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Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
December 2019
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Book description

A People's Music presents the first full history of jazz in East Germany, drawing on new and previously unexamined sources and vivid eyewitness accounts. Helma Kaldewey chronicles the experiences of jazz musicians, fans, and advocates, and charts the numerous policies state socialism issued to manage this dynamic art form. Offering a radical revision of scholarly views of jazz as a musical genre of dissent, this vivid and authoritative study marks developments in the production, performance, and reception of jazz decade by decade, from the GDR's beginning in the 1940s to its end in 1990, examining how members of the jazz scene were engaged with (and were sometimes complicit with) state officials and agencies throughout the Cold War. From postwar rebuilding, to Stalinism and partition, to détente, Ostpolitik, and glasnost, and finally to its acceptance as a national art form, Kaldewey reveals just how many lives jazz has lived.


'This is a book that stakes a claim to telling a new story about the GDR: the history of jazz and its complex relationship with the mechanisms of the state. I do not know of anything that does this, quite like this volume. Clear and wonderfully engaging, this draws on a wealth of new material, interviews, government documents, oral histories, archives of the secret police or Stasi, private holdings, and a huge range of visual records of the time. It is a fascinating read and a case study in the new historiographies to emerge out of the fallen socialist state.'

Karen Leeder - University of Oxford

'A People’s Music adds an important new dimension to our understanding of the history of jazz and everyday life under state socialism. Students of East German history will benefit from the book’s close examination of the GDR’s cultural politics, while jazz fans will be fascinated by its examination of little-known histories of the music’s spread and reception. Readers interested more broadly in the politics of popular music in 20th Century Europe, meanwhile, will find that the book has much to offer.'

Timothy Scott Brown - Northeastern University

‘Kaldewey’s A People’s Music speaks to readers with academic or general interest in the cultural competition of the Cold War. The book contributes new insight to an already extensive historiography, in itself no small feat, by dissecting the ideological conundrums that jazz posed to Communist states.’

Sven Kube Source: Journal of Cold War Studies

‘Kaldewey's historical work A People's Music. Jazz in East Germany, 1945-1990 contributes valuable insights into the academic knowledge and discourses in the field of historical jazz research. She is providing a vast amount of new sources and rendering the topic of jazz under state socialism more accessible for international audiences, especially since research on jazz in the former GDR was mainly written in German-until now.’

Martin Breternitz Source: German Society for Popular Music Studies

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