A recent post on Boing Boing discussed the newly discovered “rules for jazz performers during the Nazi occupation.” Jewish and Black people — two groups targeted by the Nazis — were also the primary innovators of jazz music. But even as the German state denigrated jazz, jazz musicians, and swing dancers, Nazi soldiers loved jazz! How to handle such a contradiction? Rules for playing jazz music: no “Jewishy gloomy lyrics,” no “Negroid excesses in tempo,” and no “hysterical rhythmic reverses characteristic of the barbarian races.”
It’s well worth a look, as is this post from 2010 explaining how many groups vilified by Nazis survived the Holocaust by playing jazz for Nazi soldiers…
I have a favorite historical musician: Django Reinhardt.
Reinhardt was a Roma jazz musician. During World War II both Roma and jazz musicians were targeted by the Nazi regime. Over a million Roma were exterminated for presumed racial inferiority and jazz was believed to combine the worst of Blacks and Jews (i.e., “musical race defilement”). Just listening to a jazz record could get you sent to a concentration camp.
Reinhardt, however, enjoyed the most lucrative period of his career during the war, while living and playing openly among Nazi soldiers.
Reinhardt biographer Michael Dregni, recently interviewed by NPR, explained:
The Germans used Paris basically as their rest-and-relaxation center, and when the soldiers came, they wanted wine and women and song. And to many of them, jazz was the popular music, and Django was the most famous jazz musician in Paris… And it was really a golden age of swing in Paris, with these [Romas] living kind of this grand irony.
Reinhardt, then, survived because the Nazis loved jazz music, even as Hitler censored the music and, on his orders, people who dared to listen to, dance to, or play it were encamped and members of the groups who invented it were murdered. Irony indeed.
For more on Reinhardt, jazz, and World War II, here is a clip from a documentary on Reinhardt’s remarkable talent, career, and luck:
UPDATE: A commenter, Bernardo Soares, offered an interesting critique/clarification in the thread. Here’s part of what he had to say:
…I think it is grossly misleading to write that Reinhardt “enjoyed the most lucrative period of his career during the war”. He enjoyed the protection of some individuals in the German occupation force. This is not so unusual — the composer Richard Strauss who headed the Reichsmusikkammer used his influence to protect some Jewish composers. But as many other examples show, this was extremely precarious. As long as these individuals had the power to protect him, he was probably relatively safe, but he could still be shot by any soldier at a whim or be accidentally included in a deportation action. Also, these individuals could lose their power, or some higher-ranking officer could order him to be deported. Reinhardt tried several times to escape occupied France.
[Also] …the whole issue of music and art politics in the Third Reich is much more complex than stated in the video. The Reichsmusikkammer (Reich Music Chamber) was not the only institution regulating music politics. As with many other bureaucratic institutions in the Third Reich, several agencies struggled for influence and power. This means that music politics was often contradictory, and the absence of a clear regulation as stated in the video opened the door for arbitrary measures – again emphasizing the precarious situation of musicians. The competition and struggle for power between different agencies led to a radicalisation of racial and cultural politics, and this was even taken further in the occupied countries.
I do love this topic. I also have a post on racial borrowing and lindy hop, the dance that made me love Django. A paper I wrote about gender and lindy hop can be found in the journal Ethnography. And I have a talk based on the paper that I love to give in theory classes.Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Marcos — May 3, 2010
I wonder what it would be like if Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels et allii once went to Paris to see him play. He might lock everyone in and set the club on fire. And shout THIS IS A GIPSY JAZZ MUSICIAN'S REVENGE!
Nectarine — May 3, 2010
I love Django Reinhardt, but I was totally unaware of this history.
This post illustrates the real power of music - clearly the Nazi party knew it was significant enough to pose a "threat" to their puritanical vision, and it was strong enough to make many (even on the Nazi side) disobey orders.
How Django Reinhardt survived Hitler « eats shoots 'n leaves — May 3, 2010
[...] lots more at the excellent Sociological Images, including an NPR interview with a Reinhardt scholar. Here’s a clip from a documentary on [...]
Leah — May 3, 2010
This is awesome. Another great jazz musician from the period was Valaida Snow, a black female trumpeter. She actually got arrested by the Nazis in Denmark while touring, although she played safely in Paris to Nazis. She survived, and got sent back to the states via a prisoner exchange.
Interesting woman, and interesting story for sure. Definitely worth reading about.
greenmouse — May 4, 2010
Er...since a lot of Roma actually consider g~ to be a slur, maybe you should reconsider your use of the word (besides the initial explanatory use).
Nazi Jazz Propaganda » Sociological Images — May 11, 2010
[...] reading my recent post on how Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt survived World War II (hint: rank-and-file Nazis loved jazz!), Dmitriy T.M. sent me a link to a fascinating account of a [...]
Stina — August 1, 2010
Please do not use the word gypsy to refer to Roma people. It is a racist exonym that is comparable to the word nigger for African Americans.
Anonymous — August 3, 2010
That isn't fixed. Let me try and put this in perspective again.
Coltrane was an African American ( a group also known by the slur, "nigger")
I have no idea why you feel the necessity to keep mentioning this offensive slur. If people don't know who the Roma are, they can bloody well wiki it. You do not need to continue to reinforce racist language.
Emilena12 — February 26, 2012
Wow! I NEVER KNEW THAT! But how is it that even though Hitler enjoyed jazz music, he had people killed or sent to concentration camps for listening, dancing or even singing to it? Shouldn't he NOT kill people who listen to jazz but encourage it? That's like saying," Hi, I LOVE jazz music but I want to kill anyone who likes it too because it's fun killing inocent people who like things I like!:0
Anonymous — March 12, 2012
This was really enlightening. When I saw the name, immediately my mind went to Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man where the protagonist takes on the identity of a trickster figure named "Rinehart". The novel was published in 1952 and is inspired by jazz, blues, and other expressive creative forms. I haven't read much that considers whether or not Ellison was inspired by this Reinhardt, but it would definitely provide another context for reading the novel if there is evidence that he was.
Ben Spigel — March 12, 2012
Boing Boing recently posted a list of Nazi rules for jazz players (http://boingboing.net/2012/03/10/nazi-rules-for-jazz-performers.html). Some choice ones:
(3) As to tempo, preference is also to be given to brisk compositions over slow ones so-called blues); however, the pace must not exceed a certain degree of allegro, commensurate with the Aryan sense of discipline and moderation. On no account will Negroid excesses in tempo (so-called hot jazz) or in solo performances (so-called breaks) be tolerated;
(4) so-called jazz compositions may contain at most 10% syncopation; the remainder must consist of a natural legato movement devoid of the hysterical rhythmic reverses characteristic of the barbarian races and conductive to dark instincts alien to the German people (so-called riffs);
(8) plucking of the strings is prohibited, since it is damaging to the instrument and detrimental to Aryan musicality; if a so-called pizzicato effect is absolutely desirable for the character of the composition, strict care must be taken lest the string be allowed to patter on the sordine, which is henceforth forbidden;
Enrico Caruso — March 12, 2012
It's becoming a bit boring when writers are just repeating other writers work.
Blogger seem to run out of topics. The video has 4 Parts and this blogger shows only one of those 4. It's a bit much.
Kat — March 12, 2012
Lisa, would you mind please including that this is a hoax? That seems very important.
How Django Reinhardt survived the Nazis – the most interesting thing I read today : jfleck at inkstain — March 12, 2012
[...] Sociological Images, how Django Reinhardt survived the Nazi effort to exterminate the Roma by playing jazz: Reinhardt, [...]
Bernardo Soares — March 13, 2012
I have several problems with the way the story and its historical (and musical) background is represented in this post.
First of all, Reinhardt did not survive in Paris because "the Nazis" loved "Jazz music." The NS state persecuted Jazz musicians, and Jazz as a type of music was denounced as "entartet" (a typical Nazi term meaning literally: not of our kind or race, and figuratively: abnormal, depraved). Two big exhibitions were staged in 1937 and 38 to denounce "Enartete Kunst" (art) and "Entartete Musik" (music). "Entartete Musik" meant most "modern" music, including Jazz (the exhibition poster showed a racist caricature of a black saxophonist: cf. the video at 1:43) and modern classical music (specifically Schoenberg and Berg's dodecaphony), and, above all, everything ever produced by Jewish composers. This produced some major problems for music politics in Nazi Germany, because they needed to give a reason why, e.g., Mendelssohn's "Summer Night's Dream", the single most popular and widely played piece of classical music in Germany, was "entartet". Musically, there was nothing that distinguished Mendelssohn's work from that of his non-Jewish contemporaries in Germany. Attempts of Nazi music theorists to define "Germanic" music seem often
ridiculous, using vague but pompous characterisations of music. The problem with Jazz was different: not only was Jazz "not pin-downable" as the video states, but many elements of Jazz (syncopies, harmonics, use of instruments, rhythm) had already seeped into German popular music (Schlager) at the time - which Nazi propaganda greatly relied on. The Gauleiter list cited by Skvorecky (see the link in Ben Spigels comment) should be seen as a desperate attempt to define these elements, but in practice, these orders could hardly be implemented - as the list itself shows ("20 per cent swing, 10 per cent syncopation"), popular music had long adapted them.
Secondly, I think it is grossly misleading to write that Reinhardt "enjoyed the most lucrative period of his career during the war". He enjoyed the protection of some individuals in the German occupation force. This is not so unusual - the composer Richard Strauss who headed the Reichsmusikkammer used his influence to protect some Jewish composers. But as many other examples show, this was extremely precarious. As long as these individuals had the power to protect him, he was probably relatively safe, but he could still be shot by any soldier at a whim or be accidentally included in a deportation action. Also, these individuals could lose their power, or some higher-ranking officer could order him to be deported. Reinhardt tried several times to escape occupied France.
Thirdly, the whole issue of music and art politics in the Third Reich is much more complex than stated in the video. The Reichsmusikkammer (Reich Music Chamber) was not the only institution regulating music politics. As with many other bureaucratic institutions in the Third Reich, several agencies struggled for influence and power. This means that music politics was often contradictory, and the absence of a clear regulation as stated in the video opened the door for arbitrary measures - again emphasizing the precarious situation of musicians. The competition and struggle for power between different agencies led to a radicalisation of racial and cultural politics, and this was even taken further in the occupied countries.
I also want to recommend Esi Edugyan's "Half-Blood Blues", a fantastic novel o Black Germans in the Third Reich, Jazz, Berlin and Paris.
Triniangrrl — March 13, 2012
Django wasn't Roma, he was Sinti (Manouche). This is one of the reasons a lot of people call *themselves* Gypsies (capital G); it's considered an inclusive term that doesn't give primacy to one specific group. Another analogy would be that Roma = African-American (term of respect but one that applies to a specific group and excludes West Indians, for instance) and Gypsy = Black (applies to more than one group and its use as an insult depends on tone and context). So Roma (which is the plural, not Romas) is the preferred term of respect, but that doesn't make Gypsy the same degree of insult as 'nigger'.
Other recommended relevant books on jazz in WWII
"Different Drummers: Jazz in the Culture of Nazi Germany" by Michael Kater
"Swing Under the Nazis: Jazz as a Metaphor for Freedom" by Mike Swerin
Alan — January 21, 2013
Behavior of the French people ( including Django) during the Nazi occupation is deplorable and pathetic. While at the walls of Moscow, Stalingrad and Kursk , and at hundreds of unnamed villages the Russian people gave their lives in millions to save the European civilization, Django "enjoyed the most lucrative period". The article claims he tried to escape. That's a joke. He returned to Paris, and did not even try to go to the Vichy! Don't make me laugh!
yomama — April 25, 2015
One must admit, the. Germans had class.
David — February 22, 2018
Entartete Musik stands for Degenerate Music.
Elbio Barilari — March 9, 2019
The article is SO stupid and poorly researched that it is almost unbelievable it got published. Also, the gypsies from France and Belgium don't called themselves "Roma" but "Manouche"... that's just one of the many mistakes made on the article.
Coucou | NotionsCapital — September 8, 2019
[…] “Coucou,” written by Antonio Matas and Jean Feline, recorded by Josette Daydé with the Quintette du Hot Club de France, 1940. Josette Daydé (vocal), Django Reinhardt (guitar), Joseph Reinhardt (guitar), Hubert Rostaing (clarinet), Francis Luca (bass), Pierre Fouad (drums). Recorded in occupied Paris. […]
steve wheeler — August 25, 2020
Hi, Is there a book or video which describes Django's experience in occupied Paris?
Patrick O'Dowd — May 16, 2022
Wasn't Django playing his music for awhile in Marseille? --Even after the Nazi occupied Southern France during the Vichy regime? I think even Varian Fry listened to him in Marseille, Varian Fry was the American sent to save 200 intellectuals and artists from the Nazis. He was backed by Eleanor Roosevelt et al. to tackle this task in Marseille. And he succeeded.