Camilla Poesio: Everything is rhythm, everything is swing. Jazz, fascism and Italian society

Camilla Poesio
Ed. Le Monnier

The author, a researcher at the University Ca 'Foscari of Venice, in this essay analyzes jazz, reconstructing "The impact that this new music had on Italian society under fascism and everything that revolved around it."

Arriving in Europe - first in England and France - jazz "It spread like wildfire after the end of World War I with the arrival of American soldiers." In Italy, where he arrived in the 1924, jazz almost immediately had increasingly negative judgments, as it was associated "To situations of sexual perversion, barbarism, degeneration of morals and customs."

It also represented a new image of the woman, "More emancipated, or at least, from the more non-conformist ways and which scared the conservative circles." Furthermore "Jazz became a word to indicate, in a broad sense, the USA and, in the 1930s when anti-Americanism became dominant, the term jazz became almost synonymous with unprejudiced capitalism. [...] In short, jazz had become in the eyes of the fascist authorities the music of capitalism and, during the war, that of the enemy. "

The large ships that sailed the Atlantic Ocean were one of the main channels of diffusion of this music, thanks to the high number of musicians in the onboard jazz orchestras that were of excellent quality. Even the tours of the great American orchestras in Italy were another means of promoting it.

But it was "Dance is the main means by which jazz became known to the general public in the cities." The most daring was certainly "The hi-hat, to be performed necessarily with a short skirt so as to allow the knees to move freely."

Speaking of media, the one that contributed strongly to his knowledge was the radio which, however, was not spread throughout the territory, especially because "The Catholic press saw the radio as an even more insidious danger than cinema because it even entered homes with the risk [...] of exposing young people to corruption and scandal."

Jazz also meant worldliness. Nobles, wealthy bourgeois and foreign tourists, in fact, crowded the Apollo Theater in Rome, today Teatro Eliseo, to listen to it and dance the fox-trot. In Venice it was heard and danced in theaters and luxury hotels.

"Who really brought jazz to the lagoon was an internationally renowned musician: Cole Porter." But it was above all the young people, belonging to a certain social class, who suffered the fascination of this music and the dance associated with it. For them the swing worked like a magnet: "It meant a new way of dancing that required a new mobility of the body, tailored for boys." For the more conservative, however, the only way to protect young people from this contamination was the truncheon.

"The 10 March 1943, it was Mussolini himself who declared the need to protect young people from foreign influences and from American and English fashion, from becoming 'zazù'", this figure was called "gagà" in Italy.

The Church, with regard to jazz dance, was even tougher than fascism, considering it "Amoral, primitive, savage and not worthy of a good Christian."

After the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, in the 1936, also the behavior of the radio, towards him, changed, favoring an incentive of Italian music. Therefore, "Jazz, which came mostly from abroad, was banned." Furthermore "Numerous shows began to have a patriotic and nationalistic subject and in those jobs where the" Negro race "appeared the censorship became more careful. "

In the 1938 the campaign against foreign names began. "The nationalistic musical campaign against jazz was also expressed from the linguistic point of view," and thus we heard of "gez", "gezzi", "giazzo".

"With the entry of the United States into war, 8 December 1941 the rejection of English words became more pronounced. [...] This policy of musical nationalism failed, however, to avoid the arrival and spread of the Victory - Discs, the records recorded exclusively for American troops placed on various war fronts, when the Allies landed in Italy. "

In the Mussolini regime, therefore, jazz was not totally forbidden, but there were moments of opening. "Banning jazz would have been not only impossible but counterproductive, also because jazz was loved by young people and the regime had to focus on young people to last." A compromise was reached, which involved the use of Italian and non-foreign musicians, of the accordion instead of the sax and the use of Italian words only.

"Officially they talked about Italian jazz, but in fact fascism definitely opened the doors to this music."

Gianlorenzo Capano