Fiction (Part 2): Nazi Germany’s Dance Band Rules

My initial post about the alleged Nazi Germany Dance Band rules was subsequently identified by Russian jazz writer Cyril Moshkow as an element in a fictional work by writer Josef Skvorecky.  In the last couple of days I’ve had a pair of intriguing follow-up messages that cast more light on Skvorecky as well as the music scene in general, and the jazz scene in particular, during the ’30s and 40s in Europe.  The first is from Graham Collier, the highly regarded English composer and author of several books on jazz.  As he notes in his following comments, he had a first hand connection with Skvorecky’s works.

Graham Collier writes: “Here is what Josef Skvorecky said in Red Music, an introductory memoir to two novellas published as The Bass Saxophone (Chatto and Windus, 1978). “[O]ne local Gauleiter issued an extraordinary (really extraordinary? In this world of ours?) set of regulations which were binding for all dance orchestras. I read them, gnashing my teeth, in Czech translation, in [a] film weekly, and fifteen years later I paraphrased them – faithfully, I am sure, since they had engraved themselves deeply on my mind – in a short story entitled I won’t take back one word.” [A later note explains that this short story was “published finally in 1966 as Eine kleine Jazzmusik”.]

“The Bass Saxophone itself is possibly the best story about jazz ever published. It deals with a young Czech sax player’s decision to, in a sense, betray his country by becoming so besotted by the sight of a bass saxophone that he hardly resists when ordered to play it because one of the visiting German musicians is indisposed. I was so taken with the story that I persuaded BBC Radio to adapt the novella and, of course, to hire me to do the music. It paid off too, as we won a Sony Radio Drama award for the production.

“I asked Art Themen, who, like Skvorecky, should be better known than he is, to take the bass saxophone from its display (he’d never actually played it after an impulse buy!) and his first notes, like the Czech boy’s, were truly awful (and caused some consternation to the lunchtime drinkers outside a pub near his river-side apartment!). Later in the play however he had to recreate the sounds made by the previously indisposed and now angry German musician coming back into the band — which Art did wonderfully. As the boy said (as part of a wonderful almost Faulknerian ever-lasting sentence) “he played it like a dancing male gorilla, like a hairy bird of legend slowly beating its black wings …”.

“In the next day or so I will post an extract of this on my blog at jazz continuum.”

The second comment is from English jazz saxophonist, composer, arranger and bandleaer John Altman.  He describes some family connections with the music of the period.

John Altman writes: “The history of jazz and dance music during the war in Germany and occupied Europe has been well covered by Chris Goddard in his Jazz Away From Home, and by Mike Zwerin, and there is a fascinating 4 CD set of “authorized” dance band recordings. The most famous approved band in Germany was Charlie and His Orchestra, which featured many well known European jazz players under the leadership of several musicians including bandleader Fud Candrix. He was a friend of my mother before the war, and narrowly escaped prosecution as a collaborator.

“My uncle, Sid Phillips, recalled hearing many of his original compositions for London’s Ambrose band played by Nazi swing groups with new titles – being Jewish his music was proscribed, but there was no ban on appropriating his charts and playing them under other names.”

To read the initial post about Nazi Germany’s Dance Band Rules click here.

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