There has only been one moment in history when jazz was synonymous with popular music in the country of its origin. During the years of, and immediately prior to World War II, a subgenre of jazz commonly referred to as swing was playing on all American radio stations and attracting throngs of young people to dancehalls for live shows. But it wasn't only popular amongst Americans; historian Michael H. Kater, in his book Different Drummers: Jazz in the Culture of Nazi Germany, has turned his eye away from the United States in order to examine the effects jazz had on German culture during the years of swing popularity. In his introduction, Kater explains the state of Jazz in Germany during the Weimar Republic, prior the rise of National Socialism.
The Republican years in the country have gained a reputation as being a time of hedonistic excess (especially in certain cities, i.e. Berlin), including sexual promiscuity and the tolerance of homosexuality. Along with the socially liberal values found within the dense urban centers, came the pulsating and syncopated sexual rhythms of a new music called jazz. Kater argues that the first Germans to hear jazz were probably prisoners of war being held in France during the first World War. Jazz had already crossed the Atlantic and gained a fan base in both France and England. The postwar Germans were understandably in need of some sort of entertaining pastime in order to take their minds off of the massive casualties and humiliating defeat that their country had just endured. One cure for their collective ennui manifested itself in the form of dance fever. The foxtrot, the tango, and the Charleston all had bright and shining moments on the German dance floors. It is no wonder that Jazz caught on so quickly in such an atmosphere considering how jazz lends it self to dancing.
But jazz also had its many detractors. As with its critics in... [continues]
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