Hear the Nazi’s Bizzaro Propaganda Jazz Band, “Charlie and His Orchestra” (1940–1943)

As you might expect from a vicious polit­i­cal move­ment front­ed by a frus­trat­ed illus­tra­tor, the Nazi par­ty had a com­pli­cat­ed­ly dis­dain­ful yet aspi­ra­tional — and need­less to say, unceas­ing­ly fas­ci­nat­ing — rela­tion­ship with art. We pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured their philis­tine grudge against mod­ernism that led to the “Degen­er­ate Art Exhi­bi­tion” of 1937, their mega-bud­get pro­pa­gan­da film on the Titan­ic dis­as­ter that turned into a dis­as­ter itself, and their con­trol-freak list of rules for dance orches­tras. The Nazis, as you might expect, did­n’t much care for jazz, or at least saw some polit­i­cal cap­i­tal in open­ly denounc­ing it. Yet it seems they also saw some in embrac­ing it, turn­ing the quin­tes­sen­tial­ly free art form toward, as always, their own pro­pa­gan­dis­tic pur­pos­es. What if they could come up with their own pop­u­lar jazz band and, using long-dis­tance short- and medi­um-wave broad­cast sig­nals, turn the Allies’ own music against them? Enter, in 1940, Char­lie and His Orches­tra. Anoth­er Joseph Goebbels cre­ation.

“The idea behind the Nazis’ Char­lie cam­paign,” writes the Wall Street Jour­nal’s Will Fried­wald, “was that they could under­mine Allied morale through musi­cal pro­pa­gan­da, with a spe­cial­ly devised orches­tra broad­cast­ing mes­sages in Eng­lish to British and Amer­i­can troops.” The groups’ fea­tured singer, “Char­lie” him­self (real name: Karl Schwedler), would sing not just “irre­sistible” jazz stan­dards but ver­sions with anti-British, ‑Amer­i­can, and ‑Semit­ic lyrics. You can hear much of their cat­a­log in the clips here, includ­ing what Fried­wald cites as their “weird­est record­ings”: “Irv­ing Berlin’s ‘Slum­ming on Park Avenue,’ in which Schwedler, por­tray­ing a British pilot with a mock-Eng­lish accent, sings ‘Let’s go bomb­ing!’ ” and “So You Left Me for the Leader of a Swing Band” refash­ioned as “So You Left Me for the Leader of the Sovi­ets.” Ulti­mate­ly, not only did the out­side world prove to have bet­ter taste than the Nazis, their own fight­ers did too: “Not only did the Char­lie project fail to con­vert any Allies to the oth­er side, but even Ger­many’s own troops could­n’t bring them­selves to take Nazi swing seri­ous­ly.” It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing, I sup­pose — and Char­lie and his Orches­tra def­i­nite­ly did­n’t have it. More audio sam­ples can be heard over at WFMU.

via WSJ

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

The Nazi’s Philis­tine Grudge Against Abstract Art and The “Degen­er­ate Art Exhi­bi­tion” of 1937

Titan­ic: The Nazis Cre­ate a Mega-Bud­get Pro­pa­gan­da Film About the Ill-Fat­ed Ship … and Then Banned It (1943)

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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