- The Jazz Republic: Music, Race, and American Culture in Weimar Germany by Jonathan O. Wipplinger
Jonathan Wipplinger presents a thorough analysis of the impact of jazz as a musical art form rooted in African American culture on the young democracy of Germany, specifically the city of Berlin. His research digs [End Page 174] deep into articles, news reports, publicity materials, concert programs, and also translations of the poetry of Langston Hughes, while also providing an analysis of the political context in order to document the impact of the arrival of jazz as a symbol for American culture. Wipplinger refutes the commonly held notion that legitimate African American jazz was unknown in Weimar Germany apart from its "diluted commercial imitations" (12). Furthermore, he argues that the overwhelming publicity that symphonic jazz and the white band director Paul Whiteman received in Weimar Germany eclipsed the presence of African American jazz artists, leaving the initial impression that Germans were unfamiliar with African American jazz. Wipplinger offers a badly needed alternative narrative in which the musical contributions of African American jazz performers and composers become visible and in which the complexity and "messiness of cultural transfer" are acknowledged (13).
The modernism of the 1920s, observed in Dadaism and expressionism, was largely facilitated through the cultural friction associated with jazz that allowed the development of a new identity. During this dynamic period, American Sam Wooding and his jazz orchestra from New York premiered in Berlin. Wooding's presence points to an influence on Weimar culture of African American jazz directly from America. Wipplinger discusses the strong (both positive and negative) reception of the group and then moves to the theoretical level, engaging with modernist theory. He uses the concept of aural shock, based on the theories of Theodore Adorno and Walter Benjamin, along with socially constructed ideas of Blackness and images of the modern metropolis in his analysis. Wipplinger acknowledges Adorno's negative writings on jazz but nonetheless applies his theories, deliberately reading Adorno "against the grain" (70), a valid move consistent with the book's innovative approach. The paradoxical juxtaposition of the modern and the primitive was found in jazz—the machination and noise of the modern city reflected in the instrumentation and overwhelming nature of jazz, and Blackness in its associations for Weimar Germans with the syncopated rhythms of the "jungle" representing the primitive—yielding the concept of a "techno-primitive hybrid" (45). Wipplinger also argues that perceptions (and misperceptions) of African American musicians in Weimar Germany influenced modernist thought.
With the rise of the Nazi party, racial discrimination led to the rejection of jazz. Nazis conflated Blackness, modern jazz, and Jewishness, as shown in an image at the exhibition Entartete Musik (Degenerate music), [End Page 175] depicting a caricature of a black saxophonist with a large hoop earring and a Star of David on the lapel (234). Yet German Jewish writers and artists were attracted to jazz because they saw parallels between the plight of African Americans in American culture and their own circumstances as outcasts.
In uncovering an alternative narrative of history, Wipplinger also engages with gender directly. His chapter on Girlkultur discourse of the mid-1920s analyzes a new conception in which the feminine was cast as the foreign, even threatening other. Although the dancing girls of the era were white, Fritz Giese posits a primitive black ancestry to their rhythmic dancing. The ideas surrounding Girlkultur give jazz, race, and gender an interrelatedness that was perceived to drive the process of modernity.
A thorough, in-depth document of the impact of jazz culture on the Weimar Republic, The Jazz Republic satisfies a need to see jazz from a transnational perspective and can function in the classroom as a springboard for fruitful discussion of German modernism and the complexity of cultural exchange. Wipplinger offers a list of alternative figures on the Weimar jazz scene whose presence can serve as an antidote to the prominent white males featured in textbooks for German foreign-language instruction. His narration supplements the usual...