Saved Nicolas Dor's LifeBy
PARIS, 23 October 2000 - One evening
during the Autumn of 1941, Nicolas Dor was listening to Lester Young
records in a bar in Liege. It was owned by three sisters, who also ran
the bordello upstairs. One of them whispered in Dor's ear: "Those
two German officers over there want to talk to you."
did not want to talk to them. "I don't speak German," he said.
"They speak English," she replied, pleadingly.
was a regular. She was a friend. Neither of them wanted trouble. The
madame introduced them: "This is the drummer I told you about."
was leading a combo modeled after John Kirby, his idol. They played
benefits for Belgian prisoners of war - "Every Tub" by Count
Basie, "920 Special" and pieces like that. Radio Brussels's
program from 7-9 a.m., which had an enormous audience of people on their
way to work, featured a jazz band. Jazz musicians played in clubs all
night until the curfew ended at 6 a.m., after which they went to hang
out at the radio station. And there were plenty of places to play during
lunch. It has been said that World War II was the golden age of Belgian
"We understand you have some Jimmie Lunceford
records," one of the Germans said, trying a bit too hard to be
friendly. "We'd like to listen to them sometimes. We're trumpet
players." They said they had worked with Jack Hylton, a famous
English bandleader influenced by Paul Whiteman, before the war.
they might be brothers under the uniforms, the connotation was
unmistakable. It was an order one way or another. And who could be sure
they were what they said they were? Dor gave them his address
Three days later he was dining with his parents
when the doorbell rang. His mother went to the window and exclaimed: "German
Dor peeked through the curtain. It's all right,"
he reassured her: "They are friends of mine." He suspected
that his mother suspected him of collaborating, until, over a cup of
coffee, one of the officers said to her: "If you have any trouble
about your son being sent to Germany, call me." Impressed laborers
were leaving every day. He wrote down his phone number for her.
and the Germans went to his room and listened to "Americano nigger
kike jungle music" for hours.
The quote is from
Joseph Goebbels, who had banned jazz along with fox trots and the tango.
Although repulsed by the "terrible squawk" of jazz, he soon
realized that swing between the political harangues held listeners. And
eventually there were some German swing bands. The extent of the ban and
the definition of the music had both been vague anyway. Nobody has ever
really succeeded in defining jazz, which is one reason I love it so
Until just before the Battle of the Bulge, the Stan
Branders big band played music by American Jewish and black composers
over Radio Brussels without hiding the names. "Softly As In A
Morning Sunrise' by Sigmund Romberg," Branders would announce. Or "J'ai
Du Rhythme' by George Gershwin." "Duke's Idea' by Charlie
Barnet." If this music was indeed illegal, nobody seemed to be
enforcing the law.
So it was not clear whether Dor and the
Germans were breaking a law. He looked carefully up and down the street
before showing them out.
Two months later he received the order
to report for a physical examination. He called the German, who came,
took notes, and said: "Go, but tell them you already received the
"This is the second time I've had to
come here with a piece of paper like this," Dor told the clerk, who
signaled to his supervising officer. They scratched their heads checking
the file. The clerk pulled out a document: "You never received a
copy of this?"
Dor tried to remain calm. It was an
official exemption, slipped into the file by a German trumpet player,
citing a non-existing tubercular condition. "No," he said. "Never."
by a breakdown in Aryan efficiency, the supervisor stamped it and Dor
spent the rest of the war playing John Kirby tunes.
later, a producer for Belgian French-language television, he smiled in
the bright Broadcasting House canteen and said: "So you see? Jazz
saved my life."
This was a second chapter from
Mike Zwerin's Swing under the Nazis: Jazz as a metaphor for freedom,
published in soft-cover on 1 October 2000 by Cooper Square Press in New
York and available from Amazon.com, BN.com and quality booksellers
Mike Zwerin has been
jazz and rock critic for the International Herald Tribune for the last
twenty years. He was also the European correspondent for The Village
Voice. Mike Zwerin is the author of several books on jazz and the jazz
editor of Culturekiosque.com.
Back to Chapter 1 of
Swing under the Nazis: Jazz as a metaphor for freedom
email to Mike Zwerin |
Back to Jazznet |
Back to Culturekiosque
you value this page, please tell
a friend or
our mailing list.
1996 - 2000 Culturekiosque Publications Ltd