Jazz and Politics III
Jazz in Stalin Era
Jazz was first heard in the Soviet Union five years after its emergence in the Western Europe and soon was accepted as a form of popular music. It is interesting that this form of art was regarded at the extremes during the Stalin government: “Looked down upon”, “Respected”, “Prohibited”. To explain it further; it was first regarded as a music genre that has strong ties with freedom and was supported by the government. However, it was prohibited when contradictions arose during the cultural revolutions.
There was a constant fluctuation between jazz being prohibited, censored and supported between 1920-1953 in Soviet Russia. This instability was due to the national, external, economic and ideologic elements. Valentin Parnakh became the forefather of jazz five years after the October Revolution. He discovered and fell in love with jazz through and American orchestra called Louis Mitchel Jazz Kings that he listened to in Paris during his exile in 1921. He returned to Moscow with a full instrument kit a year after his exile.
1 October 1922 is the starting day of Soviet Jazz. This is the day when Parnakh and his orchestra (Pervyj v ékscentriceskij orkestrdzaz-band Valentina Parnacha) gave their first concert in Moscow. There are no recordings left from the orchestra but according to the critics, it was something similar to Italian futurism. A few American orchestras would come and go but they never received enough attention. Sam Wooding’s black operetta “Chocolate Kiddies”, staged in 1925 in Moscow, was a big production and it received much acclaim. The reason for this was the visual majesty and the fact that all artists were black.
Following this, The Benny Peyton Jazz Kings’s concert was more successful. Because what they played was different than jazz. Sam Wooding’s style was more like symphonic (the orchestra included strings) and dance music while Peyton’s was Hot Jazz, which depended on improvization.
This different approach politicized jazz music in the 1930s. There were two types: Bourgeois and worker class musics. Amajazz, founded by Moscow Authors Association with the leadership of Aleksander Cfasman in 1928 was the first professional Soviet jazz formation. It was the first jazz ensemble to be played on the radio and the band recorded their first jazz LP in 1930.
The support for jazz continued and the Ministry of Culture sent Leopol’d Teplickij, a musician from Leningrad, to America in order for him to receive an education on jazz. Teplickij returned with many instruments, LPs and sheet music in 1927 and founded Pervyj Konsertnyj Dzaz-Band with his classical musician friends from the Leningrad Conservatoire. However, the jazz spring did not last long. The cultural revolution and other elements affected the five-year plan in the opposite direction. The Soviet Govenment decided only to support the art of the worker class at this point. Russian Proletariat Musicians Association (RAPM) became popular in 1928. With its “Anti-Modern, Anti-Western, Anti-Jazz and Anti-Classic” stance, RAPM supported the music of the proletariat. Maksim Gor’kijs, who thought negatively on jazz which was already an outcast, wrote jazz is similar to homosexuality, drugs and erotism in his essay “O Muzyke tolstych”, written during his exile in Sorrento. The minister for Culture, Anatolij Lunacarskij, agreed with Gor’kijs. However, it was Lunacarskij himself who sent Teplickij to USA for his education. RAPM was also against syncopated mysic as well as minor six and sevens (jazz colors).
Syncopation and some harmonies were prohibited by the party, so RAPM’s propaganda song “Massovaja Pesnja” was colorless and dogmatic according to the critics. Komsomol members were keeping a close eye on the public dance clubs and prohibiting foreign LPs in the meanwhile.
“Raboci i teatr” newspaper published an article in 1930. According to this article, jazz could become Sovietized with an appropriate national repertoire. This way, the clash between theory, practice, ideology and the tastes of the public could be prevented. This solution was used in Germany before and National-Socialist government passed a law in 1930 in Thuringa. Russian Proletariat Authors Association supported “Proletarian jazz” in Soviet Russia. According to Michael Gold, the head of the American Authors department, claimed that jazz was the product of a suppressed second class: Blacks and the Jews. Therefore it was a proletarian genre. Edward Charles Smith had a similar outlook: “Authentic Proletarian Jazz” would provoke an awareness about social classes. The Soviet critics accepted Gold and Smith’s views and took them further. According to this outlook there are two types of jazz; bourgeoisie chamber jazz and authentic proletarian jazz. This created a conflict: “Proletarian jazz” would be embracing capitalist elements if it were to be accepted by the radio and recording industry.
Jazz’s Red Era:
1932 was a turning point for Soviet jazz. The success of the initial five-year plan and the end of the cultural revolution as well as the RAPM’s losing popularity helped jazz. It was accepted more so than ever before. This period, which lasted until 1936, is known as “Jazz’s Red Era”. This especially attracted the attention of radio, printed media and the recording industry. First the Leningrad radio started to play Sergej Kolbas’ev’s jazz interpretations. Boris Krupysev ensemble continuously made emissions as the government orchestra on the same radio station between 1933-34.
There were no American jazz ensembles giving concerts in the Soviet Russia between 1926, Sam Wooding orchestra’s tour, and 1956. Some Western and Eastern ensembles came and went. The most well-known among these were the German band Weintraub Syncopators. They gave concerts commemorating the victims of fascism in Moscow and Leningrad in 1935. Czech Jazz Orchestra, lead by Anton Ziegler, gave many concerts in the Soviets between 1934-37. They were even invited to Kremlin.
Jazz during WWII;
The end of the 1930s were conflicting years. Hundreds of musicians were imprisoned and even executed during the Great Purge while jazz was being supported by organizations and foundations. Jazz musicians weren’t the only ones who disappeared from labour camps; some of the apolitical jazz admirers were never heard of again. Leopol’d Teplickij was condemned for sabotage crimes due to his Polish background for 10 years and was sent to the labour camps in 1935. Parnach and Leningrad Radio Orchestra’s conductor Georgij Landsberg followed in 1937 and 1938. Musicians like Leonid Utesov and Aleksander Tsfasman received special treatment due to their good relationships with some important politicians. Utesov transformed jazz into a “distilled” Soviet genre.
Big newspapers Pravda and Izvestja provoked discussions on jazz as well. With Maksim Gor’kij’s death on 18 June 1936, his writings on his views against jazz became discussed topics as well. Platon Kerzencev, the head of the State Art Committee, emphasized the “two types of jazz” argument on his article in Pravda and concluded his views by defending “Proletarian Jazz”. The government founded its own orchestra (Gosdzaz) in 1938 and founded a political model. This model orchestra was similar to DTU, the orchestra founded by the National Socialist Party in Germany in 1941. Gosdzaz received the support of RAPM but their propaganda pieces were never able to trump the popularity of jazz. Gosdzaz gave its first concert at the Bolshoi Theater on the 6th of November, 1938. This event did not receive the anticipated attention. The orchestra did not follow a path in the pursuit of jazz until Leonid Utesov became its leader in 1940. Some other Soviet republics like Belarus and Azerbaijan followed the example of Gosdzaz and formed similar orchestras. Gosdzaz became the proof that jazz could be Sovietized. The Soviet rail company placed jazz orchestras in 300 train stations. Stalin’s first secretary Lazar Kaganovic and Leonid Utesov designed a detailed pamphlet about jazz orchestras. There isn’t any clear information on how many orchestras were founded or about their quality. However, Russian jazz historian Aleksej Batasev summarizes this in an interview done with him on 15 October 2000 as: “It was like a parody but they called it jazz”.
1. V.Cernojarov: “O dzaz-bande, negrach i o tom, kak my dosli do negrov” in: Novyj sritel, (1926)
2. Boris Schwarz: “Musik und Musikleben in der Sowjetunion 1917… (1987)
3. “O muzyke tolstych,” in Pravda (1928)
4. Anatolij Lunacarskij: “Social’nye istoki muzykal’nogo iskusstva” in Proletarskij muzykant 4 (1929)
5. V.Vinogradov: “Opyt analiza legkogo zanra”, in Proletarskij muzykant (1931)
6. Michael Gold: “Jews without money”, New York (1930)
7. N.N: “Diskussija o dzaze”, in Sovetskaja muzyka (1934)
8. N.N: “O muzyke”, in Pravda,12.4.1936