Jazzforschung / Jazz Research 35 (2003)

150 150 International Society for Jazz Research

Bernd Hoffmann
Aspekte zur Jazz-Rezeption in Deutschland: Afro-amerikanische Musik im Spiegel der Musikpresse 1900–1945  

At the dawn of the twentieth century Western Europe witnessed the first harbingers of a new popular music culture. Astonished and enthused European dancers began to observe the various „rhythms“ emerging from America. A gradual concentration of these dance forms and styles in the first decade of the twentieth century led to a complex field of American entertainment music in Europe. Its performance practices drew appropriate journalistic interest, something that is also visible in the era of the German Reich. To an increasing degree Afro-American music styles are reflected in music periodicals, the reaction to this American entertainment music culture often being very divergent however. Positive and negative opinions can be registered until the middle of the twentieth century and beyond. These often extreme reactions show the extent of the American influence on the local dance music culture; also bearing witness to its effect on the only very distantly related German language opera of the period. The development of media such as gramophone recording and radio proved also to be major factors in spreading American entertainment music to the European audience. The historical framework of this analysis is the correlation of American and western European elements in relation to the German entertainment music scene during the first half of the 20th century, which also serves as a means of interpreting the changing political orientation of the German Reich.

Five music periodicals and two radio magazines have been selected to give an insight into the reception mechanisms that evolved between the active American scene and the reacting European side between 1900 and 1945.

The following publications have been analysed: Deutsche Tonkünstler-Zeitung (first published in 1903), Die Musik (first published in 1901), Neue Zeitschrift für Musik / Musikalisches Wochenblatt / Zeitschrift für Musik (first published in 1834, analysed from 1900), Melos (first published in 1920), Querschnitt (first published in 1921), Die Funkstunde (first published in 1924) and Die Werag (first published in 1926). Roughly one thousand written and pictorial documents of these music and radio publications showing a reaction towards Afro-American music in Europe (especially in the German speaking countries) have been analysed and the results have been compared to the general orientation of the publications. It is to be noted that these publications show a wide variety of opinions in regard to Afro-American music. Whereas the Deutsche Tonkünstler-Zeitung and Die Musik approach this „vogue“ with extreme caution, the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik/Musikalisches Wochenblatt/Zeitschrift für Musik reject this form of music outright. The progressive magazine Melos viewed the Afro-American Music as an interesting element which European composers of the 20th century simply had to use. The German/French arts periodical Querschnitt described the differing scenes in both countries and their discussion of entertainment music from the new world.

In comparison to the aforementioned music periodicals the two radio magazines for the private Berlin radio station Die Funkstunde and later for new cologne radio station Die Werag, played a stronger role in shaping the everyday reaction to Afro-American music. These magazines show the turbulent development of this new mass media, while thematic programmes concerning the New World and programme schedules document their specific bonds to dance music from the US.
Historically classified in three epochs (1900–1918; 1918–1933 and 1933–1945), the various documents consulted – including scientific studies, journalistic articles, poems, polemic, lyrics, photos and radio program schedules – reflect the magazines‘ attitude towards the various forms of Afro-American music, thus allowing to determine their positive or negative view. A systematic review of all documents from a particular publication as to the reception of Afro-American music shows the different viewpoints of each journalist, and – through a comparison of these texts – simultaneously brings to light the „opinion“ of the editors. The complete review of such periodicals prevent a selection of source material according to certain criteria. This is of special interest in the discussion of the appreciation of jazz in the „Third Reich“. This quantifying process based on the relevant frequency characteristics produces a group of thematic aspects which try to come close to the „realities“ of the press in the period under review.

The survey of the thematic aspects shows the development of the reception of Afro-American music in Germany:

The beginning of the 20th century sees the first signs of American entertainment culture, ethnological findings of African music or fantastical accounts of dance events. The second decade of the 20th century shows the dance fashion jazz using a variety of different instrumentations and repertoires that mirror the differing functions of the „jazz band“. Rowdy comical performances, coffee house American jazz soloists or „symphonic domestications“: the diverging tendencies of the Weimar Republic’s jazz scene show a vital and manifold picture of this music in the new mass medium, the radio. The contemporary public opinion emphasizes the event character of jazz, the 1926 guest appearance of the American „king of Jazz“ bandleader Paul Whiteman in Berlin is exemplary. This positive image of America, shaped by the belief in the possibility of limitless technical achievement and by transferring that to the form of the human body – the precision of the girl-culture of the American revues is juxtaposed by the negation of the cultural acceptance of the Afro-American culture. In detail this analysis of periodicals treats the influence of Afro-American music in operetta, revue and cabaret, the phenomenon of the Jazz Symphony Orchestra, the reception of Køeneks „Jazz Opera“ Jonny spielt auf and finally the establishment of a jazz course at the Hoch’sches Konservatorium (Frankfurt Conservatory) for the period of the Weimar Republic.

This discourse of musical conventions is reflected by its acceptance and rejection: on the one hand jazz is viewed as an innovative impulse for the contemporary composer, on the other hand conservative critics emphasize the supposed African origins of this „jungle music“ jazz and detect the cultural decline of the western world in the foundation of the jazz class at the Hoch’sches Konservatorium in Frankfurt/Main. The middle-class urban youths reaction to jazz in the middle of the 1920‘s reinforced the youth-culture potential after 1933 which showed subversive traits. The political rejection of jazz during the time of National Socialism was mostly formalistic and is aesthetically contradicted by the swinging dance music used both for the presentation of entertainment concepts in radio and film and propaganda abroad by the propaganda ministry under Goebbels control. The analysis of the „Third Reich“ shows that jazz is seen as a form of „degenerate music“ and that efforts are made by the national socialists to create their own „Neue Deutsche Tanzmusik“, a swing free entertainment music.

With the arrival of the first dance fashions from the USA at the beginning of the 20th century it is clearly visible that the American music industry significantly influenced the dance and music reception in Western Europe through their policy of selection. Juvenile protest function that is attributed to jazz for the early period of European jazz appreciation cannot be evidenced.

Especially French composers of serious music questioned the traditional late-romantic concepts by their taking over of rhythmic, melodic and instrumental elements of Afro-American music as a compositional expansion. At the same time the functionality of various black dance styles changed on their way to Europe through the American music industry. The dance literature of this period celebrate the ballroom dance revolution but also indirectly describe the domestication of Afro-American dance elements in German dance schools. At the same time that black dance routines found their way to the upper-middle class, the broadcasting of Afro-American entertainment music in the whole German empire began through private radio stations.

The slowly developing Hot Club scene established itself first in the middle of the 1920‘s. This circle of musicians and listeners expanded the horizon of their jazz interpretation by the painstaking importation of American records and attendance at the few concerts of black and white jazz musicians from the USA. In this context the words of Baresel, Egg and Bernhard appear as helpless attempts to replace the primarily clown-like impression of jazz and Afro-American music with a more serious demeanour. Countless articles in the periodical Melos show the enthusiasm with which Afro-American music was welcomed as a means to expanding contemporary music. This contrasts with its outright rejection of American culture, which finds its voice in the Deutsche Tonkünstler-Zeitung, Die Musik and especially the Neuen Zeitschrift für Musik. However, Afro-American music is not only attacked by musicologists and pedagogues. These circles reject every form of „Americanism“ as uncultivated and lament the loss of the own cultural identity, which does not only apply for the German youth. The oppressive situation of German concert life as well as the clear acceptance of the radio as the new mass media, which showed a strong orientation towards the American record market, reinforce the impression of a cultural reorientation. Two historical events – the premiere of the Køenek opera Jonny spielt auf and the establishment of the jazz class at the Hoch‘sches Konservatorium – are the focus of attention of the press and create resentment against any form of improvised music from America. Meanwhile the established network of keen listeners emphasize a scientific approach in their appreciation of Afro-American music, collect and exchange discographies, subject visitors to entrance examination before allowing entrance to their clubs, but receive little attention in the press. By the end of the 1930‘s various club scenes had been established in many cities of the German Reich, their musical orientation being influenced by black and white American formations in small line-ups and not by a German influenced Afro-American dance music, which to a large extent was a development of the salon orchestra tradition, reactivated and strongly publicized under political pressure from the „Third Reich“ as Neue Deutsche Tanzmusik. Even before the political change in 1933 two different responses to jazz and Afro-American music could be observed. Alongside the official opinion of publications describing jazz as something exotic, to be found in just a few articles from specialists, there developed a youth-cultural reception which is soon marked by its effort to protect jazz against this negative press reaction in their bourgeois surroundings. Due to these events in the reception of the various forms of jazz, Germany developed its own styles of jazz and its forms which proved to be a far cry from the much used cliché of this music style in the Weimar Republic. The articles of the music periodicals examined strengthen this picture and the perception of the domestication of Jazz, and this is supported also by the programs of the radio stations.

There is, however, no press coverage of the young listeners, the social structure of the Hot Clubs or gender-specific distribution. The fact that these listeners had social bonds to their music which were strong enough to survive the political agitation of Jazz being viewed as „degenerate“ during the time of National Socialism was often used for proving the resistance theorem of Jazz listeners in the young Federal Republic of Germany.

Descriptions of Jazz in the early post-war Germany like to use the image of „the new beginning“ to signify a new political beginning in the occupied zones of Germany. The renunciation of National Socialism and the experiences with new democratic values, especially in the three western zones, implied the belief that not just the political but also the cultural values of the victorious allies would be imported. But the hope of the German population for another, now swinging, triumphal march of the Big Band Music of the likes of Tommy Dorsey, Woody Herman or Duke Ellington in the ashes of the „Third Reich“, did not come true.