Jazz in Germany is very diverse, the scene is highly active and the scene has many creative epicentres – clubs and festivals can be found all over the country – with a clear focus in the cities of Berlin and Cologne. Its multi-faceted Gestalt (appearance) may be due to the changeful history of Germany itself. After the 2nd world war different styles of jazz were predominant in different regions of Germany, mostly depending on the (jazz) music traditions and culture of the respective occupying forces (foremost the British, French and U.S.-American). The Soviet-occupied zone, from which the GDR eventually emerged, developed a further, very independent jazz tradition.

Since the reunification of Germany in 1990 the manifold open spaces created through the historical upheavals have attracted musicians from all over the world to work for some time or permanently in Germany adding to the creative prowess of the Germany scene. Conversely, the mobility of the domestic scene has increased over the last decades, due also to funding opportunities, many jazz musicians from Germany go abroad to study and bring back new musical ideas. Exchanges with other art forms have gained in strength, due partly also to funding offered for such exchanges, many jazz musicians compose music for theatre productions, work with dancers and visual artists but especially the exchange with other forms of music has gained strength, ranging from contemporary music, including Echtzeitmusik (real-time music), to other forms of popular music. 

Album sales in jazz are around 1,5%–2% of the whole music album market in Germany.

Currently, the scene enters a new phase with several projects as proof of the recognition of the importance of jazz for Germany, among them the newly established Deutscher Jazzpreis which will be awarded in 31 categories, both national and international, for the first time in 2021, or the Stadtgarten in Cologne which has grown to an European Centre for Jazz and Contemporary Music as well as the project known as House of Jazz, a centre for jazz and improvised music planned to open in Berlin in 2026, which establish, for the first time, fully funded institutions for the performance and development of the art form jazz as well as for audience development and a home for the many informal international relationships that constitute such an important part of the German jazz scene.  These positive developments are to some part due to the growing self-organisation of the jazz and impro scene, starting from local musicians’ collectives such as KLAENG (Cologne) or KIM (Berlin) to organisations as the Deutsche Jazzunion on the federal level and similar structures on the state level. The media coverage of jazz will hopefully follow suit with these developments (and remember its integral historical role in bringing jazz to the people over the last 100 years, see below for more information on the ARD radio stations), although the tendency of public media has rather been to cut funding for jazz programmes. 

The structural and institutional consolidation in many aspects of jazz life has led to reflections on the societal role of jazz in Germany and to the values of the scene itself, leading to several declarations regarding gender equality and diversity, and reflections on Eurocentrism and cultural appropriation with some actual changes in its wake, and much more work to be done.

Guide compiled by Bettina Bohle