The year is 1933. Hitler has come to power. In the United States, Prohibition is over, and jazz comes out of the speak-easies and into ballrooms. People are swinging!
But jazz, the Nazis contend, is music from "Negroids and Jews." They ban it.
It's a fascinating period (a time when jazz became a music of protest and a metaphor for freedom) and a subject which Youngstown State University history professor Dr. Martin Berger finds intriguing. Though 18th and 19th century European history and World War II are his official areas of expertise, jazz is a personal interest of his.
Berger holds office hours in a well-cluttered room in YSU's history department. Hundreds of books, some horizontal and stuffed into available nooks and crannies, cram floor-to-ceiling bookshelves along two walls. Magazines also stand side by side by the tens, stretching across nearly an entire shelf.
Yellowed clippings, papers and posters are tacked to a bulletin board and walls. Berger's desk is a mound of papers, books, slide carousels, pencils and pens, with no visible desktop.
His collection: From his swivel chair, he can look directly at a shelf with stacks of small tapes -- jazz recordings. At home, he has "3 feet of classical albums," but "25 to 30 feet of jazz LP's ... with a few hundred CD's." Since 1972, he has been host of a jazz program on public radio WYSU-FM -- "Now is the Time," at 11 p.m Saturdays.
Berger gets to share his love for jazz and his historical expertise this month as well. From noon to 1 p.m. Feb. 12, he will discuss "Jazz and the War" as part of Youngstown and Mahoning County main library's Lunch and Learn Series. Berger will talk about the times, bebop, swing, traditional, hot and modern jazz, playing samples for attendees.
"Jazz was the first cultural development of America to go worldwide," he explained. "I remember hearing about a Hungarian man saying that when he heard jazz, it was the first time he was convinced the Allies would win the war." Spontaneity and discipline, Berger contends, is what he heard.
Two directions: In the 1930s, according to Berger, jazz was pushing in two directions. One was an attempt to return to the traditional (New Orleans) jazz; the other was going toward modern or bebop, that moody, almost melody-less early-50s-type jazz. In the mean time, swing is dominating. It's the music of teen-agers, Berger said.
78s are the format of the day, 10-inch shellacked discs with three minutes of music on each side. Recording devices are few and far between and magnetic tape is just beginning to emerge -- in Germany.
The war helps jazz along. "During the war, there is an incredible market for entertainment. There is full employment and [there are] relatively few consumer goods to spend your paycheck on. This encourages the development of niche music," Berger said. Suddenly, buffs and enthusiasts, those more likely to buy bebop, are courted, and Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie are among those whose music is sought after.
As with all teen-age-adored music, there were detractors. Some had to do with the "crazy" dancing. "Some is due to racism. In Europe, jazz becomes the music of rebellion," Berger said. "The U.S. picked up on this as a propaganda tool, which led to [jazz] becoming more popular with American adults."
Berger noted that other wars have influenced music as well. "World War I had patriotic, music hall stuff. Vietnam spawned acid rock, protest music and music of divergence," he said.
But, said Berger, "The thing about war is that usually great events don't create new realities. What they usually do is accelerate developments already there."
"I don't want to give away everything though," Berger said.
To hear more, we'll just have to attend his lunchtime talk.