BERLIN, Germany — In a recording studio at a building known as the House of the Big Band in Berlin, U.S. Airmen assigned to the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band listened intently as they were told the story of a band that played in the very same room they were rehearsing in for the Berlin Airlift 70th Anniversary — a Nazi-approved jazz band.
At the instruction of Adolf Hitler’s propaganda chief, the jazz band re-recorded hit jazz songs of the time, changing out the lyrics to ones they hoped would demoralize Allied service members. However, the plan backfired as Allied troops who took Berlin at the end of World War II weren’t demoralized. In fact, some troops had become fans of the band, posing in photos with the members of Hitler’s jazz band.
A hushed “wow” escaped from the mouths of some of the USAFE Band members as they reflected on the power music has to bring people — even enemies — together while their storyteller, famous German jazz musician trumpeter Till Brönner, geared up to continue rehearsing for their joint performance at the Sommergarten in Berlin, Sept. 4.
As guests of Radio Berlin Brandenburg, the USAFE Band and Brönner performed together during a live broadcast to not only commemorate the Berlin Airlift but also the friendship and partnership between the U.S. and Germany.
“The Berlin Airlift represented hope for thousands of people seven decades ago,” said. Lt. Col. Don Schofield, USAFE Band commander. “Delivering more than 189,000 flights, the United States Air Forces in Europe remained committed to providing lifesaving supplies to those in need. Our commitment remains the same today, as we work with our partners to build on a foundation of shared values, experiences, and vision.”
Dressed in replica “Pinks and Greens,” the uniforms worn by U.S. Army Soldiers during WWII, the USAFE Band played music in the style of Army Air Corps Maj. Glenn Miller, who was a famous big-band musician in his civilian life before he joined the war effort in 1942.
“I’ve been living in (Berlin) since 1991, and the first thing when I came was what people actually thought of Americans being here and especially the music they brought,” Brönner said. “It’s a very emotional relationship because the sound of Glenn Miller, the sound of this band, is really a symbol of freedom the Americans brought to Germany.”
Brönner joined the USAFE Band on stage after their homage to Miller to play some of his own music as well as some other popular jazz and swing songs such as “Sing, Sing, Sing” to a diverse crowd that had gathered to listen and dance.
“I knew the (USAFE) Band was great, but I didn’t know it was this great,” Brönner said. “It was cool. We almost didn’t have a rehearsal, but everything went really, really well on stage. I think it’s just as important to be a virtuoso on stage as it is to be entertaining. Both of these things can be found in this group. I’m really, really honored to be here today.”
Schofield also expressed his gratitude for the honor and privilege to represent the men and women who participated in the Berlin Airlift.
“On behalf of Gen. Tod Wolters, commander of United States Air Forces in Europe, I would like to thank you for the decades-long friendship with the Federal Republic of Germany,” he said. “This action reaffirms our commitment to our NATO allies, echoing the fact that no nation can confront today’s challenges alone. A strong European partnership is not just historic, but it also represents our collective future.”