Kira Dralle (University of California Santa Cruz), 24.1.2020, 13:00, Brandhofgasse 21, Ensembleraum 2.06

And Four Unnamed Black Musicians: On the Memorialization of Black Jazz Musicians in the Third Reich


On my quest to locate and ethically memorialize the lives of black jazz musicians who had performed in Nazi-occupied Europe, I find myself with a plethora of questions surrounding the photograph of Dietrich Schulz-Köhn, Django Reinhardt, four unnamed black musicians, and Henri Battut, taken in late 1942 outside the Place Pigalle in Paris.

This project is situated in between the knowledge that swing music was easily appropriated by authoritarian propaganda, yet also that jazz has been theorized as, and performed as, a symbol of freedom and a tool of both active and passive resistance. At the crux of these issues lies the way in which both the nation state and scholarship itself actively erase these musicians from social consciousness. What kinds of ethical scholarship can be done when we are left without primary source material? What are the historical conditions that prevented, and continue to actively prevent rigorous scholarship on these issues? How might we productively consider archival absence, traces, myths, lies, and legends? Is there use value in the myth? How might we see beyond the narratives being written, in order to understand the lived lives of these musicians who manipulated and subverted racialized and gendered fantasies for survival? How might we qualify rigorous scholarship without verifiable fact? While the aim of this project is to tangibly locate and memorialize the lives taken, lost, or miswritten, it becomes imperative to critically contemplate silence and invisibility, to take seriously the agential voices of our historical
interlocutors, and to refuse to be separate from the wealth of knowledge available to us in the unknown and the unknowable.

Kira Dralle is currently a PhD Candidate in Cultural Musicology at the University of California Santa Cruz, where she teaches in the departments of Music, History of Art and Visual Culture, and Feminist Studies. Her dissertation project examines the lives of African American and Afro-Austrian dance band musicians in Nazi-occupied Europe. More broadly, Dralle’s work highlights the racial and gendered violence of archival and canonical absence in 20th century music and its institutions. Recent publications include “Generalized Trauma and the Responsibilities of the Artistic Monument” (Ethnomusicology Review at UCLA, 2016) and “Can New Music Actually Do Social Activism?” (San Francisco Center for New Music, 2017).