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Meanings of Jazz in State Socialism

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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 in State Socialism – a Playground of Refusal?

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Abstract Like most, if not all aspects of cultural life in the Eastern Bloc also jazz needs to be considered within the context of the Cold War. It is within this framework that jazz was turned into a political weapon: the Americans used it as part of their ‘soft power diplomacy’; the Eastern Bloc countries responded with creative counter-measures. One of the playgrounds for this political wrangling was the radio, which was not only used for the very direct dissemination of political interests, but also for more subtle ‘jazz diplomacy’. Taking the case of the Voice of America jazz broadcaster Willis Conover as an example, this contribution shows that neither West nor East achieved a clear victory in the Cold War as a result of ‘jazz diplomacy’, but that jazz life, especially in Europe, benefited from the attention paid by the two opposing superpowers to the jazz genre.

1.  The Playing Field of Jazz

Long is the list of descriptions, metaphors, images, and expressions used to conceptually grasp the specific position accorded to art, literature and music under the conditions of state socialism in the former Eastern Bloc. Terms like rebellion, protest, resistance, resilience, dissidence, underground, subversion, refusal, stubbornness, autonomy, alternative culture and opposition frequently feature in this context – indeed, there appears no end in sight for this long list. All these terms mean something different and are by no means interchangeable; rather, they reveal even quite contradictory views as to what role...

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