Different Drummers

Michael H. Kater

Published in print May 2003 | ISBN: 9780195165531
Published online January 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780199872237 | DOI:
Different Drummers

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This book explores the underground history of jazz in Adolf Hitler's Germany. It 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. The book looks at 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, 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, 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.

Keywords: Nazis; Germany; modernism; censorship; proscription; improvisation; jazz; individuality; Jews; political disobedience

Book.  306 pages.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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