This cartoon illustration of the Zazou look is borrowed, with apologies and thanks to its original creator, from a blogsite at
which includes a bit more on Les Zazous …
Why do we use the French word discotheque for an underground club? Frank Broughton, co-author with Bill Brewster of Last Night A DJ Saved My Life, explained in the Telegraph on 12.8.06.
His essay, How The Nazis Gave Us Disco, marked the 100th anniversary of the event which he and Brewster say was the dawn of DJ-ing – a broadcast of Handel, to ship radio operators, by a Canadian inventor. According to Broughton …
“The DJ has been music’s most ardent revolutionary.
“Imagine, amid the grey serge of wartime France, a tribe of youngsters with all the colourful decadence of punks or teddy boys. Wearing zoot suits cut off at the knee (the better to show off their brightly coloured socks), with hair sculpted into grand quiffs, and shoes with triple-height soles – looking like glam-rock footwear 30 years early – these were the kids who would lay the foundations of nightclubbing. Ladies and gentlemen, les Zazous.
“The Zazou look was completed with high collars, impossibly tight ties and long sheepskin-lined jackets, with a curved-handled umbrella carried at all times (copied from British prime minister Neville Chamberlain). Female Zazous wore short skirts, shabby furs, wooden platform shoes and dark glasses with big lenses, and chose to go hatless, to better show off the single lock of hair they had bleached or dyed. They took their name from the scatting in a song, Je Suis Swing, by their hero, French jazz singer Johnny Hess.”
Broughton went on: “The Zazous thrived in opposition to the Nazis’ hatred of jazz. When Goebbels issued edicts banning the ‘rhythms of belly-dancing negroes’, the remnants of Montmartre’s jazz community were deported, interned, or at very least unemployed. The scene that had raised Josephine Baker to legend resorted to home-grown musicians playing US jazz standards, renamed to fool the censors.
“While the adults skirted the Nazi regulations, their younger counterparts favoured far more public defiance. Raising a finger to the world, the Zazous would shout ‘Swing’, give a little hop, then cry out, ‘Zazou hey, hey, hey, za Zazou!,’ followed by three slaps on the hip, two shrugs of the shoulder and a turn of the head. Not surprisingly, Zazous were regular targets for the boot-boys of the collaborationist Vichy government, suffering organised beatings, having their heads shaved and being cast out to sweat in the fields.
“Les Zazous were the first club kids.”
Wikipedia says the Zazous had contemporaries in Germany, the Swingjugend and the Edelweiss Pirates, who were even more brutally victimised for their dissidence – sent to concentration camps and in some cases hanged.
Wikipedia gives credit for influence to the Johnny Hess record , which was the biggest hit ever in France when it came out in 1942, but says the word Zazou probably referred back to Zah Zuh Zah by Cab Calloway, who was already popular for his sound and style. See a 1933 clip of Calloway performing it – Zaz Zuh Zaz, according to the fan who posted it on YouTube – at http://tinyurl.com/jvrlhlc/