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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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1956 – A turning point for the jazz scenes in the GDR and Poland

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Abstract Taking a comparative approach, this study argues that the year 1956 was a turning point in the development of jazz in Poland and the German Democratic Republic. While the two countries had followed a similar path since the end of the Second World War, the effects of de-Stalinization became particularly apparent in Poland in 1956: with regard to jazz, it suddenly became possible to issue a monthly magazine and to organize an international festival in Sopot. In the GDR the jazz impresario Reginald Rudorf demanded that East Germany should follow Poland and also Hungary on their way to socialism. This demand, however, resulted in Rudorf being arrested and imprisoned and in jazz again being banned from public life in the German Democratic Republic.

The year 1956 marked a critical turning point for jazz aficionados in Poland and the GDR. From the end of the Second World War, the jazz scenes in the two countries had developed along similar lines. From 1945 until 1948, swing and jazzy pop music were very much present in cities and on the radio. With the start of the Cold War, those in power in Poland, as in the GDR, attempted to oust jazz music, which they regarded as ‘American’, from public life. The death of Stalin in 1953 initiated a slow-paced liberalization in the cultural policy of both countries. In 1954 and 1955, earlier than was the case in Poland, some more jazz could be played on the ← 39...

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