The Nazis’ 10 Control-Freak Rules for Jazz Performers: A Strange List from World War II

Bass SaxophoneLike the rock and roll revolution of the 1950s, which shocked staid white audiences with translations of black rhythm and blues, the popularity of jazz caused all kinds of racial panic and social anxiety in the early part of the twentieth century. Long before the rise of European fascism, many American groups expressed extreme fear and agitation over the rise of minority cultural forms. But by World War II, jazz was intrinsically woven into the fabric of American majority culture, albeit often in versions scrubbed of blues undertones. This was not, of course, the case in Nazi occupied Europe, where jazz was suppressed; like most forms of modern art, it bore the stigma of impurity, innovation, passion… all qualities totalitarians frown on (even anti-fascist theorist Theodor Adorno had a serious beef with jazz).

And while it’s no great surprise that Nazis hated jazz—so much so that, as we noted yesterday, Stanley Kubrick almost made a film about the WWII-era European jazz underground—it seems they expressed their disapproval in a very oddly specific way, at least in the recollection of Czech writer and dissident Josef Skvorecky.

On the occasion of Skvorecky’s death, J.J. Gould pointed out in The Atlantic that the writer was himself one of the characters that so interested Kubrick. An aspiring tenor saxophone player living in Third Reich-occupied Czechoslovakia, Skvorecky had ample opportunity to experience the Nazis’ “control-freak hatred of jazz.” In the intro to his short novel The Bass Saxophone, he recounts from memory a set of ten bizarre regulations issued by a Gauleiter, a regional Nazi official, that bound local dance orchestras during the Czech occupation.

  1. Pieces in foxtrot rhythm (so-called swing) are not to exceed 20% of the repertoires of light orchestras and dance bands;
  2. In this so-called jazz type repertoire, preference is to be given to compositions in a major key and to lyrics expressing joy in life rather than Jewishly gloomy lyrics;
  3. As to tempo, preference is also to be given to brisk compositions over slow ones so-called blues); however, the pace must not exceed a certain degree of allegro, commensurate with the Aryan sense of discipline and moderation. On no account will Negroid excesses in tempo (so-called hot jazz) or in solo performances (so-called breaks) be tolerated;
  4. So-called jazz compositions may contain at most 10% syncopation; the remainder must consist of a natural legato movement devoid of the hysterical rhythmic reverses characteristic of the barbarian races and conductive to dark instincts alien to the German people (so-called riffs);
  5. Strictly prohibited is the use of instruments alien to the German spirit (so-called cowbells, flexatone, brushes, etc.) as well as all mutes which turn the noble sound of wind and brass instruments into a Jewish-Freemasonic yowl (so-called wa-wa, hat, etc.);
  6. Also prohibited are so-called drum breaks longer than half a bar in four-quarter beat (except in stylized military marches);
  7. The double bass must be played solely with the bow in so-called jazz compositions;
  8. Plucking of the strings is prohibited, since it is damaging to the instrument and detrimental to Aryan musicality; if a so-called pizzicato effect is absolutely desirable for the character of the composition, strict care must be taken lest the string be allowed to patter on the sordine, which is henceforth forbidden;
  9. Musicians are likewise forbidden to make vocal improvisations (so-called scat);
  10. All light orchestras and dance bands are advised to restrict the use of saxophones of all keys and to substitute for them the violin-cello, the viola or possibly a suitable folk instrument.

As The Atlantic notes, “being a Nazi, this public servant obviously didn’t miss an opportunity to couch as many of these regulations as he could in racist or anti-Semitic terms.” This racialized fear and hatred was the source, after all, of the objection. It’s almost impossible for me to imagine what kind of music this set of restrictions could possibly produce, but it most certainly would not be anything people would want to dance to. And that was probably the point.

For more on Josef  Skvorecky’s life as a writer under Nazism and his escape from Czechoslovakia after the Soviet invasion, read his illuminating Paris Review interview.

Related Content:

Stanley Kubrick’s Jazz Photography and The Film He Almost Made About Jazz Under Nazi Rule

Watch Lambeth Walk—Nazi Style: The Early Propaganda Mash Up That Enraged Joseph Goebbels

Jazz ‘Hot’: The Rare 1938 Short Film With Jazz Legend Django Reinhardt

Josh Jones is a writer, editor, and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him @jdmagness

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Comments (35)
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  • Skeptic says:

    So the source for this is an uncorroborated claim contained in a novel, ie a work of fiction, 70 years after the fact. The supposition of credulity is offensive.

    While Nazis did some burn books it was several orders of magnitude fewer than the number of books burned by occupying Allied forces. Notably, Nazis did not ban books, as was, and is, common in Allied countries then and now.

    Anyway: who cares about jazz? Random notes with random beats which, arranged randomly, sounds randomly good. Given the glorious German tradition in music they could hardly be blamed for eschewing an atonal, ephemeral fad that lasted not much longer than the Third Reich itself.

  • Josh Jones says:

    Fair enough, the source is suspect.

    There’s nothing here about burning, or banning, books. What’s your point? And what’s your source for these claims?

    Your statements about jazz are nothing but unwarranted personal prejudice. Who cares about a “glorious German tradition in music”?

  • Joe says:


    @Skeptic You question the sources and facts then spew your own doubtful evidence as a riposte. You then proceed to defend the Nazis. I don’t think there is anything else left to say except you’re wrong. Jazz is still vert popular today, can’t say I’m a fan myself but I won’t spout falshoods and outright lies.

  • Dr Paul says:

    Skeptic: ‘Random notes with random beats which, arranged randomly, sounds randomly good.’

    Aren’t you referring here to much twentieth-century ‘classical’ music? That’s what a lot of it sounds like to me, only most of it doesn’t sound ‘good’.

  • PJ Darcy says:

    @Skeptic: “glorious German tradition in music” – yeah 99 red balloons was a classic in fairness :)

  • Grunion Grady says:

    Regarding “random.” This is interesting, as it echoes a certain misinformed 5th-grade teacher’s lesson about 20th-century popular music. Do you know how much practice time it takes with not only copied but self-created phrases played on an instrument, in all keys, in order to play a credible jazz solo? As for composition, random also does not apply. Even the seeming randomness of so-called “free jazz” depends on pre-played groups of notes or, by the less-skilled, finger movements.

  • Skeptic says:

    “Do you know how much practice time it takes with blahblahblah….”

    Every time I look at the perma-sneer on Diana Krall’s face I’m reminded, lol. It’s as if she’s disgusted with humanity for not embracing jazz, or applauding at inappropriate intervals, or something.

    Truth matters, that’s why I commented. Despite even Yad Vashem denying that Nazis made lampshades and soap out of their victims the meme perseveres 70 years later.

    You could have chosen to write about the Soviet Union’s very real persecution of Jazz which, unlike the Nazi’s alleged jazz persecution, is in fact documented:

    And by persecuted I mean sent to gulags where they would often die, not restricting “drum breaks longer than half a bar in four-quarter beat”. Dig that, daddy-o.

  • mathias says:

    This sounds kind of bogus. Cowbells were used by Germanic composers as early as 1915 (Strauss, Eine Alpensinfonie) and pizzicato is such a basic part of musicianship that Mozart’s father wrote about the proper technique for pizzicato in his violin textbook.

  • Grunion Grady says:

    Last word on the subject, as a comparison, to dislike a whole genre based on one example would be a sad mistake. I dislike Neil Diamond and Neil Young, so I dislike all popular and country rock. Throw it all in the toilet.

  • Grunion Grady says:

    Wait a minute—Krall is Canadian. Aha!

  • mike t says:

    @ Grunion Grady – maybe you just dislike Neils?

  • Patrick says:

    Why are so many nazi apologists spouting off their rationalizations and bullshit these days? Could it be because of…. Obama?

  • Grunion Grady says:

    Nix to all Neils, all white Barrys, and nix to all Canadian singers except Robert Goulet.

  • ayo says:

    I don’t see anyone defending Nazis here….

    I love jazz more than any other genre; but the German tradition of music is a bit more complex/formal to have appreciated it at the time. Johannes Brahms was critiqued for sounding to mechanical and contrived for crying out loud.

    And the Soviets actually did ban and persecute Jazz, whereas the sources for Nazis doing so are questionable at best.

  • They would have loved Coltrane, Parker and Louis Armstrong!

  • mark says:

    Amazing- many ignorant statements here.
    First of all- Skeptic- as a writer and performer of BOTH Jazz and Classical music you are just plain wrong. Secondly, its not that German music didn’t use the cowbell or pizzicato, its that during the Nazi era there were restrictions placed on its use- similarly there were restrictions placed on modern art by the German Kulturburro (which also regulated all Jewish performing ensembles)- even by Germans because it was considered degenerate, and essentially abstract expressionism was equated with Jews and Barbarians.
    Third- Please find the reference at Yad Vashem where there is a denial about the soap and lampshades- here is the website.

  • mark says:

    Lastly; equating Jazz with 12 tone music is perhaps the height of ignorance- although it is a close contest between all of those statements.

  • N. C. Pirie says:

    Rules were made to be broken <3 I always loved this song by Hugh Marsh from the 80s that focuses exactly on these rules about jazz. The rules are set against a gorgeous jazz backdrop which, as it happens, really whetted the appetite for more jazz.

  • Ruth Feldman says: The goal of Nazis was to make everything German, including music. After Germans marched in Poland they made laws against Polish music and literature. The “Polish Pope” had joined the Polish Cultural Underground to read literature to groups of people. It wasn’t just jazz that was attacked.

  • Actually, this might not be bogus. The Nazis were struggling indeed with swingmusic. Not so much on ideological grounds, but on “It’s the enemies music, and our music is better”.
    They couldn’t find their musical butt with both hands. The key is in the hands of the radio-broadcasts. A German radiostation should play proper German music. But swingmusic was popular, amongst some German youth (google ‘Swingjugend’) and even the soldiers. Even though there was a penalty on listening in on English radiostations, it happened. And it was a propagandic nightmare for the Nazis. What they did, was bring swingbands from the occupied countries to Berlin’s Delphi Palast and have them play the most profane and forbidden swingmusic live on military radio. As long as the soldiers weren’t listening to English stations.
    A strange quirk was on when the US hadn’t enter WWII yet. English music was forbidden, but American music wasn’t.
    But i divert.
    Back to the list in this post. In the Netherlands there was a musicologist, Willem Steensel van der Aa. Before the war, he compiled a list of musicological terms identifying jazzmusic. It resembles the list above on a few points. The list itself didn’t have any Nazi-ideological reasoning on it. It was purely for scientific research. When the war started, he teamed up with the Nazis and somewhere in 1942, his list was used in a law stating the prohibition of jazzmusic (no growls, drumsolos of more than 2 bars, no clarinet above C3, etc). Saxophones were allowed! But they frowned at the use of the saxophone in this ‘monotonous rowdy music’. But it wasn’t fined.

    So recapping: the Nazi-ideological motivation for the mentioned rules might be a clue to whether or not this list is bogus. Lists of musicological nature *did* exist and *were* put to use.

    My source is a very-well written, scholarly book (in Dutch) called ‘Ongewenschte Muziek’ by Kees Wouters.

    And yes, the post of Dennis Glarys gives more sound background.

  • jassdancer says:

    Skvorecky, pointed out these were the Rules given by Gauleiter, a regional Nazi official in Czechoslovakia.

    and of course he did his best by memory, however Gauleiter’s rules, were his, not the Nazi parties.

    The article paints the picture that these were the rules of the entire 3rd Reich, which is simply not true.

    Heck you can google it…German propaganda loved to copy American jazz,bigband and put there own words to it.

    again…it takes for a few minutes to find the the truth on the German’s during WW2, and their rules which changed like the tide, year by year, depending on the need morality of the country.

    and if you want to see copies of jazz playbills, dancers, sheet music i suggest this book:
    Swingtime in Deutschland by Stephan Wuthe

    Thankfully, historians and researchers have done a good job of documentation, for the scholars interested.

    It’s hard to believe are debated this…lol Hitlers dead relax, do some google…it’s not worth arguing over.

    Now lets play some music..;)

  • Nicholas says:

    Notes to Sceptic…

    SCEPTIC writes:
    “So the source for this is an uncorroborated claim contained in a novel, ie a work of fiction, 70 years after the fact. The supposition of credulity is offensive.”
    “While Nazis did some burn books it was several orders of magnitude fewer than the number of books burned by occupying Allied forces. Notably, Nazis did not ban books, as was, and is, common in Allied countries then and now.”

    My comment:
    First of all, I recommend you read the book:
    “A Brief History Of THE BIRTH OF THE NAZIS”
    “How the Freikorps Blazed a Trail for Hitler”
    By Nigel Jones, foreword by Michael Burleigh
    Carroll & Graf Publishers, New York
    ISBN 0-7867-1342-9

    You are referring to – perhaps – ‘Kristallnacht’, the ‘Night of Broken Glass’ or ‘Crystal Night’ in November, 1938:

    “Kristallnacht, Crystal Night; also referred to as the Night of Broken Glass, or Reichskristallnacht, Pogromnacht, and Novemberpogrome, was a pogrom (a series of coordinated attacks) against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and parts of Austria on 9–10 November 1938, carried out by SA paramilitary and civilians. German authorities looked on without intervening. The attacks left the streets covered with broken glass from the windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings, and synagogues.”

    “At least 91 Jews were killed in the attacks, and 30,000 were arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps. Jewish homes, hospitals, and schools were ransacked, as the attackers demolished buildings with sledgehammers. Over 1,000 synagogues were burned (95 in Vienna alone) and over 7,000 Jewish businesses destroyed or damaged. Martin Gilbert writes that no event in the history of German Jews between 1933 and 1945 was so widely reported as it was happening, and the accounts from the foreign journalists working in Germany sent shock waves around the world. The Times wrote at the time: “No foreign propagandist bent upon blackening Germany before the world could outdo the tale of burnings and beatings, of blackguardly assaults on defenseless and innocent people, which disgraced that country yesterday.”

    “The pretext for the attacks was the assassination of the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath by Herschel Grynszpan, a German-born Polish Jew resident in Paris. Kristallnacht was followed by additional economic and political persecution of Jews, and is viewed by historians as part of Nazi Germany’s broader racial policy, and the beginning of the Final Solution and The Holocaust.”

    Then SCEPTIC continues:
    “Anyway: who cares about jazz? Random notes with random beats which, arranged randomly, sounds randomly good. Given the glorious German tradition in music they could hardly be blamed for eschewing an atonal, ephemeral fad that lasted not much longer than the Third Reich itself.”

    My comment:
    It is interesting to read anyone write about things, seemingly as facts, when they are clearly expressing an opinion. I started playing Piano when I was 6 years old, got hooked on Jazz as a teenager, and have since received an education from the Helsinki Pop / Jazz Conservatory in Finland, Manhattan School of Music in New York City AND Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts.
    I care about Jazz. Carefully arrange and selected notes with a wide variety of beats, rhythms and percussive elements, arranged using techniques that can only be mastered after years of study and practice, and sound interesting, challenging, complex, good, great and even awesome! Regarding the Glorius German tradition in Music, you are probably referring to Johann Sebastian Bach, Richard Wagner, Johannes Brahms, Richard Strauss or ‘Germanic’ (Austrian and German speaking Composers and Musicians) such as W. A. Mozart, Johann Strauss – the Elder and Younger – and others.
    Finally, Jazz is alive and well to this day, thank you very much!!! To refer to Jazz as ‘an atonal, ephemeral fad that lasted not much longer than the Third Reich itself’ is clearly proof of your complete ignorance, misunderstanding and stupidity regarding a cultural heritage that, in combination with other Art forms, has spawned a multitude of Music, Art, Social Commentary and one of the Highest forms of Culture in the entire world.

    Only by changing or adding to your statements the words “IN MY OPINION” can I accept reading what you wrote without commenting further.

    Sincerely and respectfully,

    Nicholas Mustelin
    Musician, Educator, Author, Actor

  • Nicholas says:

    MARK, you seem to know what you are talking about. Minor correction though:
    Atonal Music and 12-tone Music are not the same thing.

    12-tone Music, a.k.a. Serial Music, can simply be described as using all 12 notes from the Chromatic Scale, often without repeating a single note until all 12 notes have been used. But perhaps it can best be characterized as follows:

    In music, serialism is a method or technique of composition (Griffiths 2001, 116) that uses a series of values to manipulate different musical elements. Serialism began primarily with Arnold Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique, though his contemporaries were also working to establish serialism as one example of post-tonal thinking (Whittall 2008, 1). Twelve-tone technique orders the 12 notes of the chromatic scale, forming a row or series and providing a unifying basis for a composition’s melody, harmony, structural progressions, and variations. Other types of serialism also work with sets, collections of objects, but not necessarily with fixed-order series, and extend the technique to other musical dimensions (often called “parameters”), such as duration, dynamics, and timbre. The idea of serialism is also applied in various ways in the visual arts, design, and architecture (Bandur 2001, 5, 12, 74; Gerstner 1964, passim). The musical use of the word “series” should not be confused with the mathematical term “series.”

    Atonal Music is – simply put – Western Music that does not have a tonal center and does not follow traditional ways of building Harmony, Melody and Rhythm.

    According to Wikipedia:
    Atonality in its broadest sense is music that lacks a tonal center, or key. Atonality, in this sense, usually describes compositions written from about 1908 to the present day where a hierarchy of pitches focusing on a single, central tone is not used, and the notes of the chromatic scale function independently of one another (Kennedy 1994). More narrowly, the term atonality describes music that does not conform to the system of tonal hierarchies that characterized classical European music between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries (Lansky, Perle, and Headlam 2001). “The repertory of atonal music is characterized by the occurrence of pitches in novel combinations, as well as by the occurrence of familiar pitch combinations in unfamiliar environments” (Forte 1977, 1).

    More narrowly still, the term is sometimes used to describe music that is neither tonal nor serial, especially the pre-twelve-tone music of the Second Viennese School, principally Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg, and Anton Webern (Lansky, Perle, and Headlam 2001). However, “as a categorical label, ‘atonal’ generally means only that the piece is in the Western tradition and is not ‘tonal'” (Rahn 1980, 1); “serialism arose partly as a means of organizing more coherently the relations used in the preserial ‘free atonal’ music. … Thus many useful and crucial insights about even strictly serial music depend only on such basic atonal theory” (Rahn 1980, 2).

    Late 19th- and early 20th-century composers such as Alexander Scriabin, Claude Debussy, Béla Bartók, Paul Hindemith, Sergei Prokofiev, Igor Stravinsky, and Edgard Varèse have written music that has been described, in full or in part, as atonal (Baker 1980, 1986; Bertram 2000; Griffiths 2001; Kohlhase 1983; Lansky and Perle 2001; Obert 2004; Orvis 1974; Parks 1985; Rülke 2000; Teboul 1995–96; Zimmerman 2002).

    Sincerely and respectfully

    Nicholas Mustelin – Pianist
    Musician: Performer, Composer, Arranger, Educator

    (And yes, I like to write long comments here……)

  • Who says:

    Really ? can you give me a link? ‘While Nazis did some burn books it was several orders of magnitude fewer than the number of books burned by occupying Allied forces. ‘ Srsly?

  • It’s probably not very true to life, but I happened to be totally entertained by the book “Half- Blood Blues” by Esi Edugyan. I really, really hope jazz music pissed off the Nazis!
    BTW, Parisian Living call their improv stuff “slovenly jazz” because, well, we don’t work very hard on it!

  • mark says:

    Thanks, I can accept the correction; although accuracy would require us to call it pan-tonal music. Either way- the comparison w/ the tonality of much of Jazz is fairly inaccurate.

  • Oded Fried-Gaon says:

    So hard to believe… but as we well know, absolute truth.
    extraordinary that this was reality not very long ago.
    the world is full of fear, and rightly so: it’s a scary world, and it’s very hard to live through it all, but to let fear rule you, and to let fear lead you to rule others is live blindly, foolishly, and filled with much more unnecessary difficulty!

  • Dan Laurin says:

    And exactly why is it strange that Marxist Adorno is against jazz? Ever heard of Soviet jazz in the period 1920-1952? Me neither. No ideologies are more against modernity than the brown/black/red ones. To be astonished about communist resentment against Charlie Parker is to be embarrassingly ignorant.

  • David Gracia says:

    Nazi Germany did well in prohibiting degenerate musik, this modern jazz and pop music that acts like alcohol or any other drug in people´s minds, they get addictive and aggressive. I don’t listen to any music at all.

  • rt says:

    “David Gracia says:
    April 5, 2015 at 2:38 pm
    Nazi Germany did well in prohibiting degenerate musik, this modern jazz and pop music that acts like alcohol or any other drug in people´s minds, they get addictive and aggressive. I don’t listen to any music at all.”

    LOL. Well, folks, there’s your evidence of the “moral superiority” of a person offended by jazz and popular music, yet who supports a Nazi dictatorship.

    What are the chances he has any reciprocal loving relationships, even with his fellow totalitarians?

  • ed roberts says:


    How can a person be as STUPID as you obviously are?
    Jazz de-generative music?

  • Burt says:

    I thought you were about to say, “I dislike any music made by anyone with the name ‘Neil'”

  • Michel Saint-Laurent says:

    I wont waste my time on you… You are just so blatantly ignorant. On that, I’ll “Take five”, if you know what I mean!

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