after 1945
Jazz in Germany

From a stylistic point of view there has not been a “zero hour” in German jazz. Improvising musicians in cities destroyed by war chaos tied in seamlessly with playing styles such as swing and bebop that had developed internationally.

Radio played a key role in popularising jazz in the post-war years. Germany seemed to be a land of milk and honey in abundance, especially with regard to radio big bands. It was not possible for so many jazz orchestras to become established anywhere else in Europe in the 1950s, for example the Kurt Edelhagen and Erwin Lehn ensembles in the West and the Kurt Henkels orchestra in the East. Furthermore the image of jazz in post-war Germany was characterised by journalists such as Joachim E. Berendt (whose nickname was the “Pope of Jazz”) with radio programmes on Südwestfunk, publications and the founding of the Berliner Jazztage (now known as JazzFest Berlin).

Kurt Edelhagen Orchestra: Alice In Wonderland (Preview:

“Degeneration” versus freedom

However jazz was not welcomed by all listeners. Some people were still influenced by the propaganda of Nazi years, for whom jazz had been “degenerate art” and “disinhibition”. On the other hand there were young people in the 1950s who aggressively embraced black music. They wanted to be accepted as an independent part of society with needs of their own. Jazz became a vehicle of their desires, because the rhythms of this music allowed something that had been suppressed in the inflexible upbringing of their parents’ generation: the convergence of the sexes, body contact, styling of the self.

Jazz in post-war Germany was the “sound of freedom”, a symbol of individuality, a sign of optimism and a no-holds-barred commitment to the ideas of modernism. Curiosity about as-yet unknown America led to young people discovering a “democratic dialogue” in improvisations by jazz musicians such as Hans Koller, Atilla Zoller or Jutta Hipp. For them, jazz stood for a newly-established federal state in the West, which was striving for freedom, rights and brotherhood.

From Frankfurt to Berlin

After the war, many jazz musicians were initially looking to play in clubs for US American soldiers, especially black soldiers, because musicians in these environments often had a great deal of artistic freedom. In the 1960s and 70s, Frankfurt am Main developed further to become the capital of German jazz with a style of its own for a while. Albert Mangelsdorff, Heinz Sauer and the Hessischer Rundfunk Jazz Ensemble were the leading protagonists of this modern avant-garde jazz scene.

Albert Mangelsdorff: Now Jazz Ramwong (Preview:

The oldest jazz festival in Europe, the Deutsches Jazzfestival, also started in this city in 1953. However in the 1980s Frankfurt lost its leading role to competitors such as Cologne, Hamburg, Munich and Berlin, not least because the city did not establish a regular university degree course in jazz, and the young musicians went elsewhere.

Jazz in East and West

Barbed wire and the Cold War ensured that two separate German jazz scenes developed between the end of World War Two and the Fall of the Wall in 1989. From the mid-1950s onwards in the West, trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff and the Frankfurt Circle were increasingly turning their attention towards abstract and experimental music. Musicians such as saxophonist Klaus Doldinger on the other hand managed to bridge the gap to soul jazz, and the group Passport to fusion sound.

Peter Brötzmann: Quartett Warsaw, 1974 (Preview:

For many West German musicians, free jazz meant letting go not only of stylistic pre-conceptions, but also of the US-American role models who had been dominating so far. In the 1960s the Free Scene was invigorated significantly by musicians such as saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and the Wuppertal Circle, or the Berlin Scene with its out-of-the-box thinkers such as pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, who for instance started off one of Europe’s main free ensembles in the form of the Globe Unity Orchestra.

In East Germany the development of free playing was more difficult because of the political circumstances, but it led to a superior technique with a variety of different stylistic devices. East German free jazz, with its musicians such as Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky, Ulrich Gumpert and Günter “Baby” Sommer, seemed integrative for its own scene. Jazz in the GDR, which was interpreted by the state government one minute as anti-fascist, the next as imperialistic again, and finally from the 1970s onwards as a creative cultural value in its own right, appeared outwardly to have a more eclectic style than its West German counterpart.