Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Jazz Ambassadors of the Cold War [includes video]; see also "Is American Cultural Diplomacy a Hot Potato?"

image from
Via GR on Facebook

Julian Joseph tells the story of how some of the biggest jazz musicians toured the world in the name of democracy, only to turn the tables on the US government that had sent them.

During the Cold War, jazz was used as an instrument of global diplomacy. In an attempt to improve America's image abroad, a US State Department cultural programme sent out such jazz masters as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie.

Jazz pianist, composer and broadcaster Julian Joseph recounts how, between 1954 and 1968, these 'jazz ambassadors' performed unlikely concerts in countries such as Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, the Congo, Yugoslavia and Russia.

But soon,the contradictions began to occur to the musicians - they represented a liberal America, yet at home they still lived in a segregated society, with the Civil Rights Movement in full flow. The project exposed the often complicated and sometimes conflicted politics of the US government.

As the tours continued, the State Department's master plan had unanticipated consequences. The jazz luminaries did not always play ball and, in some cases, used their position to express their own politics.

Contributors include: Dizzy Gillespie's drummer, Charli Persip; jazz impresario George Wein; Penny Von Eschen, Professor of History at the University of Michigan; and Louis Armstrong biographer Ricky Riccardi.

Producer: Dom Byrne
A Blakeway production for BBC Radio 4.

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