More than just music: During the Cold War, jazz suddenly found itself between all fronts – at the same time, it served as a propaganda weapon, a symbol of freedom and a musical bridge between East and West.
Since its inception, jazz has never been simply music. It has always been caught in the crossfire between the most diverse positions – just as strongly opposed by its opponents as almost mystically glorified by its proponents. Music of freedom, music of the American way of life – these are the central elements of the myth that surrounds jazz. When Eastern Europe disappeared behind the Iron Curtain after the Second World War, this myth gained additional significance there. Jazz quickly became a symbol of democracy, modernity and Western values. Even though it was hardly known outside the Eastern Bloc, lively and independent jazz scenes had been forming in all East-Central European countries and also in the Soviet Union since the 1920s.
How political was the jazz of the Eastern Bloc?
But there is little point in searching here for forms of open resistance or political protest. No jazz musician from the Eastern Bloc ever called for a revolution. Descriptions and memoirs written by insiders of the scene seem to be completely apolitical: The themes are encounters with musicians, performances and concerts – it is as if everything took place in a space free of politics. Very rarely is a comment made about the political situation or the repressive measures of the state authorities. We could ask provocatively: Did the elements of the jazz myth, that is, the assertion of jazz as the music of freedom, play any role at all here? Surely though, if this was not the case, what was the origin of the great importance that jazz had at the time of state socialism in the Eastern Bloc and still has today?
This becomes clear when we take a closer look at the music and the state socialist societies in which it was made. In the first two decades after the war, jazz became the nucleus of an alternative culture that fundamentally challenged the monopoly of power and domination of those in power. It did this in several ways.
An alternative design for society – musically encoded
First, jazz was a clear rejection of the leading theory of Socialist Realism Socialist Realism Socialist realism was a doctrine propagated by Stalin’s Minister of Culture, Andrei Zhdanov, that defined what art should look like under state socialism. Literature, music, and the visual and performing arts were to be primarily representational and instructional; abstract art forms were rejected. The focus was on the exaggerated depiction of the ideal socialist or communist society and its emergence. In painting and sculpture, for example, heroic depictions of workers and peasants were widespread. in state socialist societies, which Stalin's Minister of Culture Andrei Ždanov (1896–1948) had in fact elevated to state doctrine. The ideological demand for music with clear, specific content and mass appeal to be used to promote the affirmative purposes of the regime was far removed from jazz as predominantly instrumental and therefore non-representational music of a profoundly individualistic character, not oriented toward bold, simplistic statements.
Second, jazz also challenged state socialist notions of social order. Since its inception, jazz had been associated with a sexual, provocative moment that was disapproved of by the bourgeois establishment as indecent. The fact that the jazz critics of the new socialist states fully adopted the ideas of the bourgeois jazz opponents – that is, the “class enemies!” – proves in an astonishing way how narrow and uptight the concept of the “new” culture propagated by the socialist leaders was and how much it was in fact oriented toward bourgeois moral concepts of the past.
Music as an instrument of propaganda
U.S. propaganda officers quickly understood the power that jazz gave them and wanted to use it specifically as a weapon to destabilize the Eastern Bloc. A program like Music USA: Jazz Hour and its host Willis Conover (1920–1996), which could be heard every evening via shortwave on the Voice of America radio station starting in 1955, achieved cult status throughout the Eastern Bloc. Famous jazz musicians, including such notables as Duke Ellington (1899–1974) and Dave Brubeck (1920-2012), were sent on tours to the Eastern Bloc by the United States Department of State to serve as musical ambassadors of freedom.
Rather than defecting to capitalism in droves, however, as the strategists of U.S. cultural diplomacy had initially hoped, Eastern Bloc jazz fans persuaded their governments first to tolerate and then even to promote jazz. This shift was most spectacular in Poland. Whereas Polish jazz ensembles had had to play underground until shortly before 1956, the year of the beginning of the Thaw, from that year on jazz music was approved by the state. Festivals could be held officially, jazz ensembles could perform in public, state radio included the music in its programming, and soon jazz even appeared in the curricula of music colleges.
The short clip in memory of Willis Conover and his “Jazz hour” presents not only the distinctive voice of the presenter, but also a programmatic quote: „The music of jazz parallels the freedom that we have in America. Something that not every country has.“
Appropriation from both sides
What looked to the West like a declaration of capitulation by socialist cultural politicians to the popularity of jazz was in fact the result of a calculated change in strategy: If jazz could not be eliminated, it should be officially promoted and made use of in the advancement of the state’s own cultural policy. To justify this approach, a distinction was made between “capitalist,” “commercialized” jazz on the one hand and “proletarian,” “genuine” jazz on the other, a distinction that had already originated in the Soviet Union in the 1920s. With this argumentation, the Soviet Union tried to sell itself as the natural “fatherland of jazz”, since jazz in its capacity as the music of the oppressed was actually at home here. In particular, they sought to capitalize on the racial segregation still practiced in the U.S. and thus to direct jazz's implicit promise of freedom against the West itself.
On both sides of the Iron Curtain, groups attempted to use jazz to achieve their own political goals, but in both cases only with limited success. Paradoxically, however, it was precisely this dual instrumentalization that gave jazz in the Eastern Bloc countries special opportunities for development: A clever organizer of a jazz festival could, on the one hand, have his event promoted by the cultural policy department of his own country as a contribution to socialist culture, while, on the other hand, receiving financial support for the performance of Western or even American jazz musicians from U.S. cultural diplomacy funds, as the festival could be understood as contributing to the destabilization of the Eastern Bloc.
Dwindling importance after 1970
East and West thus waged a cultural Cold War with the aim of winning over jazz-loving youth in particular. For jazz was not a lower-class phenomenon in the Eastern Bloc, but the music of an educated and privileged generation of young people (in the 
Soviet Union
deu. Sowjetunion, rus. Sovetskiy Soyuz, rus. Советский Союз

The Soviet Union (SU or USSR, Russian: Союз Советских Социалистических Республик (СССР) was a state in Eastern Europe, Central and Northern Asia existing from 1922 to 1991. The USSR was inhabited by about 290 million people and formed the largest territorial state in the world, with about 22.5 million square km. The Soviet Union was a socialist soviet republic with a one-party system.

, for example, it was the so-called Šestdesjatniki, i.e. the generation of the 1960s, who were an influential force for late state socialism). It therefore also had great political significance: jazz was simply too important for the cultural politics of the U.S. and the Eastern Bloc countries for its development to be left to chance.
However, with the triumph of rock’ n’ roll and the establishment of rock as the new music of the youth in the 1970s, this political importance of jazz in the Eastern Bloc declined. Increasingly, the daring, sassy music of youth became an academically discussed music of aging men (in fact, female listeners were as much in the minority as female jazz musicians), so that jazz was pushed from the center of social life to the margins. The free space that had emerged since the 1960s as a result of dual political sponsorship now became a social niche.
Krzysztof Komeda (1931–1969) was one of the most important Polish jazz musicians and also contributed music to numerous films. On this television recording, his quartet plays in honor of John Coltrane (1926–1967), who died in the summer of 1967, with Komeda at the piano. The musician died not even two years after Coltrane as a result of an accident. 
Regional differences in cultural policy
Paradoxically, the repressive situation in the Eastern Bloc countries was, on the whole, rather conducive to the development of jazz – but with a serious catch: jazz life as a whole, like other cultural areas under state socialism, was subject to unforeseeable, arbitrary acts of authoritarianism. It often depended on the whims of a single functionary whether a long-planned concert or festival could be held or was banned at the last minute. Jazz was, so to speak, part of a system of instrumentalized arbitrariness: it was neither allowed nor forbidden, but tolerated, and this toleration could be revoked at any time just like that. In Hungary, this practice was referred to as the “system of the three T’s”, referring to the Hungarian words “támogattot, tíltott, tűrt” (permitted, forbidden, tolerated).
Each socialist country developed its own style of dealing with jazz. The situation was most favorable for jazz in 
Polish People’s Republic
deu. Volksrepublik Polen, pol. Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa

The People's Republic of Poland was a socialist state existing from 1944 to 1989 within the borders of present-day Poland. The single socialist party of the one-party state was the communist Polish United Workers' Party (Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza, PZPR).

. After World War II, the main gateway for modern jazz were the YMCA clubs YMCA clubs The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) is an internationally active Christian youth organization. , which continued to exist until 1948, but were then disbanded in the wake of the cultural ice age of the Bierut era Bierut era Bolesław Bierut (1892–1956) was Poland’s head of state from 1947 to 1952 and head of government from 1952 to 1954; from 1948 he was also party leader of the Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza (PZPR), the Polish United Workers Party, which was also the Socialist Unity Party of the Polish People’s Republic. Bierut was strongly oriented toward the Stalinist Soviet Union. His reign as president was among the most repressive and authoritarian in Polish history and was marked by political persecution, show trials, and the systematic surveillance of millions of people. . As a result of lively pre-war traditions and intensive international contacts, however, a jazz scene had already developed in Poland that conspiratorially 'hibernated' in basements and private apartments – a period known in Poland as “catacomb jazz” (“jazz katakumbowy”).
The success of this hibernation was demonstrated in 1956, when the regime allowed the organization of the first jazz festival in the Baltic Sea resort of 
deu. Zoppot

Sopot is a city in the north of Poland and is inhabited by 35,000 people. The city is located in the Pomeranian Voivodeship (Polish: Pomorskie) north of Gdańsk (German: Danzig), directly on the Baltic Sea. Sopot is a well-known spa town in Poland and is part of the Trójmiasto (literally 'Tri-City') agglomeration of the cities of Gdańsk, Gdynia and Sopot.

, in order to demonstrate a climate and sense of normality to the world and to its own public. The event caused great surprise: as if from nowhere, talented jazz musicians appeared, the first being Krzysztof Komeda (1931–1969), and gained international attention. In the following years, the resistance of Polish jazz was combined with the acceptance of state support, which gave Polish jazz a solid foundation.
East Germany
While the state leadership of the People's Republic tried to take the wind out of the sails of the rebellious character of jazz through a policy of keeping it on a long leash, in the neighboring German Democratic Republic the opposite approach was taken. A jazz festival like the one in Poland was unthinkable in the “GDR” in the 1950s. The SED regime SED regime The Socialist Unity Party of Germany, abbreviated SED, was the Marxist-Leninist-oriented single party of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). The party was formed in 1946 in the Soviet occupation zone from the forced merger of the Communist Party of Germany and the Social Democratic Party of Germany. It ruled autocratically and de facto dictatorially after the founding of the GDR in 1949. One-party rule was maintained until the peaceful revolution in 1989/90. was confronted with a unique problem in that its citizens came into contact with Western culture more than any other inhabitants of the Eastern Bloc. Due to geographical proximity, they had the best opportunity to receive Western stations with jazz broadcasts, including RIAS Berlin RIAS Berlin RIAS stood for 'Radio in the American Sector' and was the name of a radio station operated by the U.S. military administration until 1993. Around 1990, RIAS even briefly broadcast its own television program. From 1946 to 1993 it broadcast radio programs. or the Western Allies' army radio stations AFN AFN American Forces Network (AFN), Broadcasting Network of the USA Armed Forces. and BFN BFN British Forces Network (BFN), British Forces broadcasting network established in Germany and Austria in 1945, merged into the British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS) in the 1960s. , both of which also broadcast extensive jazz programming. These circumstances contributed in no small part to a considerably higher level of nervousness among those in power, who tried almost desperately to counteract the appeal of jazz by propagating socialist culture or substitute forms of jazz. In response, the musicians of this country created a stylistically highly remarkable, very independent form of jazz.
The “Duke Ellington Orchestra” plays together with the Symphony Orchestra of the Polish National Philharmonic in 1977 at the most important jazz festival of the Eastern Bloc, the Jazz Jamboree in Warsaw. The bandleader of the jazz orchestra is Mercer Ellington (1919-1996), the son of Duke Ellington (1899-1974), who had died a few years earlier. The conductor of the Philharmonic Orchestra is Wojciech Rajski (*1948). 
ces. Československo, deu. Tschechoslowakei, slk. Česko-Slovensko, eng. Czecho-Slovakia

Czechoslovakia was a state existing between 1918 and 1992 with changing borders and under changing names and political systems, the former parts of which were absorbed into the present-day states of the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Ukraine (Carpathian Ukraine, already occupied by Hungary in 1939, from 1945 to the Soviet Union). After 1945, Czechoslovakia was under the political influence of the Soviet Union, was part of the so-called Eastern Bloc as a satellite state, and from 1955 was a member of the Warsaw Pact. Between 1960 and 1990, the communist country's official name was Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (abbreviated ČSSR). The democratic political change was initiated in 1989 with the Velvet Revolution and resulted in the establishment of the independent Czech and Slovak republics in 1992.

, a veritable tug-of-war developed between the oppositional jazz scene on the one hand and circles loyal to the regime on the other. Here, too, as in Poland, there had been a brief but very intense flowering of Central European-Western culture until 1948, which was at first superficially stifled by the Stalinist measures of the following years. After the political climate relaxed, jazz was initially allowed in moderation. The jazz scene managed to consolidate itself and became institutionally stabilized when the so-called Jazz Section was founded in 1971 as a subunit of the Czechoslovak Musicians’ Union. This jazz Section now attempted to establish a cultural life independent of the regime and extending far beyond jazz. In the face of an impending loss of control, the state finally intervened – leading members of the Jazz Section were indicted in a politically motivated trial and sentenced to imprisonment and fines.
Soviet Union
Although the cultural politicians of the Soviet Union claimed for their country the leading role in Eastern Bloc jazz, this role naturally fell to Poland, which with its Jazz Jamboree, the international jazz festival held in 
deu. Warschau, eng. Warsaw

Warsaw is the capital of Poland and also the largest city in the country (population in 2022: 1,861,975). It is located in the Mazovian Voivodeship on Poland's longest river, the Vistula. Warsaw first became the capital of the Polish-Lithuanian noble republic at the end of the 16th century, replacing Krakow, which had previously been the Polish capital. During the partitions of Poland-Lithuania, Warsaw was occupied several times and finally became part of the Prussian province of South Prussia for eleven years. From 1807 to 1815 the city was the capital of the Duchy of Warsaw, a short-lived Napoleonic satellite state; in the annexation of the Kingdom of Poland under Russian suzerainty (the so-called Congress Poland). It was not until the establishment of the Second Polish Republic after the end of World War I that Warsaw was again the capital of an independent Polish state.

At the beginning of World War II, Warsaw was conquered and occupied by the Wehrmacht only after intense fighting and a siege lasting several weeks. Even then, a five-digit number of inhabitants were killed and parts of the city, known not least for its numerous baroque palaces and parks, were already severely damaged. In the course of the subsequent oppression, persecution and murder of the Polish and Jewish population, by far the largest Jewish ghetto under German occupation was established in the form of the Warsaw Ghetto, which served as a collection camp for several hundred thousand people from the city, the surrounding area and even occupied foreign countries, and was also the starting point for deportation to labor and extermination camps.

As a result of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising from April 18, 1943 and its suppression in early May 1943, the ghetto area was systematically destroyed and its last inhabitants deported and murdered. This was followed in the summer of 1944 by the Warsaw Uprising against the German occupation, which lasted two months and resulted in the deaths of almost two hundred thousand Poles, and after its suppression the rest of Warsaw was also systematically destroyed by German units.

In the post-war period, many historic buildings and downtown areas, including the Warsaw Royal Castle and the Old Town, were rebuilt - a process that continues to this day.

 from 1958 on, formed a cultural hub between West and East. Nevertheless, the Soviet Union also had a rich jazz life, which was by no means confined to 
eng. Moscow, deu. Moskau, rus. Москва́

Moscow (Russian Москва́) is the capital of Russia and also the largest city in the country. With about 12.5 million inhabitants, Moscow is the largest city on the European continent.

rus. Leningrad, deu. Sankt Petersburg, eng. Saint Petersburg, rus. Ленингра́д, rus. Петрогра́д, rus. Petrograd

Saint Petersburg is a metropolis in the northeast of Russia. The city is home to 5.3 million people, which makes it the second largest in the country after Moscow. It is located at the mouth of the Neva River into the Baltic Sea in the Northwest Federal District of Russia. Saint Petersburg was founded by Peter the Great in 1703 and was the capital of Russia from 1712 to 1918. From 1914-1924 the city bore the name Petrograd, from 1924-1991 the name Leningrad.

, but also flourished in peripheral regions (the Baltic States, 
deu. Aserbaidschan

Azerbaijan is a Near Eastern state with a population of about 10. The country is located at the southeastern end of the Great Caucasus Mountains, on the west coast of the Caspian Sea. The capital, with a population of over two million, is Baku. Azerbaijan's neighbors are Russia, Georgia, Iran, Armenia and Turkey.

) or remote provincial towns (
rus. Новосибирск

Novosibirsk is the capital of the russian oblast of the same name and, with a population of around 1.6 million, also the largest city in Siberia. The history and rise of the city are closely connected with the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway.

In the area of tension between cultural autonomy and political instrumentalization, very different jazz scenes developed in the Eastern Bloc, which soon not only absorbed influences from the West, but also gave important impulses to the worldwide development of this music. The state socialist system acted both as a constricting corset and a protective cocoon. When East-West antagonism eventually died down, it brought an end to propagandistic competition and its influence on music, but also a discontinuation of state support for jazz by the Eastern Bloc states. This led to a completely new constellation of circumstances that did not necessarily make things easier for jazz musicians and their music.
English translation: William Connor