When Berlin was Europe’s “Swing Capital” and a Swiss its King

Before the Nazis started World War II, Berlin was Europe’s “Swing Capital” and a Swiss was its King, basically “the old continent’s Benny Goodman”. And then there was this bunch of 14 year old from Basilea, which stormed the stage during a concert break and subsequently became internationally famous.

Tourism brought Jazz to Switzerland. After the first World War, guest from the USA staying in Swiss hotels wanted to hear the Jazz which was then hot in their home country. And the orchestras playing in the hotels and bars started to incorporate Jazz elements into their repertoire.

What figured under the label “Jazz” in the twenties in Switzerland was not really comparable to what was played then in the US. It was a watered-down version of Paul Whiteman’s style, i.e. Jazz elements incorporated into classical music. Often it came through the UK to the continent and was therefore in fact a copy of a copy.

The career of the Lanigiro orchestra perfectly illustrates how Jazz developed further in the twenties and thirties in Switzerland. They were one of the most influential and important Swiss Jazz bands of that era. At the same time, one can absolutely question whether they actually were a Jazz orchestra. As probably all of the contemporary orchestras, they did play all kinds of dance music and were not too concerned whether it was Jazz or not, as long as the audience liked it.

While in the US, heavily driven by the radio stations, the “dance craze” became quickly a “Swing craze”, this was not the same in Europe. Over here, Jazz / Swing was just one of various styles played in dance halls. Jazz did not conquer Switzerland but established itself as new style besides others.

But let’s start at the beginning, because it was certainly remarkable one. In 1924, three youngsters of 14/15 years of age hijacked the stage during the break of a concert of an established orchestra.
They took possession of the instruments and played for about 30 minutes. Since the applause afterwards was more then just warm, they decided to continue and formed the Lanigiro Syncopating Melody Kings.

Here an example of their earlier records.

Although the Swiss are probably not known as THE party nation of the world, they developed a similar craving for good times music as the Americans. It was fuelled by the same global events, the two world wars and in between the Great depression.
The Lanigiro could give the audience what it wanted – well played dance music. They became successful with a recognition growing from regional to national. In 1926, probably as the first Swiss Jazz band, they appeared on radio and soon recorded their first album in 1929.

It seems that around 1930 Jazz had established itself clearly on the musical landscape in Switzerland, and the audiences were ready for “true” Jazz. Louis Armstrong and his “hot Jazz” had become the new idol. This forced also the Lanigiro to modernize. The sluggish tuba was replaced by a contrabass, the Whiteman style string section was eliminated and the band was renamed to Lanigiro Hot Players.

Through a source in the US, they managed to get notations of latest music first in Switzerland. And with the growing success they decided in 1933 to go professional. By then, the band had evolved into a true Jazz orchestra, playing a sound in the spirit of Duke Ellington.

Also in the countries close to Switzerland their potential had not gone unnoticed, engagements in Belgium and later Germany followed. However, with the Nazis taking control in Germany, it became difficult there for Jazz bands. When the Nazis forced them to play German folk songs during their concerts, the band eventually returned to Switzerland.

But it was the general mobilisation in Switzerland that killed the band as many members were called up for military service. The remainder of the orchestra joined Teddy Stauffer, who’s Original Teddies had suffered the same fate.

Before, Stauffer had enjoyed enormous success throughout Europe and well deserves to be called “Europe’s Benny Goodman”. Besides musician, he was a great showmaster, managed his orchestra very well and had a good sense for upcoming trends.

Already in 1928 they had started playing abroad in Germany, but also on cruise ships. Stauffer had even travelled to New York to listen to Jazz. Their popularity peaked when they could play in one of Berlin’s best clubs. Berlin was then Europe’s “Swing Capital”. Besides in Berlin, they also played in London, another major Jazz hub.

The Original Teddies’ success was due to the fact that they got swing and were certainly on a comparable level to the best US orchestras.

However, as in the case of the Lanigiros, the Nazis terminated the possibilities to play in Germany and the band returned to Switzerland. In 1941 Stauffer emigrated to the US and eventually to Mexico. His band continued under a new leadership, but was never able to live up to earlier successes.


7 thoughts on “When Berlin was Europe’s “Swing Capital” and a Swiss its King

  1. Thanks a lot for your comments! Glad to hear you like it and that it builds up quickly on your phone.

    Currently my focus is rather on Jazz from my side of the Atlantic, but this will change again soon.

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