Nazi rules for jazz performers

Famed Czech radical Josef Skvorecky recently died at 87 in his adopted land of Canada. In the Atlantic, JJ Gould remembers Skvorecky through his memoirs, including a detailed list of the rules for jazz performers during the Nazi occupation. The Reich's Gauleiter for the Nazi Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia issued a 10-point regulation that Gould calls "the single most remarkable example of 20th-century totalitarian invective against jazz."

1 Pieces in foxtrot rhythm (so-called swing) are not to exceed 20% of the repertoires of light orchestras and dance bands;
2 in this so-called jazz type repertoire, preference is to be given to compositions in a major key and to lyrics expressing joy in life rather than Jewishly gloomy lyrics;
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);
5 strictly prohibited is the use of instruments alien to the German spirit (so-called cowbells, flexatone, brushes, etc.) as well as all mutes which turn the noble sound of wind and brass instruments into a Jewish-Freemasonic yowl (so-called wa-wa, hat, etc.);

6 also prohibited are so-called drum breaks longer than half a bar in four-quarter beat (except in stylized military marches);
7 the double bass must be played solely with the bow in so-called jazz compositions;
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;
9 musicians are likewise forbidden to make vocal improvisations (so-called scat);
10 all light orchestras and dance bands are advised to restrict the use of saxophones of all keys and to substitute for them the violin-cello, the viola or possibly a suitable folk instrument.

Josef Skvorecky on the Nazis' Control-Freak Hatred of Jazz (via JWZ)


      1.  Yes, but not in any musical aptitude, and most certainly never in any Human Resources manner.

  1. So, would any Lawrence Welk music violate this set of rules? Just wondering…you never know who might be a secret nazi…

    I’m kidding of course, well, I think I’m kidding… :-)

    1. Yes. You read the rules, right? Maybe you haven’t had to suffer thru Welk like I have, but, yes, there’s syncopation, and scatting, and breaks, and saxomophones, and string plucking. Heck, there’s even sad songs, and some minor key, in the maudlin “Jewish” manner.

      1. Those rules are not in laymen’s terms. Looks like it requires a pretty good grounding in musical terminology to understand all of them. “Patter on the sordine” sounds like the sales pitch of a fish monger maybe?

      2. No matter what you can say about L Welk, “soulless” ain’t it. It’s there — carefully controlled so as not to frighten parents and holy rollers, but it’s there.

      3. I don’t recall a whole lot of  “Jewish-Freemasonic yowl”ing on Lawrence Welk, but maybe I just wasn’t listening carefully enough.

    2. Don’t razz on Welk, man.

      That cat knew what he was doing.

      I once heard an album he made called “Electric Champagne” where Welk and the band absolutely proved that they got it, but they didn’t want it.

      I have nothing but respect for that man.

      I didn’t like his music and he didn’t like mine but I knew that he knew. He could lay down sounds.

      I wish I could find a pressing of that album. It was AWESOME.

      1.  My record nerd spidey sense is tingling– I am familiar with faux-hip LPs by Liberace, Doc Severinson and even various polka bands, but I call BS on this Welk “electric champagne” album.

      2. @boingboing-566a9968b43628588e76be5a85a0f9e8:disqus  I typically don’t bother looking through the LPs anymore when I go to thrift stores (which is several times a week), but considering how many Welk LPs populate the shelves at your average thrift store I’ll definitely be on the lookout for this one!

  2. Gosh I wonder why Jewish lyrics under the Nazis were so gloomy? Any suggestions?

    Also: plucking of the strings is prohibited, since it is damaging to the instrument. Thats awesome concern trolling right there.

    1. I wonder what they would have done about Pete Townsend’s windmilling his arm over the strings and ending his concerts by smashing his guitars (there were never any encores,) or Hendrix’s setting his guitar on fire with lighter fluid.

      Now those were destructive instrument torture tests. 

      1. With that suspiciously prominent nose and his obliquely gay or sexually ambiguous lyrics, Townshend wouldn’t have been allowed to perform.

    2.  I went down to the Beth Israel Infirmary
      And saw my bubelah there
      Laid out out with a schmata over her face
      So cold, so sweet, so fair,
      so could she not put on a sweater?

  3. Interestingly there are people known colloquially as Jazz Nazis whose demands aren’t that different.   “Stick to standards” “No electric instruments”  There are Free Jazz Nazis as well.

      1. He eventually has to choose between his life and his love of jazz… which does he choose?

        1. So he goes on and attempts to assassinate Goebbels with a clarinet solo. (played up-tempo!)

    1.  That piece is full of great band names!  ” Jazz Type Repertoire.”   “Negroid Excesses In Tempo.” (NET to its fans).  “Hysterical Rhythmic Reverse.”

      And my favorite:

      “Dark Instincts.”

  4. Part of the context of this is that the Nazis associated improvized musical forms not only with Der Schwartzen (blacks, definitely inferior in their minds) but also with Jews and Gypsies (Sinti, for the most part, in Germany, and more generally Roma as they expanded) who were also part of the problems requiring “solutions.”  So such music was obviously corrupting.

    If you go through that list and compare it to klezmer, for example, or Django Rheinhardt who (as Wikipedia would have it) “invented a whole new style of jazz guitar technique” which sprang from Romani traditions, and was

    Corrupt me more, please…:)

    Do you want to learn more?

          1. Allow me to one-up your Nazi-ing Nazi grammar by saying that in this case, the dative, it would be “den Schwarzen”. As the Germans say: das Boo-yah!

          2.  Well played Allen. However when incorporating foreign language fragments as in the present case it is customary to use the non-inflected nominative. I will also admit to a certain schadenfreude about what I would call your mistake!

          3. Actually it is “den Schwarzen”, since with=”mit”, “mit” demands the dative and that makes the correct article (male, plural, dativ, destinct) “den”.

            Just sayin’.

            Edit: Seems like Allen was faster. That happens when you don’t refresh before you comment. *sigh*

            But your excuse is quite lame, mister Vader!

      1. Could be either way. Usage of synecdoche in German, including Nazi propaganda (The Jew) is common, and creative spelling to invoke harsher mouth sounds when referring to The Other have precedent as well.

        1.  Hm. It’s conceivable that schwarz might be spelled with an additional T, though I believe unlikely in this modern period. But usage of the wrong preposition? Never.

          1. Except “der” and “den” are both definite articles, so no prepositions were harmed in the making of that sentence. 

          2. @boingboing-ca0b4cdd24cd14d963effac4702acb2f:disqus Dang, you are right I actually wrote preposition! What was I thinking! I meant article, thanks for pointing that out.

  5. Still more tolerant than the British government banning rave music and raves:

    A ‘rave’ is defined as a gathering of 100+ people, at which amplified music (‘wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats'[!) is played which is likely to cause serious distress to the local community, in the open air and at night.

    1994 Criminal Justice Act. The relevant clauses are yet to be repealed I believe. Just in case.

  6. a regime that tolerates lederhosen but bans cowbell was bound to fail if for no other reason than inconsistency.

    1.  You mean, like the Nazis lost because sooner or later any of their discussions brought up Hitler?

  7. I have to agree with #9; there’s not many who can pull off scat. Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway…that’s about it.

    1.  Scatman Crothers, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and countless others. That’s about it.

      1. I love Sarah Vaughan’s scat singing!   There was an album of hers that was simply incredible at this chocolate shop where I worked, that I listened to over and over.  But since then I haven’t been able to find much music of that style by her.  Any suggestions?

    2. But I thought the Germans were into scat. At least, that’s the impression I get from the .torrent sites.

    3. Loituma, Ievvan Polka.

      Better known as Leekspin.

      Modern example of scat done well, in a language that presents constructive obstacles to scatting.

  8. Wasn’t it the Jews who started the top-ten-list-of-dos-and-don’ts fad?

    11 Thou shall not covet thy neighbour’s Miles Davis collection.

    12 And ragtime is RIGHT OUT!

  9. Pretty ironic, considering Nazis themselves played Jazz.

    Charlie and His Orchestra

    “Let’s Go Bombing!” 

    (It’s becoming quite the thing to do!)

  10. As ridiculous to read these 10 commandments are, let’s not forget that each and every censorship in the world uses likewise arbitrary and plain stupid “rules”. Be it the US film rating system, the Great Chinese Internet wall, the german Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Schriften, the belorussian laws against applauding or being silent at demonstrations …

    Censorship sucks, everywhere, is totally stupid, and should be swept from this planet entirely.

    1. These rules aren’t arbitrary. They’re designed to remove individual artistic, performer, and listener freedom to express from the sphere of composing, performing, listening and dancing.
      It is a way of enforcing the conservation and imposition of a particular culture.
      German (in general) folk dances are collective dances. Even more modern dance styles (waltzes) are about the beauty and harmony of units and the whole (in a ballroom).
      It’s not about restricting the music for the sake of restricting the music. All that music is (switching terminology here) instructions to your booty, legs, and feet.
      Move with and for the sake of the collective is the unifying theme here.

      1. Surely it is both. The rules are random. They can never quite define what degeneracy is but they do obviously have a precise target and desired effect. It does seem to be the combination of music/dance and collective action which really gets to them. Fuck them all.

        1. The rules are not “random.” They are specifically designed to drive out various cultural influences.

          The word “random” means unplanned or without guidance.

    2. It’s not simply about censorship. The Nazis sought to erase cultures in that specifically precise German fashion.

  11. I’m remembering a song from the 80s that got a few plays on my local alternative radio station (WHFS, RIP) that featured a voiceover reading of these rules over examples of “violations” worked into the song’s arrangement. Sound familiar to anyone?

    1. Found it: “Rules Were Made To Be Broken” by Hugh Marsh, with vocals by Robert Palmer (yes, THAT Robert Palmer) and Lisa Dalbello. It features not just the rules, but other excerpts from Skvorecky’s memoir. 

      Of course, it’s on YouTube:

      1.  I was gonna show up here and post a link to this vid and be a hero. You got here first.  And yeah, I hate that WHFS is gone. It was on its way down when the Einstein family sold the station in the early 90’s and they moved from Annapolis to New Carrolton. WHFS was the coolest thing when I lived in the DC area.

        And now KTRU, the station I grew up on, is now online only.

    2. Remember back in their Bethesda low power days when the weekends were all Israeli music, IIRC?

    3. There is also Dreadzone’s Fight The Power featuring Chomsky protesting government censorship of music and dance in the UK.

  12. They really did play up the ethnicity of jazz back then, and black people were certainly present in Germany.  Hitler mentions black lawyers in Mein Kampf in pretty much the same way wingnuts describe Obama.  I’m sure they would have really frowned on Duke Ellingtons “Jungle Music”
    “…….trumpet player Bubber Miley joined the band, bringing with him his unique plunger mute style of playing. This sound came to be called the “Jungle Sound”, and it was largely responsible for Ellington’s early success……” 

  13. The article points to The Bass Saxophone, but much more of Skvorecky’s fiction is translated and well worth finding: the Engineer of Human Souls and The Swell Season stand with the best of Kundera’s better-known work. Much of Eastern Europe got to compare and contrast the blessings of two totalitarian approaches, but  IMHO the Czechs (maybe building on Hasek’s Good Soldier Svejk from the relatively benign imperial days?) were the best at showing the kinds of personas people built to cope.

    1. Before reading the article I was trying to remember the name of Skvorecky’s novel about a saxophone player who played jazz for a Nazi audience. It’s been too many years since I read it.

      The one I’ve never forgotten, though, is Ms. Silver’s Past, which I found so haunting and beautiful that it’s stayed with me.

    1. Strange. And here I thought their treatment of religious and ethnic minorities, civilians in conquered nations, homosexuals, communists and mentally or physically disabled would have been a dead giveaway. .

      1. I concur. I was inserting an understated jab at neo-Nazis (in my BoingBoing?) who listen to and/or perform music that would transgress the letter or spirit of these rules, who would also unthinkingly spit the phrase “The Holocaust never happened!”. Twisting the screw of cognitive dissonance, as it were. Pushing a leitmotif of a diminished seventh in a mandatory-major-key world.

        1. I see. That was *very* understated, in my opinion, as the article didn’t make any claims that this set of rule was particularly vile.

  14. I see this crop up every once in awhile, and think back to the excellent 1987 Hugh Marsh album Shaking the Pumpkin. Marsh has been a hired gun violinist for a whole swack of artists, including Bruce Cockburn. The album in question includes the song “Rules Are Made to be Broken” with vocals by Robert Palmer and Lisa Dalbello, in which Dalbello (remember her, Cory, or were you too young?) recites these very rules. You can hear it here:

  15. As a musician and member of an inferior race, I suddenly understand my playing a little better. Surprised they didn’t ban tritones.

    1. That would have involved banning the music of Liszt and Richard Wagner. Notably, a tritone is at the heart of the “Tristan Chord”, the leitmotif of Tristan in Tristan und Isolde, where it serves to highlight the heroism, initiative, and Ubermenschlichkeit (superior man’s qualities) of Tristan — at least, as was interpreted by the Nazis — as it “transcends” its functionality in the tonal arrangement.
      They likely felt they’d said enough by banning minor keys and ‘gloom’.

  16. Tv program managers have very similar rules. I think that’s the reason you can’t find many programs on the tube since the audience for what is left is minimal and not enough to attract sponcership.

  17. This is hilarious. I would imagine that if one was attempting to abide by the rules, a sudden burst of inspiration at any point would have to be countered by an immediate flood of suppressive guilt. I would not want to play in that world.

    1. This reminds me of a past incident. I was invited to play at a St. Patrick’s Day party with several members of the Louisville Mandolin Orchestra over a decade ago. I provided the sheet music, but since I hated to read notes myself, as soon as I memorized the tunes I practiced them and added expressive syncopation and imagined trills and riffs. The orchestra folks only played by reading. They would stumble every time I played any “un-notated” coloration. I just could not constrain what I heard in my head. I eventually taught one of them to also play by ear, which I am inclined to do.

  18. Rule 11: all light orchestras and dance bands must include a wide selection of Thrash Oompah numbers in their repertoire.

    Don’t believe it exists? I had a predominantly Swiss/German crew build the timber frame for my house last summer and they regaled us with endless CDs worth of Thrash Oompah, Death Metal Oompah, New Wave Oompah, Blues Oompah and… ABBA Oompah covers. I still have to use regular ear-bleach washes.

  19. These rules as a whole seem to indicate that the end result would be a “jazz” performance in name only, and would not actually sound like jazz at all; no soloing?  No mutes?  No minor keys?

    Some of the rules make no sense from a musical point of view:”no more than 10% syncopation”– who the hell measures how much syncopation there is in a song?  I suspect the actual amount of syncopation wouldn’t matter, as the appointed censor would just say “I know too much syncopation when I hear it.”

    1. There isn’t actually anything anyone can refer to since it only came from his memory… 

      “he assures us (“they had engraved themselves deeply on my mind”)”

  20. The ban was only as good as the enforcement. Many German soldiers, especially lots of  Luftwaffe pilots, listened to every schräge musik album they could get their hands on, altho they certainly didn’t admit. In WWI, there was the same general viewpoint on both sides regarding the nascent Jazz music creeping into the young soldiers’ favorite records, but you can’t keep good music down. By the end of the Great War, No. 56 Squadron RFC, used the new tune, “The Darktown Strutter’s Ball” as the squadron’s unofficial song. There was really no going back, Pandora’s Box was open.

  21. I’d love to go back in time and play some Einsterzende Neubauten for whoever wrote this list.

  22. I recall a friend had a music theory book, printed in America well before the rise of Hitler, that also denigrated “negro jazz” as wild cacophonous jungle sounds, not worthy of the term “music.”

    Wonder what they thought of “Le Sacre Du Printemps”?

  23. “Characteristic of the barbarian races” you say?  In the Western World, aren’t the German races historically synonymous with barbarism?

    Oh wait, this is BB, gotta class it up with a Goethe quote or something.  Can’t quite remember it, something like:  It will be a long time yet before the German people can say, “it has been a long time since we were barbarians”.


    1. Thankfully, people like that nice US sergeant  take some of that particular spotlight away.  

      1. ““It is not exactly humor — it is a part of Czech fiction writer Joseph Škvorecký’s story “Eine Kleine Jazzmusik”, published in 1966. Everybody in 1960s Europe knew it was a fake, expecially because of the “Reischmusikfuehrer’s” first and last name (which sounds too unnaturally much Hitler Era-ish — well, as if an imaginary U.S. functionary from the same time were called Roosevelt Newdeal.) But then, as the 1960s in their order became history, this feeling of on-purpose exaggeration somehow vanished, and newer generations of writers now meet this excerpt, which since the arrival of the Internet became a popular mega-quotation, now lives its own life; its readers, unaware of its being part of a certain writer’s fiction story (and, I am afraid, of the very existence of that certain writer,) now believe it to be a genuine Nazi document.”

  24. It must have been very satisfying for the author of these rules to be such a music nazi, with the power to legislate.

    But seriously, he strikes me as mostly a classical music purist, with just enough “ra ra Aryan race” nouveau nazi values to make his pronouncements sound modern and moral to the nazi ear.

  25. Not to say the Nazis had the right idea, but these sort of rules might offer a final solution to the autotune problem.

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