The Strange Story Of Nazi Jazz

Nazi-propaganda-posterJazz aficionados may think they know cool jazz, bebop, hard bop, and every other style, but what about Nazi bop? Though they had already passed laws criminalizing “Jewishly gloomy lyrics”, drum and horn solos, “Negroid excesses in tempo”, and plucked bass lines, the party realized that dance music was needed to reach the masses. Via Smithsonian Magazine:

Hitler’s propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels’ strangest effort was the creation of that oxymoron in four-bar form: a Nazi-approved, state-sponsored hot jazz band known as Charlie and His Orchestra [headed by] Karl “Charlie” Schwedler, an employee of the German Foreign Ministry, who discovered he had a talent for crooning.

As “Charlie,” Schwedler—who at least posed as a convinced Nazi—penned lyrics that generally followed a fixed pattern. The first verse of each song would remain untouched, perhaps in the hope of luring in listeners. But the remainder of the lyrics would veer wildly into Nazi propaganda and boasts of Aryan supremacy.

For the most part, there seems to be little evidence that Charlie and His Orchestra had anything like the impact on Allied morale that Goebbels hoped for. Schwedler might speak perfect English, but he never grasped British and American irony and understatement, and although his band recorded as many as 270 tracks between 1941 and 1943, and their records were distributed to prisoner of war camps, they were generally smashed by the POWs after an exploratory listen.

Certainly it would have been dangerous for many of the musicians to have shunned the protection offered by Charlie and His Orchestra; the German singer Evelyn Künneke recalled that “there were even half-Jews and gypsies there, Freemasons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals and Communists—not exactly the sort of people the Nazis normally wanted to play cards with.”

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