This work, based on archival records as well as interviews with surviving witnesses (Nazis and Jews alike), provides startling new information that jazz, officially despised as the music of Jews and blacks and theoretically banned, continued to flourish under the noses of the Third Reich.
There are many memorable characters here, such as the Ghetto Swingers in the Czech concentration camp of Terezin, who performed for the SS and for "the cream of the concentration camp society," the capos and bloc wardens.
Most remarkably, there was the enigmatic Dr. Dietrich Schulz-Koehn, whom Kater interviews at length. A storm trooper at age 21 and a Nazi Party member four years later, Schulz-Koehn was nonetheless a crusading defender of American jazz.
Chosen by the Nazis to represent them at a Red Cross meeting in 1945, he was offered cigarettes in exchange for his camera but replied he'd rather have jazz records: "No, I want to hear what Basie, Goodman and Hampton are doing." His U.S. counterpart happened to be a fan; the ice was broken, and the records were offered.
The power of jazz as a symbol of opposition was pervasive. Typically, in Hamburg, a colony of young fans arose whose interests were swing music and the dance styles they had seen in American movies. These "Swing Heinis" or "Swing Babies" are coincidentally the subject of a recently completed movie at Hollywood Pictures called "Swing Kids."
Kater's superbly researched story is fascinating and horrifying, yet in a sense rewarding, since it shows the lengths to which young Germans would go to keep the faith with a music that was their common link.
Items in this periodic survey of jazz-related books, videocassettes and laser discs are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to five (a classic).