In the twisted annals of the Third Reich, few stories are so improbable as that of Charlie and his Orchestra. Even as the Nazis campaigned against degenerate jazz music, persecuting musicians and throwing swing kids into concentration camps, behind the scenes Joseph Goebbels and his Propaganda Ministry were creating a jazz orchestra that would serve up Nazi propaganda backed by the latest swing music.
The result was Charlie and his Orchestra, Karl Schwedler, made up of Europe's finest jazz players, whose short-wave broadcasts to English and American audiences soon gained a following abroad and, more clandestinely, within the Reich itself.
Combining hit-parade savvy with pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic lyrics, the orchestra specialized in cover versions of the latest swing sensations; among the recordings featured here are the Churchill-baiting You're Driving Me Crazy, the anti-Roosevelt FDR Jones, and Slumming on Park Avenue (Let's go bombing...).
As soon as the war ended, orchestra members found themselves in hot demand by American occupation forces, and many become respected leaders of Europe's postwar jazz scene.
In this film, surviving band members (including the late Fritz Freddie Brocksieper) recall their musical collaboration with the Nazi regime with ambivalence and insight, shedding new light onto the contradictory workings of Goebbels propaganda machine.
1989, B&W/Color, 60 minutes, English commentary.