Charlie and his Orchestra

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Charlie and his Orchestra (also referred to as the “Templin band” and “Bruno and His Swinging Tigers”) were am NSDAP sponsored German propaganda swing band.   Joseph Goebbels conceived of using the swing Jazz style music  in shortwave radio broadcasts aimed at the United States and (particularly) the United Kingdom. He didn’t try to seduce Allied listeners by broadcasting the best in German music: waltzes, polkas, brass bands, theater and pop songs like “Lili Marlene,” or even Liszt or Wagner. No: What makes the tale of Charlie and His Orchestra sogreat is that the the Third Reich shot back  at the Allies, albeit doctored with especially  exceptional satirical  propaganda lyrics. In an interview on YouTube Mr. Peter Arnott, who produced a musical two years ago in Englad, said: “They rewrote jazz standards with anti-Semitic lyrics. I came across [these recordings] and I thought that this was one of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever heard, and there’s definitely a story in this somewhere.”

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Shortly after National Socialist came to power, Goebbels took over the German airwaves and broadcast propaganda texts throughout the world via short-wave. Recognizing the enormous influence of radio and music, the crafty minister called for the creation of his own swing band in 1940.

Goebbels knew he needed to engagewith the  German public, and with the Allied servicemen whose morale he sought to undermine. This clear-eyed determination to deal with reality, not fantasy, led him to some curious accommodations. None, however, were quite so creative as his attempts to harness the dangerous attractions of dance music to Hitler’s cause. It was an effort that led directly to the creation of this oxymoron in four-bar form.

Founded by saxophonist Lutz Templin and fronted by crooner Karl (“Charlie”) Schwedler, the orchestra formed a crucial spoke in the wheel of the massive propaganda machine. The band combined hit-parade savvy with pro-NSDAP, anti-Semitic lyrics in English.

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Templin was an equivocal character and he had  taken full advantage of the opportunities that opened under Hitler. As early as 1935, what would become the nucleus of the Lutz Templin Orchestra by ousted its Jewish leader, James Kok, in order to secure a recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon. By the autumn of 1939, Templin’s reputation as a sax player and his links to National Socialist were strong enough for the Propaganda Ministry to turn to him when it took the decision to begin piping musical propaganda to British troops.

  The Templin Orchestra, renamed Charlie and His Orchestra in honor of its new vocalist, began broadcasting in January 1940 as part of a propaganda show known as “Political Cabaret.” Mike Zwerin and Michael H. Kater both report that the inspiration for the band came from the German fighter ace Werner “Vati” Mölders, a keen jazz fan who was reputed to tune in to BBC dance programs as he crossed the Channel to fight in the Battle of Britain. “Hitler had a weak spot for pilots,” Zwerin says, “ when Mölders complained about the unswinging music on German radio, Hitler spoke to Goebbels about it.” True or not, Schwedler’s dance stylings became the come-on for audiences who soon found themselves listening to the heavy-handed propaganda skits that broke up the music. But Joyce and Baillie-Stewart were too smart to miss the chance to mix more messages into the music. With “Charlie’s” help, they began rewriting the standards that the jazzmen played.

   William Joyce, the notorious “Lord Haw Haw,” an Irish-American employed by Goebbels to broadcast propaganda to Britain, and Norman Baillie-Stewart, another British  fascist  whose chief claim to fame was being the last Englishman to be imprisoned in the Tower of London. They provided ideas, and perhaps some lyrics, to a former civil servant named Karl Schwedler, the man hired to front the crack jazz musicians who made up Templin’s band.

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“Charlie,” who spoke perfect English, carefully listened to the latest American hits from Broadway productions, jazz classics and Hollywood films, rewrote the lyrics and repacked them with smart and satirical propaganda, outdoing the Jews at their own game.

Many of the band’s hits like You’re driving me crazy and Slumming on Park Avenue (Let’s Go Bombing…) lampooned British Premier Winston Churchill and painted him as a visionless old man, who hid in the cellar in the night to protect himself from mean German bombers.

The famous track Little Sir Echo:

Poor Mr. Churchill, how do you do?
Hello, Hello,
Your famous convoy are not coming through
Hello
German U boats are making you sore….
You’re always licked, not a victory came through,
Hello …
You’re nice little fellow, but by now you should now
That you never can win this war.

  Musically, Schwedler’s Jazz orchestra was superior to anything else  in  Germany. It featured Primo Angeli, a virtuoso pianist, and occasional hot drum breaks supplied by Fritz “Freddie” Brocksieper, who was known to have a Greek mother but who hid the fact that he was also one-quarter Jewish. (Brocksieper, for many years the top jazz drummer in Germany, was a devotee of Gene Krupa—to the extent, Michael Kater says, that “he was known for his inordinate noise.”) The band’s ever-growing repertoire consisted mostly of dance standards, mixed with about 15 percent jazz. But it is untrue, Bermeier and Lotz insist, that it featured much “hot” jazz. Such music was regarded as beyond the pale even for propaganda broadcasts, and in any case—as even the American-born propaganda boss Edward Vieth Sittler admitted—“we cannot possibly perform this decadent ‘hot’ jazz as ‘well’ as Negroes and Jews.”
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  The band members enjoyed special privileges — they were exempted form military service and were paid 16 deutschmarks every morning. In time, “Charlie and His Orchestra” gained a strong following abroad and within Germany itself.

   Czech accordionist Kamil Behounek, who became the bands arranger noted .

“I wondered what sort of village band I was going to be working for. But orders is orders. I got to Berlin in the evening. In the darkness I could make out the ruined buildings which bore witness to the devastating air raids. Next morning I went to the huge broadcasting centre on the Masurenallee…. I felt like Alice in Wonderland. Here was this big dance orchestra with three trumpets, three trombones, four saxes, a full rhythm group. And they were swinging it! And how! They were playing up-to-date hits from America! Lutz Templin had got together the best musicians from all over Europe for his band.”

  Near the end of World War II the orchestra moved to Stuttgart from Berlin due to the heavy bombings.

 Charlie and His Orchestra to  where important enough toGoebbels’ propaganda   that the band was maintained almost to the end of the war. The last of their broadcasts seems to have been made in early April 1945, just a month before the end of the conflict in Europe and a matter of days before the U.S. Army took the Rhineland and Reichssender Stuttgart went off air, blown up by a retreating detachment of the SS.

 

Not that the orchestra’s main men were out of action for long. Demand for dance music was just as strong under American occupation, and by the autumn of 1945 Lutz Templin was working for the U.S. Army and touring extensively in southern Germany. He later developed his own music publishing business in Hamburg and worked in A&R for Polydor. Fritz Brocksieper spent the last few weeks of the war hiding on a farm near Tübingen. He soon resumed his stalled career as Germany’s top drummer and continued to record until his death in 1990.

As for Karl Schwedler, the chameleon, he proved himself just as adaptable after 1945 as he had during the war. Old acquaintances found him working as a croupier in the casino at the Europa Pavilion in West Berlin; then, in 1960, and despite his unresolved NSDAP past, “Charlie” emigrated with his wife and children to the United States. It is not known whether he ever performed there.

Over 40 recording in MP3 format in the links bellow.

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Published in: on November 26, 2016 at 5:48 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I never tire of hearing them; so entertaining and often hilarious. I wonder what happened to these wonderful guys?


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