musical fathers were chosen who were still figurable within classical, European music-making, then a gradual conversion to black models and only at end of 50s a turn to hardbop. This German evolution of a club scene was an unexpected spin-off of the project of reeducation, for the top brass at State or OMGUS had not considered jazz as part of the curriculum. But Jazz clubs begtan to serve as a high modernist countercultural alternative to Nazi culture. Until the end of the forties the Club scene of the military was an important vehicle of transit. Since most white American clubs favored hillbilly or Hawai hits, German musicians gravitated to the black clubs where jazz was being played. Albert Mangelsdorf, the most prominent German jazz musician after WWII writes:
We always tried to get gigs with black units. There we could play our type of music and still be appreciated...At any rate it was a lot simpler to play jazz for black soldiers than in white clubs where we met resistance and had to play hillbilly (Hauber, 369).

Public Radio in each occupational zone played a crucial role. Within the system of federal autonomy that emerged after 1945 in Germany each regional radio station had a big band, and employment opportunities for jazz musicians proliferated at the NWDR, SDR, SWF, BR, HR, SFB, RIAS, ORF radio stations. Hence there existed the odd situation that post-War Germany and Austria had more publicly funded big bands than the US, and the orchestras of Kurt Edelhagen, Willy Berking, Franz Thon, and Werner Müller were only too glad to hire well-trained, expatriate Americans; and these liked the steady income. The music these orchestras played remained imitative and merely borrowed from American jazz. There was little creative freedom in the early phase, and Bebop, Swing, Boogie-Woogie, Dixieland were all played in a generic jumble. However, these bands were places of employment for those musicians who were tired of the underpaid club scene.

Jazz concerts became cultural ritual events for young Germans. Public jazz concerts began in the early fifties and provided a platform for national bonding among jazz fans. During the sixties jazz festivals in Germany became increasingly European and were soon an important pillar of the international jazz market. By the 1970s the public jazz concert scene in Europe had become a most important source of income for American jazz musicians whose home markets had been taken over by Rock’n Roll. Without the European fan support the American jazz avant-garde would have collapsed.

The role of radio cannot be overestimated. Attractive was the foreign language aura of the British and American Forces Network stations, but most of all their excellent programs in American music. These programs created listening communities and role models: Bill Crozier's « Cool Corner » in the BFN, or the lighthearted « Luncheon in Munchen » of the AFN, and Sim Copans and Lucien Malson on France Musique. Most important was Willis Connover, anchor man of the “Voice of America Jazz Hour” broadcast via Tangier at 9 p.m. on short wave and at midnight on long wave. Willis Connover created conspiratorial listening communities all over the world, but particularly in Central and Eastern Europe and, like Sim Copans in France and Joachim Ernst Berendt in Germany, created the wetlands for the growth of American Studies. There is hardly an early American studies career that does not involve a commitment to American music. At school jazz friends from vastly different age groups would form groups and cohorts. Typical visiting patterns emerged in my community between those who had the best radio and who had records. Among the ritualistic paraphernalia necessary for these listening sessions were Nescafé, French cigarettes (Gauloise), black Bebop clothes, berets, and a laconic, cool style. Underneath the Cold War there existed the subculture of the "Cool War". I remember listening to Miles Davis and Bud Powell with Rolf-Dieter Brinckmann, the German beat poet for whom jazz became an important lyrical muse.

Records and record collecting grew into a ritual fad. I recall getting my first shellack record from my oldest brother in the early fifties: Oscar Peterson playing Jumping with Symphony Sid and Get Happy. During the Nazi period there had been a veritable cult among the truly addicted of collecting those very records which were “verboten”. After the war record companies emerged that serviced the European jazz fans: Jazztone Society marketed a rather sophisticated program of traditional and modern jazz on 10-inch long play records. The (musically excellent) Jazz Sampler of the Jazztone Society became for many the first affordable long-playing record.

Jazz of course remained embedded in the larger cultural scene. While Jazz transported a good deal of its American musical significance, it soon acquired a German social and artistic meaning. European existentialism, which included a denial of all older models of European normativeness, functioned as a receptive, cognitive mode for jazz. Indeed, Jazz became the musical accompaniment to reading Sartre, even to reading Heidegger. It was music for the isolation of the hipster, for what Mailer means in his influential essay “The White Negro” and for the “Protean man” of the Beat Generation. There was an interesting cognitive difference, if not a pattern of mutual misapprehension. In America jazz was the chosen music of a small elite, but was stuck with a low social status that was inevitably weighted down by its racial heritage; in Europe it was received as countercultural avant-garde, as an existential, ceremonial music, as a secret code, a language of the initiated, and it was decidedly not lower class. America's “nigger music” was Europe's social and artistic avant-garde. Certainly, for Europeans the “black connection” did not have any social connotations or carried a racialist mortgage. It took awhile before the State Department realized what an important and effective instrument jazz could be in the Cold War to catch the attention of the elites.

The “downward percolation model” ("gesunkenes Kulturgut") and the elite vs. popular classifications are inadequate models to situate jazz in a cultural hierarchy. We need a differentiated model of historical agents making choices. On the other hand, the question of hegemony and power relations persists, particularly in the allocation of public funding. There is an interesting development in terms of jazz in the German public sphere. Since the sixties many small municipal communities in Germany (Moers, Freiburg, Burghausen, Unterschleißheim, Darmstadt) have set aside public funding and become supporters of jazz. Metropolitan centers continue to be global players in the world of opera and theatre and often have no funds left for jazz. This choice is of course a function of budget size since jazz is not quite as costly as buying James Levine. In this context it would be interesting to compare the American and European legitimization of jazz as culture by using the measuring stick of public or municipal funding.49) Clearly there are differences in the stratification of culture in America and stratification of culture in Europe. Also in the degrees of commodification of music, particularly of jazz which spans the entire gamut from highly commodified to elite and avant-garde forms. Hence it covers the entire spectrum of cultural stratification; yet there is also an all embracing tolerance in most jazz audiences and a continued conspiracy. Today, American music and jazz are as German as Schweinebraten. In the popular sphere, Dixieland has by now become the aging urban professional's Ersatz for Ompah brass bands and is now played in Bavarian beergardens. Mainstream jazz has become a “quotidian vernacular” and has lost its elite appeal. Indeed, jazz radio stations in Munich or Berlin are beginning to show a slightly anti-intellectual slant catering to a professional, non-academic group. An important, even remarkable event was the first exhibition documenting one hundred years in the history of jazz organized by Ekkehard Joost and Joachim Ernst Berendt in 1988.50) It was the first serious exhibit of its kind in the world, and it may surprise that this event was not staged by cities important in the evolution of jazz such as New Orleans, Chicago or New York, or at least by European centers such as Paris or Berlin. Instead a provincial city in Southwest Germany, Darmstadt, albeit one with an older commitment to avantgarde modernism honored this by now global music. Surely this adoption of jazz into regional, municipal cultural politics is the conclusive evidence that jazz has become as German as spaetzle—or as Jewish as matzo or as Japanese as shushi or as French as steak and frites. In short it is a global idiom stabilized worldwide by regional variants that have begun to grow local roots thanks to inspired workers in the vineyard of jazz who advertized its call to freedom word-wide.


1). Alan P. Merriam & Fradley H. Garner, “Jazz-The Word,” in: Robert O'Meally, ed., The Jazz Cadence of American Culture (New York: Columbia University Press 1998); Paul Oliver. “Jazz is Where you Find it: the European experience of jazz.” In Chris Bigsby, ed. Superculture. (Bowling Green: University Popular Press 1975.) For a fine overview of the aesthetics and meaning of jazz see Stefan Richter. Zu einer Ästhetik des Jazz. (Frankfurt: Peter Lang) 1995. Eric Hobsbawm explains how “Jazz Comes to Europe,” in Uncommon People. (New York: New Press 1998) 265-273. Among classical critics Henry Pleasants and William Austin deserve credit for calling attention to the leading role of jazz as a modernist avantgarde. Henry Pleasants Serious Music – and All That Jazz. New York: Simon & Schuster 1969 and William Austin Music in the 20th Century New York: Norton, 1966.

2) Paul Berliner. Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation. (Chicago: U. Chicago 1994)

3). Art Hodes. Selections from the Gutter. Berkeley: Univ. Of California Press 1977. Ann Douglass. „Ragging and Slanging“. Terrible Honesty. Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s. New York: Giroux, Farrar & Strauss 1995.

4). Berndt Ostendorf. «What Makes American Popular Culture so Popular : A View from Europe. Amerikastudien in print. See also Henry Pleasants « Introduction » Serious Music -. And All That Jazz.

5). But then the waltz was accused by reactionary circles at the time of the Vienna congress for having caused the French revolution. Fritz Giese. « Das tanzende Amerika » Velhagen & Klasings Monatshefte 41, 11 (July 1927), 542-48. Also his Girlkultur. Vergleiche zwischen amerikanischem und europäischem Rhythmus und Lebensgefuehl. Munich 1925. 6). Guenter Berghaus. « Girlkultur-Feminism, Americanism and Popular Entertainment in Weimar Germany. » Journal of Design History. Vol 1. Nos.3-4, 193-219. Siegfried Krakauer became an eloquent commentator of the new urban culture.

7). Berndt Ostendorf, “Bebop und die Beat Generation: Avantgarden oder Subkulturen,” Amerikastudien/American Studies, Jg. 30, 4 (1985):509-535.

8). Jazz and Americanism were related to a new « body feeling ». Rudolf Kayser writes in Vossische Zeitung: « To it corresponds the new appearance of the European : beardless, with sharp profile, determined gaze, narrow, steeled body, and of the new type of women : boyish, linear, lively in gesture and gait. In general, the method of Americanism strongly expresses itself in physical terms, in the body-soul. » See also Paul F. Berliner. « Jazz as a Way of Life. » Thinking in Jazz. The Infinite Art of Improvisation. Chicago. U. Chicago Press 1994.

9). Mezz Mezzrow describes it so in Really the Blues. Cf. my review of Jeffrey Melnick, A Right to Sing the Blues. African Americans. Jews, and American Popular Song (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press 1999) 275 S. Jon Parish. The Color of Jazz. Race and Representation in Postwar American Culture (Jackson: University of Mississippi, 1997) 165 S, Jahrbuch für Volksliedforschung, forthcoming.

10). Neil Leonard, “The Reactions to Ragtime,” in John Edward Hasse, ed., Ragtime. Its History, Composers, and Music (New York: Schirmer, 1985).

11). On the role of German-Americans in trying to elevate American musical taste in the late 19th century and to stave off the native American influence see my “The Diluted Second Generation: German-Americans in Music 1870-1920,” in German Worker's Culture in the US: 1850-1920, Hg. Hartmut Keil (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1988) 261-287.

12). “Demoralizing Ragtime Music,” Musical Courier 66 (21 May 1913): 22-23.

13). Quoted in Kenneth Aaron Kanter, The Jews on Tin Pan Alley (New York: Ktav Publishing House, 1982). See my review in Popular Music, vol.4, (Cambridge University Press 1984), 323-327. More on the theme of Jewish-Yankee opposition in music in McDonald Smith Moore, Yankee Blues: Musical Culture and American Identity, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985). See my review in Popular Music vol. 6, no. 3, October 1987. In that context the music of Henry Franklin Belknap Gilbert (1868-1928) is of interest. Gilbert, a classical composer, wrote a number of pieces with a ragtime inflection: "Comedy Overture on Negro Themes" (1905) and "Dance in Place Congo," (1906-8) which was rejected by Karl Muck as "niggah music" unfit for the concert hall. He then rewrote it as a ballet score with a premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in 1918. By this time the shock of hearing negro inflections in classical music had worn off, and reviews of his earlier works were quite favorable, but Gilbert withdrew from what he called his "Negro phase". Charles Hamm. Music in the New World. (New York: The Norton Company 1983), 419-20.

14) A bestseller of the time, Otto Weininger's Geschlecht und Charakter which saw 17 editions between 1904 and 1928 and which was read by all modernists spells out the oriental temptation. Most classical composers of the time were dismissive of jazz. See Henry Pleasants “American Music and the Musical Establishment.” In: Serious Music... op. cit. 112ff.

15). It is no accident that E.L. Doctorow’s chose the title Ragtime for his novel that pivots on the modernizing shock of the new. The traditional American world is represented by father, orthodox Europe by Jewish Tateh before his conversion; the “liberated” modern and popular world is consummated in the marriage of Tateh, the film tycoon, and mother, who in that encounter discovers her own sleeping beauty. And all of these conversions are energized by the musical color line. See my "The Musical World of Doctorow`s Ragtime," American Quarterly Vol. 43, No. 4 (December 1991), 579-601. Cf also my ”Some Contradictions in the Americanization-of-Germany Debate,” in Elliott Shore and Frank Trommler, ed. Being Present in the Other Culture. New York: Berghahn Books 2001

16). See my "Anthropology, Modernism, and Jazz" in: Harold Bloom (Hg.). Ralph Ellison. (New York: Chelsea House, 1986), 145-172 for a fuller statement.

17). “The Charlie Christian Story,” Shadow and Act. New York: New American Library 1966, 229. More about the jazz aesthetic in Albert Murray and John Callahan, eds. Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray. (New York: Modern Library 2000). Reviewed by Darryl Pinckney “Riffs,” New York Review of Books, (January 11, 2001) p. 19-23.

18). « The Negro on the Spiral or A Method of Negro Music » in Nancy Cunard, ed. Negro--An Anthology. (1933) New York : Frederick Ungar 1970.

19). The ideal of spontaneous composition was formulated by the Futurist spokesman Marinetti as a central goal for the renewal of the arts as early as 1912 in his Teoria e invenzione futurista. It sounds surprisingly similar to the Bill Evans quote (footnote 18), even in the choice of the brain-hand analogy: "The creative spirit liberates itself suddenly from the weight of all obstacles and becomes, somehow, prey of a strange spontaneity in conception and execution. The hand that writes seems to detach itself from the body, extend itself freely and stays far away from the brain. Then, the head also begins to detach itself from the body and becomes light, looking from above onto the unexpected sentences that flow from the pen." Quoted in Guenter Berghaus, "Futurism, Dada, and Surrealism: Some Cross-Fertilisations Among the Historical Avantgardes." in Berghaus ed. International Futurism in Arts and Literature. Berlin, New York, Walter de Gruyter 2000, 297. Gerald L. Bruns defines improvisation aptly: "It is deliberate but undeliberated." Inventions: Writing, Textuality and Understanding in Literary History. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press 1982, 145.

20). Literary modernism emphasised rhythm as the central structuring force in poetry. Ezra Pound and the Vorticists considered dance rhythms the most genuine creative energy. Cf. Hubertus Gaessner. « Der Vortex – Intensität als Entschleunigung. « Karin Orchard, ed. Vortizismus – Die erste Avantgarde in England 1914-18. Berlin and Hannover. Ars Nicolai 1996.

21). This remarkable session is described by Ashley Kahn. A Kind of Blue : the Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece. London : Granta 2001.

22). Stanley Crouch. "Blues to be Constitutional..." in: O'Meally, ed. The Jazz Cadence of American Culture, 154-165.

23). Benny Golson and Jim Merod. « Forward Motion. » in : O'Meally, ed. The Jazz Cadence of American Culture, 32-61.

24). The locus classicus of such discomfort caught in the logic of a binary killer opposition is Frantz Fanon's Black Skins, White Masks. (London: Weidenfeld 1968) where on page 124 he summarizes the primitive ascription of the imperial gaze: "Eyah! The tom-tom chatters out the cosmic message. Only the Negro has the capacity to convey it, to decipher its meaning, its import...Black Magic primitive mentality, animism, animal eroticism, it all floods over me...Yes, we are – we Negroes – backward, simple, free in our behavior."

25). Berndt Ostendorf. "Rhythm, Riots and Revolution: Political Paranoia, Cultural Fundamentalism and African American Music." In Ragnhild Fiebig-von Hase and Ursual Lehmkuhl, eds. Enemy Images in American History. (New York, Berghan Books 1998), 159-182.

26). Manuela Thurner, « Girls, Girls, Girls –The American Girl inherits Old Europe through Dance », Girlkultur and Kulturfeminismus. Gender and Americanism in Weimar Germany 1918-1933. Ph.D. Diss. Yale Univ. Dec. 1999. Thurner shows convincingly how « gendered » the jazz reception was in Germany. A conservative critic introduced his guide to a happy marriage with the words : « Marriage is no jazz », 184.

27). Heinrich Baumgartner. 'Jazz' in den zwanziger Jahren in Zürich. (Zürich : Hug & Co 1989), 36.

28). Paul Stefan "Jazz " , Musikblätter des Anbruch 7.4 (April 1925)1.

29) James Snead submits the explanation that Stravinsky's Petrushka and Sacre du printemps "resemble black musical forms not just in their relentless "foregrounding" of rhythmic elements and their use of the "cut" but also in being primarly designed for use in conjunction with dancers." "Repetition as a figure of Black Culture." In R. O'Meally The Jazz Cadence of American Culture (New York: Columbia 1998.)

30) "The Negro on the Spiral or A Method of Negro Music." In: Nancy Cunard, ed. Negro: An Anthology (1933) (repr. New York: Frederick Ungar 1970). One of the best short analyses of jazz in Weimar is J. Bradford Robinson. "Jazz Reception in Weimar Germany: in search of a shimmy figure", in: Bryan Gilliam, ed. Music and performance during the Weimar Republic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 107-34. The book by Paul Bernhard. Jazz. Eine musikalische Zeitfrage. (München : Delphin Verlag 1927) represents an early and impassioned plea for the acceptance of jazz. Rumor has it that it was written by the musicologist Bernhard Diebold. He predicts: "The characteristic sound of the European orchestra will have to change. The primacy of rhythm looms large." He concludes his book: If any form of creativity is capable of healing the European soul, then it would be jazz-inspired music. It has the force to unify the world across social and ethnic differences (110). For Jazz in Weimar see also Bernd Hoffmann, "Alptraum der Freiheit oder: Die Zeitfrage Jazz." In: Rösing, Hellmut, ed. "Es liegt in der Luft was Idiotisches..." Populäre Musik zur Zeit der Weimarer Republik. Baden-Baden 1995, 69-81.William Austin places jazz next to Stravinsky and Schönberg in terms of importance for the music of the 20th century in Music in the 20th Centur.

31). E.Ansermet, "Sur un orchestre Nègre", La Revue Romande. IIIe serie, No. 10. 15 Octobre 1919,10-13. Reprinted in Anette Hauber, Ekkehard Jost, Klaus Wolbert. Hg. That's Jazz. Der Sound des 20. Jahrhunderts. Catalogue of the Jazz exhibition. (Matildenhöhe, Darmstadt, May 29-August 28, 1988.) "

32). Recorded examples on : Jazz in Deutschland I & II. Munich, Historia H 630-631.

33) Aaron Copland. The New Music 1900-1960. New York: Norton 1968,64.

34). Hubertus Gassner, « DerVortex – Intensität als Entschleunigung » in : Karin Orchard, ed. Vortizismus – Die erste Avantgarde in England 1914-1918. Berlin & Hannover : Ars Nicolai 1996, 24-26.

35). Luigi Russolo "The Art of Noises" in : Pontus Hulten, ed. Futurismo, Futurismi. Milan: Bompiani 1986, 561. George Gershwin would incorporate those urban noises in the introduction to his An American in Paris. It is interesting that the initial title for « Fascinating Rhythm » was « Syncopated City ».Antonio Gramsci recognized the revolutionary character of Futurist prophecies: « [The futurists] have grasped sharply and clearly that our age, the age of big industry, of the large proletarian city and of intense and tumultuous life, was in need of new forms of art, philosophu, behavior and language....In their field, the field of culture, the Futurists are revolutionaries. » "Marinetti the Revolutionary." in Selections from Cultural Writings, ed. David Forgacs and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith. Cambridge: Harvard University 1985, 51.

36). Robert Goffin in his essay "Hot Jazz" (translated by Samuel Becket) points to the affinities between surrealism and jazz. Negro: An Anthology, p. 239.

37). It is interesting to speculate on the music Adorno understood as jazz. Little of what he could have heard on the Frankfurt radio station would be considered jazz today. Adorno's dismissal of the music that he actually heard was well-founded, but he was not talking about jazz, but about popular dance music.

38). Eric Hobsbawm makes a valid point: the difference between England and the Continent. In England jazz remained primarily a working class music whereas on the continent it was the accepted music of avantgardes and secessions. "On the Reception of Jazz in Europe." in: Theo Mäusli (ed.) Jazz und Sozialgeschichte (Zurich, 1994).

39). Negro: An Anthology. 1934.

40). On America as a source of libertinism : Berndt Ostendorf, " `America is a Mistake, a Gigantic Mistake':Patterns of Ethnocentrism in German Attitudes Toward America," In Their Own Words Vol. III. N.2. 1986, 19-47 and "Deutsch-amerikanische Kulturbeziehungen", in Gert Richter und Dieter Lang (Hgg). Deutschland, Europa und die Welt, (Gütersloh, Bertelsmann Lexikothek Verl. 1986), 227-235.

41). In That's Jazz. Der Sound des 20. Jahrhunderts, 296-7.

42). Ibid., p. 384.

43). Mike Zwerin. La Tristesse de Saint Louis : Jazz Under the Nazis. (New York : Beech Tree Books, 1985).

44) An excellent summary of the contradictions between the political "Cold" and cultural "Cool" War is Reinhold Wagnleitner's "The Empire of the Fun, or Talkin' Soviet Union Blues." Diplomatic History, 23.3. Summer 1999, 499-524.

45). Carl Gustav Jung noticed that difference as early as 1930: "Your Negroid and Indian Behavior." Forum XXIII/4 (New York 1930, 193-199).

46). Ralph Willett. "Jazz: The Sound of Democracy", in The Americanization of Germany 1945-1949. (London Routledge 1989). Hans Globke wrote the legal commentary for the Nuremberg laws, yet was hired by Konrad Adenauer to head the Chancellary.

48) In: Dave Brubeck. Vocal Encounters. Columbia CK 61551

49). Ralph Willett. "Jazz: The Sound of Democracy", in The Americanization of Germany 1945-1949. (London Routledge 1989). Hans Globke wrote the legal commentary for the Nuremberg laws, yet was hired by Konrad Adenauer to head the Chancellary.

50). Rainer Lotz in That's Jazz. See my review in Popular Music 9/2 April 1990, 245-248


Jazz entered Europe in two waves after the First and Second World Wars. Both times the mood was divided between profound hostility and intense appreciation. This paper will argue that the introduction of jazz involved a radical break concerning the rules of performance and habits of reception in Western musical culture. It was not just another case of selective borrowing; it had more to do with a paradigm change in music as described in Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo, a confrontation of antithetical musical cultures that would continue to have far-reaching repercussions. Although a child of the gutter jazz satisfied more of the high cultural prophecies of Futurism and more of the avantgarde and transgressive desires of modernism than any single one of the traditional arts. The new music spoke to the agendas of surrealism, primitivism, radical democracy, multiculturalism, post-colonialism and urban cosmopolitanism. It promised to modernize, to liberate, to innovate and ushered in a new way of being in the world-- all at once. But it gave to these high cultural, modernist desires a decidedly vernacular spin, a cultural camouflage which allowed it to subvert European cultural habits "from below."