Different Drummers: Jazz in the Culture of Nazi Germany / Edition 1

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Overview


When the African-American dancer Josephine Baker visited Berlin in 1925, she found it dazzling. "The city had a jewel-like sparkle," she said, "the vast caf├ęs reminded me of ocean liners powered by the rhythms of their orchestras. There was music everywhere." Eager to look ahead after the crushing defeat of World War I, Weimar Germany embraced the modernism that swept through Europe and was crazy over jazz. But with the rise of National Socialism came censorship and proscription: an art form born on foreign soil and presided over by Negroes and Jews could have no place in the culture of a "master race."
In Different Drummers, Michael Kater--a distinguished historian and himself a jazz musician--explores the underground history of jazz in Hitler's Germany. He offers a frightening and fascinating look at life and popular culture during the Third Reich, showing that for the Nazis, jazz was an especially threatening form of expression. Not only were its creators at the very bottom of the Nazi racial hierarchy, but the very essence of jazz--spontaneity, improvisation, and, above all, individuality--represented a direct challenge to the repetitive, simple, uniform pulse of German march music and indeed everyday life. The fact that many of the most talented European jazz artists were Jewish only made the music more objectionable.
In tracing the growth of what would become a bold and eloquent form of social protest, Kater mines a trove of previously untapped archival records and assembles interviews with surviving witnesses as he brings to life a little-known aspect of wartime Germany. He introduces us to groups such as the Weintraub Syncopators, Germany's best indigenous jazz band; the Harlem Club of Frankfurt, whose male members wore their hair long in defiance of Nazi conventions; and the Hamburg Swings--the most daring radicals of all--who openly challenged the Gestapo with a series of mass dance rallies. More than once these demonstrations turned violent, with the Swings and the Hitler Youth fighting it out in the streets. In the end we come to realize that jazz not only survived persecution, but became a powerful symbol of political disobedience--and even resistance--in wartime Germany. And as we witness the vacillations of the Nazi regime (while they worked toward its ultimate extinction, they used jazz for their own propaganda purposes), we see that the myth of Nazi social control was, to a large degree, just that--Hitler's dictatorship never became as pure and effective a form of totalitarianism as we are sometimes led to believe.
With its vivid portraits of all the key figures, Different Drummers provides a unique glimpse of a counter-culture virtually unexamined until now. It is a provocative account that reminds us that, even in the face of the most unspeakable oppression, the human spirit endures.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"In this admirable and well-researched study, Michael Kater explores the ambiguous relationship that jazz had to the National Socialist state and society, and in the process problematizes the liberating qualities that jazz supposedly possesses. Even more significantly, the manner of the new cultural hsitory, Kater uses his study to illuminate and investigage a number of social, political and cultural issues that engage the interests of specialists in the period."--German Studies Review

"Outstanding....a fine mix of archival research with the collection of oral and written testimonies. It is virtually encyclopedic in its effort to convey the life stories of so many contributors to German jazz; to evaluate the sound of particular musicians; to analyze the audience--generally urban, young, middle-class--and the business; to identify the personal connections and the main locales."--American Historical Review

"Most people would assume that jazz was completely stamped out at home by the fascist government in the 1930s. Michael Kater's remarkable book paints a very different picture and deals in great detail with a little-known chapter in jazz history....There is not a jazz fan, no matter how knowledgeable, who will fail to learn a great deal by reading this important book."--Scott Yanow, Jazziz

"Kater's superbly researched story is fascinating and horrifying, yet in a sense rewarding, since it shows the lengths to which young Germans would go to keep the faith with a music that was their common link."--The Los Angeles Times

"Richly rewarding, challenging, provocative, and eminently insightful."--The Jazz Report

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195165531
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 3/13/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael H. Kater is Distinguished Research Professor of History at York University in Toronto. He is the author of numerous books, among them The Nazi Party and Doctors Under Hitler.

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