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Meanings of Jazz in State Socialism


Edited By Gertrud Pickhan and Rüdiger Ritter

During the Cold War, jazz became a cultural weapon that was employed by both sides to advance their interests. This volume explores the history and roles of jazz in Poland, the German Democratic Republic (GDR), Czechoslovakia, Hungary, the Soviet Union, and the Baltic States by means of several case studies. The American administration attempted to destabilize the political systems of the Eastern Bloc countries, while the powers responsible for culture in the Eastern Bloc countries tried to curtail the US propaganda campaign. This resulted in distinct jazz traditions and jazz scenes, each governed by a distinct behavioural codex, as well as official responses in each of the Eastern Bloc countries.
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Jazz has never been just music: from the beginning, it has been imbued with various additional meaning. It is thus unsurprising that the ideas and positions manifested in jazz have always evoked passionate responses, from supporters and opponents alike, whether they were the musicians creating the music or the people who wrote about it. Under discussion were not only questions of musical aesthetics and subjective judgement – such as whether a certain title or style was agreeable or not – but also broader issues, as jazz was associated with a certain lifestyle and habitus. It posed a challenge to the contemporary music scene; moreover, it questioned the moral values inherent to contemporary society. Soon disgust and rejection emerged, but even more so fascination and support. Jazz polarized society from its very beginning by nothing other than its mere existence.

From its earliest years, from the 1920s onwards, jazz occupied a prominent position in the newly emerged Soviet Union and prompted a broad spectrum of reactions, ranging from enthusiastic welcome to outright disgust and hateful rejection. Again, it was not only musical aesthetics that were scrutinized here, but rather how one wanted to define one’s ‘own’ music or articulate opposition to a music that was quintessentially regarded as a symbol of the USA. More to the point, jazz was seen to function as a flagship of the ‘other’, attempting to break into the consolidated cultural system of the Soviet Union. In other words, the topic discussed was really not...

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