International Society for Jazz Research

Jazz in Graz

Von den Anfängen nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg bis zu seiner akademischen Etablierung. Ein zeitgeschichtlicher Beitrag zur Entwicklung des Jazz in Europa

Jazz was first academically established in 1965 as an "Institute of Jazz" at the former Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in Graz. The foundation, at university level, followed a few years later. This provided an independent place of training and research and can be seen as the result of a consequential process in the story of the development of the life of jazz in Graz since 1945.

The vacuum of the "jazz-less time" during the war years stirred curiosity towards this music which gradually became a synonym for freedom and the newly won joy of life. As is well known, after Hitler and the National Socialists took power in 1933, the feeling against jazz and jazz-like music began to become more critical without, as has sometimes been mistakenly assumed, there ever having been a ban pronounced against it. Apart from all other kinds of restrictions, numerous regional bans and orders against the so-called "damaging effects" of this music were issued. In this way, for instance, after the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, playing English music and selling English music and records was prohibited. This ban was also extended to include American music after America entered the war in 1941. Subsequently, the National Socialist state always had an ambivalent relationship to this music although it was used in the service of its propaganda many times. Despite all this, it began to spread across Germany and Austria and elicit enthusiasm, not least because in it one saw a sign of resistance against the regime. On the whole, however, jazz and swing in Austria during the war were restricted to the activities of the underground. So much more was the delight over this music at the end of the war when it could be played and listened to in freedom. It experienced its first impulse through British occupiers who showed themselves to be enthusiastic promoters of the cultural and entertainment life in Graz, and this included numerous public venues for jazz musicians. In the course of time, an abundance of horne ensembles started up which not only served as entertainment but also began to deal critically and objectively with the phenomenon of jazz. There were repeated efforts to stage concerts which were to serve the education of the people and contribute to shedding light on jazz. At the same time, jazz became the topic of courses and discussions in people's educational institutes, such as Urania. On the whole, the press took a very positive attitude towards this type of music as long as the performers were local musicians; internationally renowned jazz stars, however, came up against prejudice when they came to play in Graz in the 1950s. One could then still strongly feel the aftermath of a cultural ideology which had coined the phrase "degenerate art". As evidence of the specially active Graz jazz life, two Graz jazz clubs (hot clubs) were founded in 1948/49 and 1950, respectively, which, among other factors, can be seen as ushering in the busy Graz jazz scene of later years. Presumably, the immediate post war situation in Vienna with the city being divided into four zones by the occupying powers had a certain impact on Graz in that possibilities of the development of the social lives of the young people of Vienna were considerably restricted. Owing to this, a considerable number of committed young people decided to pursue their academic studies in Graz where they contributed to cultural activities in the city. In this way, the intellectual potential of Graz, proportional to the general population, experienced prodigious growth in contrast with other comparable towns. The liberal attitudes of the British allowed people to live in relative freedom from autumn 1945 onwards, and a situation came about in Graz quite different to the "Third Man" atmosphere tinged with fear imposed by the Russians in Vienna. This paved the way for the development of the city into a centre of the avantgarde. The life of jazz in connection with the British occupying power in Graz is remarkable since it was from this variety of dance music and music in the jazz idiom that a renowned place of jazz tuition later evolved.

Moreover, the history of jazz in Graz is closely connected with the fundamental change which, in 1958, resulted in the founding of the Forum Stadtpark. During the period of occupation, there had been an opening up of the cultural life in Graz to international influences together with a certain spirit of fundamental change. After the British left, however, a new period of conservatism and rejection of everything new started once more. This caused young artists in all fields of art to go against this tendency and motivated them to create a platform for contemporary art. By founding the Forum Stadtpark in 1958, a centre of the avant-garde was born which subsequently was to become the most significant place of the new German literature. The initiatives taken by the Forum Stadtpark, in fact, meant that Graz came to be called the "unspoken capital of (German) literature". This feuilletonistic characterisation can be transferred and applied, in a certain way, to the position of jazz in the city. The general cultural need to catch up with international contemporary streams of art favoured the development of the Forum Stadtpark. A permanently interested audience confirmed the direction the Forum was going in. Additionally, the public soon felt that deficits in contemporary culture were no longer tolerable for a city with the size and social structure of Graz. The search for a political image of progressiveness and a real conviction of cultural necessity certainly happened simultaneously.

The founding and performing of a big band as well as several other jazz groups on a smaller scale in the subsequent years meant another important step towards the unfolding of jazz in Graz. Their remarkable success was echoed respectfully both by the Austrian press and abroad. What is also symptomatic is that their success was mainly achieved in the "modern style" which, once more, coincided with the then situation of literature and the arts; an intensive preoccupation with the most recent streams in jazz, as weIl as with avant-garde music, was evident. Within the extremely active jazz scene, there were consequent efforts to establish an "Institute of Jazz" at the Academy that had been founded in 1963. On 1 January, 1965, all preparations had been completed, and the Institute finally opened its gates. 1971 brought about a division of the Institute into an "Institute of Jazz Research" on the one hand, and a "Department of Jazz" on the other hand, i. e. between research and tuition. This decision was made following a restructuring of the Academy which had been granted the status of the University of Music and Dramatic Arts in Graz, according to the Kunsthochschulgesetz of 1970 (University of Arts Organization Law). However, without the Forum Stadtpark as foundation and institution that paved the way, the "Institute of Jazz" might never have been able to be realised. The swift implementation of something so novel and extraordinary was also facilitated by a whole series of advantageous constellations and individual initiatives. Last, but not least, jazz in Graz is to be counted among the phenomena of the fundamental wave of change brought about in Europe after the Second World War by a boom of changes and innovations, protesting as it did against a nationalistic and conservative cultural spirit.