The financial and transport hub of Frankfurt is also Germany’s jazz capital. As the town tunes up for this month’s Deutsches Jazz Festival, we investigate how the resurrection of a music labelled “degenerate” by the Nazis enabled a city to get its groove back.
It may be better known for having produced numerous giants of the classical and operatic genres, but Germany can also lay claim to being the birthplace of some of the world’s greatest exponents of jazz. The roots of their renown stretch back to the mid-1920s when the bold new sound, freshly imported from America, found sympathetic ears in Weimar Germany. Perceived as an energetic, even exotic, musical style, jazz became representative of the modernity many Germans were keen to embrace following the humiliating horrors of World War I. Before long, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Berlin had become hotbeds of jazz as habitués of cabarets and nightclubs embraced the music and its related dance crazes – ragtime and, later, swing.
But by the mid-1930s, the popularity of jazz had waned due to the emergence of National Socialism. Labelled “degenerate” by the Third Reich (many of its practitioners were Jewish), the “Negro noise” of jazz was banned from the radio, and public performances were actively discouraged. Until the Nazis were defeated, jazz was forced underground, surviving in a few private clubs. When the war ended in 1945, Germany’s occupation by tens of thousands of American GIs was instrumental in emancipating the formerly forbidden musical style. This was especially so in Frankfurt, which had a nearby US military air base that became a hub for US forces throughout Europe. The city soon found itself right at the forefront of a jazz renaissance.
To the younger generation in particular, jazz was immensely appealing, both for its status as a once-forbidden cultural artefact from the West and for its innately free-form structure – its very sound seemed to be an expression of freedom. The music of jazz artists such as trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff and his brother, saxophonist Emil, both Frankfurt-born, pianist Jutta Hipp and saxophonist Heinz Sauer (now in his late 70s and, at time of writing, still occasionally performing in Frankfurt) became emblematic of the new Germany in the decade following the war.
Throughout the 1960s, ’70s and beyond, Frankfurt maintained its place as the country’s jazz capital, buoyed by a wave of new artists, among them trumpeter Till Brönner and guitarist (and Frankfurt native) Torsten de Winkel, as well as a continuous stream of visiting international artists. Frankfurt’s jazz tradition continues today, with numerous bars, clubs and dedicated venues offering a range of styles performed by visiting and local musicians. Jazz is also a drawcard at various festivals throughout the year, especially during summer, when outdoor concerts attract large crowds.
18a Kleine Bockenheimer, Central City.
+49 69 288 537.
Located in a basement grotto in the heart of the city, the Jazzkeller has been at the centre of Frankfurt’s jazz scene for more than 40 years. In that time it has played host to many of the world’s jazz greats including Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie and Chet Baker. Today some of the best jazz practitioners going, such as Tony Lakatos and Joe Krieg, can be heard in this small, bare brick-walled venue. Good assortment of beers and wines.
Open Tue-Sun from 8pm.
Frankfurt Art Bar
32 Ziegelhüttenweg, Sachsenhausen.
+49 69 6330 7938.
An old printing workshop is home to the Frankfurt Art Bar (aka FAB), a combination of bar, jazz club and art space. A weekly program mixes house sessions, led by bassist Thomas Schilling and pianist Jogi Kirschner, with sets
by a variety of visiting artists. Good selection of food available, smoking lounge, outside seating in summer and a bar with an extensive selection of beers and wines. Open Tue-Sat from 7pm.
64 Sandweg, Bornheim.
+49 69 448 674.
Mampf is probably one of the smallest rooms in which you’ll ever listen to jazz. This suburban bar and cafe has been on the go for almost 40 years and continues to attract a regular clientele to its mostly modern jazz and shoulder-rubbing conviviality.
The decor of smoke-tinted walls adorned with newspaper cuttings and photos harks back to its beginnings as a student hang-out. Go early on music nights to get a seat. Beer, wine and modestly priced menu of light meals.
Open nightly from 6pm.
Summa Summarum Musikkeller
3 Klappergasse, Sachsenhausen.
+49 69 626 800
This underground jazz bar is situated in a vaulted stone cellar in the old Sachsenhausen tourist district. While the club is small and cosy, the stage is big enough to accommodate larger bands. The weekly program offers a mix of jazz styles, from traditional through modern to Latin, and there’s a regular open-stage night as well. The audience tends to be a mix of older types plus tourists. Bar only, no food.
Open Tue-Sat from 8pm.
71 Färberstrasse, Sachsenhausen.
+49 69 6612 9804.
Dreikönigskeller offers all sorts of music, from rhythm and blues to soul, funk to rockabilly, but it programs jazz once or twice a week, as well as occasional jam sessions. Situated down a laneway near the river Main, it is a small basement room that draws
a young, good-natured crowd.
Open nightly from 9pm.
3 Schifferstrasse, Sachshenhausen.
+49 69 612 226.
An institution in the city since 1968, this dimly lit, traditional pub is home to blues and jazz, with the owner and friends contributing live music each night. Customers are also encouraged to perform. Anita Honis came to Frankfurt in the 1960s and was a regular on the local scene before taking over Balalaika and establishing it as
a jazz bar. Good range of beer, wines and cocktails plus a snack-food menu.
Open Mon-Sat from 8pm.
Mosaik Jazz Bar
57 Freiligrathstrasse, Bornheim.
+49 69 4898 1684.
This corner jazz bar and restaurant in the Bornheim district presents live music from autumn through spring, with jazz recordings played in the interim months. There is an extensive bar and a wide selection of meals including Tunisian dishes. It has
a relaxed ambience with lots of jazz memorabilia on the walls.
Open Mon-Sat from 5pm.
Occasional jazz concerts are held at other clubs and bars in the city including:
Deutsches Jazz Festival (October)
Germany’s annual festival of jazz in Frankfurt attracts a wealth of international as well as German talent. Founded in 1953, it is one of the world’s oldest jazz festivals.
Jazz At The Palmengarten(June-August)
Modern jazz in a series of evening concerts amid the beautiful atmosphere of Frankfurt’s botanic gardens. Musicians include local jazz heroes and international guests.
Jazz At The Museum (July-August)
Contemporary jazz concert series held in the courtyard of the Liebieghaus sculpture museum, a tranquil and leafy oasis.
The city’s three-day annual Museum Embankment Festival of art and culture draws millions of visitors and includes jazz in all its guises: traditional, mainstream and modern, soul and folk-jazz, performed in the gardens of the museums lining the south side of the Main River. jazzgarten.de
Source Qantas The Austrailan Way October 2011