Yes, we like amateurs here!

We have established that, unlike other things, the Swiss have not invented Jazz. Rather it was brought to this country through tourism and then it developed by following what was going on in the UK and US. Throughout Europe, Jazz did not create a revolution in music, orchestras played it mostly alongside other dance styles at that time.

Before World War II, Berlin had become the swing capital of Europe and Switzerland’s Teddy Stauffer with his Original Teddies was one of the most successful bands there. However, with the Nazis seizing power, and them not liking Jazz at all, the Swiss bands returned to home.

During World War II, Jazz in Switzerland had its first boom period. In dance events it provided both to the soldiers at the frontline, but also the ones at home, moments of good time. Despite that, the music hardly evolved further as it was still very dependent on external stimulus. And with borders closed and no tourism, there was no such.

But then finally the war was over, borders opened again, trade recovered and brought the latest records from overseas. And also travel became possible again. Between 1945 and 49 roughly 400’000 American soldiers spent their vacation in Switzerland. The same American soldiers, out of their newly established military bases for example in Germany, started to broadcast their own radio programs. “Jazz Hour” produced by the American forces in Munich, was such a program which was extremely popular also in Switzerland.

With records finding their way again to Switzerland, the Bebop arrived! Albums from Charlie Parker or Dizzy Gillespie were ordered quickly all over Europe. As early as in 1948, an orchestra called Swiss All Star Bebop Team performed at the very first Nice Jazz festival in the South of France. Unfortunately, I could not find a recording of the show, neither did I get a confirmation of the participation of the orchestra from the Nice festival organisers.

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As my collection of Swiss Bebop tunes from the early days is basically still non-existing, here is a later recording from one of the best Be- and Hardbop player this country has produced (including an introduction in Japanese!).

And another one which requires a spotify account:
spotify:track:4O5iJLfNG7JYM30sU5RDV1

But there was also a strong revival of the Dixieland / New Orleans Jazz style happening in Switzerland at the same time. This revival was probably even stronger than the one which happened in the US.

By way, the Harlem Ramblers were founded in 1955 and are still going! None of the initial members is with the band anymore, but the style remains the same!

As one can imagine, strong segregations between the “traditionalists” and the “modernists” arose. Some venues would only allow either Dixie or Modern Jazz to be played. It seems that until about the mid-fifties New Orleans and Dixieland were still dominating, and only then Bebop and later Hardbop became stronger.

Another similarity to the developments in the motherland of Jazz is the fact that big bands could not survive anymore after the war. The cost were simply too high in such a small market and on top of that, there was competition from foreign bands, mainly from Italy and Spain.

Not surprisingly, the development of Jazz in Switzerland also in the forties, fifties and sixties of the last century was largely following the trends and tendencies in the US. But there were also very local characteristics emerging, driven by particularities of the environment. In a country of roughly 4.5m inhabitants (in 1950), the market was simply not big enough to provide many bands for a living. Therefore most of the Jazz musicians in Switzerland had, and still have, a day job and music is their hobby.

Around 1950 the Zurich Amateur Jazz Festival started, which allowed all the non-professional musicians to show their skills to a larger audience. The festival proved to be a massive success and gave the genre a huge boost – between 1950 and 1970 more than 500 amateur Jazz orchestras were registered in Switzerland! Not bad for such a small country.

At the festival, participant numbers year over year were going up, to the point where they had to introduce qualification sessions (and you thought X-factor and American Idol were something new!). And this despite the fact that the bands received only a compensation for their expenses. Only in 1965 the numbers started going down again.

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Frequent concerts of US stars – Bechet, Armstrong, Ellington, Goodman and Young all toured Switzerland – were inspiring young (and old) Swiss Jazz musicians. TV, radio, as well as records, further fostered the proliferation of Jazz in this country. But the importance of the Zurich Amateur Jazz Festival can not be put high enough in enabling what proved to be the “golden era of (amateur) Jazz” in Switzerland. Jazz then was a topic within the wider population, which was discussed controversely. One was either pro Jazz or against it.

By the way, the term “amateur” has absolutely no bad connotation in a country where up to the federal council (and some cantonal ones) all politicians are amateurs as well!

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3 thoughts on “Yes, we like amateurs here!

  1. Really enjoy these historical/cultural posts. Thanks for putting them together…and the idea that we might all be amateurs is great!
    Jazz Cookie

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