Popular Music

Research Article

Hot swing and the dissolute life: youth, style and popular music in Europe 1939–49

Ralph Willett

In the late thirties, the syncopated rhythms of American jazz swept through Europe, an event encouraged by both the US record industry and Hollywood. In Germany, Fascist resistance to jazz culminated in the imposition of a ban by the Reich Chamber of Music on ‘jazzified, judified dance music’, a convenient way of dealing with American competition. Nevertheless Gene Krupa and Teddy Wilson were still entered in Brunswick's German catalogue for 1939, and German bands continued to swing (on radio and records) into the forties. It is not wholly surprising to read of Goebbels and Goering dancing, in uniform, to the swing music of Jack Hylton and his Orchestra at the Berlin Press Ball in 1937. Among the young, however, swing was already beginning to symbolise a resistance to authority and non-cooperation with the Third Reich. Even newspaper articles intended to demonstrate the demoralising and corruptive effects of jazz whetted the appetite. Thus, a Frankfurter Zeitung article on ‘The Jitterbug’ attacked the bandleader Harry James, but also explained the latest swing terms such as ‘jive’ and ‘hep-cat’.