Skip to Main Content
Jazz Diplomacy

Jazz Diplomacy: Promoting America in the Cold War Era

Lisa E. Davenport
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 208
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Jazz Diplomacy
    Book Description:

    Jazz as an instrument of global diplomacy transformed superpower relations in the Cold War era and reshaped democracy's image worldwide. Lisa E. Davenport tells the story of America's program of jazz diplomacy practiced in the Soviet Union and other regions of the world from 1954 to 1968. Jazz music and jazz musicians seemed an ideal card to play in diminishing the credibility and appeal of Soviet communism in the Eastern bloc and beyond. Government-funded musical junkets by such jazz masters as Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, and Benny Goodman dramatically influenced perceptions of the U.S. and its capitalist brand of democracy while easing political tensions in the midst of critical Cold War crises. This book shows how, when coping with foreign questions about desegregation, the dispute over the Berlin Wall, the Cuban missile crisis, Vietnam, and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, jazz players and their handlers wrestled with the inequalities of race and the emergence of class conflict while promoting America in a global context. And, as jazz musicians are wont to do, many of these ambassadors riffed off script when the opportunity arose.

    Jazz Diplomacyargues that this musical method of winning hearts and minds often transcended economic and strategic priorities. Even so, the goal of containing communism remained paramount, and it prevailed over America's policy of redefining relations with emerging new nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-344-0
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. vi-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-26)

    In January 1965 Jazz Night at the Blue Bird Youth Café in Moscow was in full swing. Soviet club managers closely monitored the club’s clientele, and audiences were carefully selected by Soviet cultural authorities. Those attending included U.S. cultural attaché Ernest G. Weiner, who had visited Jazz Night with a select group of people at the invitation of a Soviet friend. Weiner characterized the café as though it had a mystical aura. He commented that it was ensconced “on a narrow and dimly lit street” and gave “practically no outward indication of its existence.” It was especially alluring “at night”...

  5. Chapter 1 Battling the Reds
    (pp. 27-37)

    Even before American jazz musicians became cultural ambassadors, the United States launched performing arts tours in the Soviet bloc to compete with the “Reds” on the cultural front. After the Soviet Union emerged from the ruins of World War II, and Joseph Stalin embarked upon a policy of political and cultural expansion that challenged America’s bid for preeminence in world affairs, American cultural policy makers aimed to destroy what they characterized as “myths” and stereotypes about the country that lingered abroad. The “myths” that frequently emanated from America’s racial dilemma significantly shaped the international discourse on discrimination, civil rights, and...

  6. Chapter 2 Jazz Diplomacy at Home and Abroad, 1954–1957
    (pp. 38-61)

    With anti-Communist fervor at its height in the mid-1950s, racial oppression in the United States sometimes mirrored the pervasive tyranny in the Soviet sphere, despite campaigns to buttress the image of American democracy.¹ As W. E. B. DuBois wrote in a letter to the editor of the newspaperNew Timesin 1954, “The present attitude in America is to make it impossible for American Negroes to express themselves concerning their situation unless they confine their remarks or writings to fulsome praise of the United States.”² In confronting this conundrum, the State Department, wary of jazz’s racial and social origins, reluctantly...

  7. Chapter 3 Jazz Means Freedom, 1957–1960
    (pp. 62-88)

    Just months after Wilbur De Paris’s historic tour to Africa, the school desegregation crisis in Little Rock, Arkansas, set off a chain of events at home and abroad that dramatically altered the course of jazz diplomacy: from 1957 to 1960 jazz policy makers became reluctant to sponsor black jazz musicians in cultural tours and questioned the efficacy of using black jazz in cultural policy. In the view of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (CU), the use of black jazz musicians might heighten attention on America’s racial problems. Contrarily, conservative, mainstream white jazz bands would offset controversies about race...

  8. Chapter 4 The Paradox of Jazz Diplomacy, 1961–1966
    (pp. 89-113)

    The inability of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (CU) to contain international criticism of cultural affairs became even more acute in the 1960s against the backdrop of domestic racial conflicts and the Vietnam War. These dual injustices amplified the paradox of jazz diplomacy on the world stage to such an extent that they compelled a profound reassessment of jazz policies: under the scrutiny of the informationalists, jazz diplomacy no longer seemed viable, and the CU consequently suspended jazz tours. It did not reinstate them until the mid-1960s, when the resurgence of internationalism in the CU and the expansion...

  9. Chapter 5 Jazz Behind the Iron Curtain, 1961–1966
    (pp. 114-128)

    Internationalist impulses strikingly intensified in the Soviet bloc as both modern and traditional jazz gained greater respectability. American and Soviet officials recognized the unyielding appeal of jazz among Soviet people as audiences markedly grew. Soviet jazz debates raged and often centered around jazz as Soviet intellectual property. By the mid-1960s official cultural contacts with jazz and African American performers increased immeasurably amid the turmoil of the Vietnam War and contributed to a shift in America’s cultural priorities—the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (CU) increasingly approached Soviet jazz in the context of internationalism and accordingly redefined its approach to...

  10. Chapter 6 Bedlam from the Decadent West, 1967–1968
    (pp. 129-144)

    By the late 1960s the sentiments of renowned Soviet writer Maxim Gorky, who characterized jazz as “bedlam from the decadent West” in 1928, took on a new meaning. Several prominent figures in the American jazz world turned the Soviet jazz world on its head when they visited the Soviet bloc and promoted the cause of cultural internationalism. They engagingly focused Soviet attention on the redemptive aspects of American society as the United States became more enmeshed in the quagmire of Vietnam. Not surprisingly, the American ethos at home and abroad during these years reflected the crises and contradictions of the...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 145-150)

    It was not until the era of détente that American jazz policy makers became bold enough to embrace both internationalism and the movement toward free jazz that had reshaped the jazz world of the 1960s and which they had deemed “too far out” for jazz tours during height of the Cold War.¹ Only then did the paragons of free jazz from the 1960s and 1970s become icons in the jazz policy of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (CU) at home and abroad. This exemplified the primacy of the U.S.-Soviet rivalry in shaping jazz diplomacy. Jazz as an instrument...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 151-198)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 199-212)
  14. Index
    (pp. 213-219)