direkt zum Inhalt springen

direkt zum Hauptnavigationsmenü

Sie sind hier

TU Berlin

Inhalt des Dokuments

Johanna Rohlf


IGK Fellow; Extra Parental Year (DFG Funded)


Jazz and the City: The Impact of Music on Berlin and Paris in the 1920s

The dissertation is about American jazz music and its arrival in European cities in the 1920s. The music influenced not only the artistic scene, it also had a resounding impact on the European attitude towards life and generated an era that is now referred to as the “Golden Age” or the “Roaring Twenties”.

The sudden arrival of this international music challenged and transformed Berlin and Paris, their musical scenes (places and social practices), discourses, and self-perceptions. Jazz is thus a telling lens through which we can examine at the interactions between ”music” and ”the city”: To what extent  did jazz influence  the urban development of Berlin and Paris?

During the 1920s, the term ”jazz” was often used without  a clear understanding of the music behind it. Yet, the term immediately caused a lively discussion. Numerous journal articles of the era give a vivid impression of the debates about jazz. Some were enthusiastic, hoping for a new beginning after World War I and saw in jazz a possibility to rebel against the traditional culture of previous generations. Others, by contrast, were appalled by this new music style, had racist attitudes toward ths musicians, and/or even dreaded the encroachment of American cultural supremacy. Others, by contrast, were appalled by this new music style, had racist attitudes toward ths musicians, and/or even dreaded the encroachment of American cultural supremacy. Given the fact that up until this point Europe had only been exporting cultural elements to America, this shift in terms of cultural transfer evokes questions: Why did Europe react to these new cultural elements in such a strong way? What kind of influence did jazz have on Europe‘s musical scenes? In which ways did this development change the cities and the perception of their identity? And finally, to what extent did this transfer of knowledge concerning foreign cultural concepts even change cities into metropolises in the first place?

Jazz spread around the world during a time period not usually associated with globalization. However, the import of the African-American music and the discussion it ensued started a global cultural movement that continues until today. With this in mind, how can the significance of jazz and its role in globalization processes be characterized?

As cultural centers in the 1920s, cities like Berlin and Paris were significantly influenced by the “Jazz Age” and the city images they developed in this period lasted for decades. Given that up until this point Europe had only been exporting cultural elements to America, this shift in terms of cultural transfer evokes questions beyond the debate about jazz: What happened to the different dimensions of city life when jazz arrived, and how was jazz integrated into existing cultural scenes? Where was jazz played? Who were the actors in the scene? How did American and African-American musicians that played concerts or stayed in Berlin and Paris transform the local music scenes? And to what extent did the ”competition“ between European and American musicians affect the scene?

Jazz – in both its rhythm and speed – was often considered to be the music of the metropolis. The reactions to jazz, and the discourses that grew up around the music reveal multiple reasons for this association. Furthermore, they illustrate that the metropolis in the 1920s needed and demanded a specific kind of music.

The field of urban musicology is still relatively new, but it offers insights and new perspectives for both musicology and urban history. In contrast to other studies, this dissertation does not focus on one aspect alone, but examines the interactions between music and the metropolis from three different angles: a) the discourse around music, b) urban music scenes, including places, practices and actors and, c) the construction of urban identity.

In my dissertation, I want to show that urban globalization can be considered a historical phenomenon. As can be seen by the example of jazz, the beginning of the 20th century marks a turning point where global cultural interaction between the metropolises had a substantial effect on the discourse, on places and social practices, and on the development of an urban identity.



Since 05/2012
DFG Fellow at the International Graduate Research Program The World in the City, Berlin - New York - Toronto, Center for Metropolitan Studies, Technical University of Berlin, Germany

Archival research in Paris/ France (02-03/13; 04/14 and 10/14) and New York/ USA (09-10/12 and 10/14) 2006 - 2012
Certificate: German as a Foreign Language (DaF),  University of Potsdam, Degree 03/2012

2009 - 2011
Master‘s Program: Music/ German, University of Potsdam, Degree M.E. 11/2011

2007 - 2010
Bachelor‘s  Program: French, University of Potsdam

2006 - 2009
Bachelor‘s  Program: Music/ German  University of Potsdam, Degree B.E. 04/2009

2003 - 2006
Staatsexamen: German/ Spanish, FU Berlin


Paris, France
archival research (Bibliothèques Spécialisées; BNF)
New York, USA
archival research (NYPL; Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University)

Paris, France
archival research (Bibliothèques Spécialisées; BNF)

Paris, France
archival research (Bibliothèques Spécialisées; BNF)

09/2012 – 10/2012
New York; archival research (NYPL)


Since 2008
Freelance Musician (live, studio, TV, songwriting)

2009 - 2012
School of Music, Potsdam: piano, music theory

10/2010 - 07/2011
John-Lennon-Gymnasium, Berlin: music, vocal ensembles, German literature

03/2008 - 04/2008
Collège-Lycée Sainte Geneviève, Rennes/ France: music, German as a foreign language

03/2005 - 04/2005
St. Francis High-School, Ottawa/ Canada: music, orchestral ensembles


‚As Time Goes by‘: Jazz and Urban Rhythm in the 1920s
3rd annual conference: Metropolitan Temporalities; Center for Metropolitan Studies, Berlin / Germany

‚Whiteman voran! Jazz oder nie!‘ – die Jazzrezeption in der Berliner Presse in den 20er Jahren
Amerika-Euphorie – Amerika-Hysterie. Populäre Musik made in USA in der Wahrnehmung der Deutschen 1914–2014; Zentrum für Populäre Kultur und Musik, Freiburg / Germany

Zwischen Salonorchester und Jazzband: Musiker im Berlin der 20er Jahren
Arbeitstagung der Fachgruppe Soziologie und Sozialgeschichte der Musik/ GfM; Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst Wien / Germany

‚Gequäle und Gequieke‘. Mediale Repräsentationen von Jazz in den 1920er Jahren
ENTDECKUNGEN XII: Spielfeld der Medien; Kurt Weill Zentrum Dessau, Berlin / Germany

Sam Wooding and the Chocolate Kiddies. The first African-American jazzband in Berlin.
Resonances: Music, Affect, and the City; Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung in Berlin/ Harvard’s Sawyer Seminar Hearing Modernity, Berlin / Germany

‚Dem Uneingeweihten kommt es nicht mal wie Musik vor‘. Musikästhetische Prämissen und Differenzen im frühen Jazzdiskurs
13. Jahreskongress der Gesellschaft für Musiktheorie (GMTH): Musiktheorie und Ästhetik; Hochschule für Musik und Theater Rostock / Germany

Jazz on a Journey. The African-American music and its influence on Germany in the 1920s
Rhythm Changes II: Rethinking Jazz Cultures; Media City UK/ University of Salford, Manchester / England


Rohlf, Johanna (in preparation). ‚Whiteman voran! Jazz oder nie!‘ – die Jazzrezeption in der Berliner Presse in den 20er Jahren. In Fischer, Michael & Jost, Christopher (Eds.), Tagungsband „Amerika-Euphorie - Amerika-Hysterie. Populäre Musik made in USA in der Wahrnehmung der Deutschen 1914-2014.

Arrieta, Marcela & Rohlf, Johanna. „Tagungsbericht Urban-Activism-Scholarship: Global Discourses in Local, Historical and Contemporary Contexts, 02.11.2012-03.11.2012, Berlin”, in: H-Soz-u-Kult, 02.03.2013, <http://hsozkult.geschichte.hu-berlin.de/tagungsberichte/id=4677>.

Zusatzinformationen / Extras


Schnellnavigation zur Seite über Nummerneingabe