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Reflections of a working writer and reader

 

 

Cheaper than war

Sam Smith thinks jazz is cooler and cheaper than war. He describes an instance of enlightened American foreign policy known as the Jazz Ambassadors program. During the 1950s, the State Department sent a variety of musicians abroad to show the world something of America:

In 1958, (Dave) Brubeck visited 12 countries, including Poland, Turkey, East and West Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Iran and Iraq. As Brubeck explained it, “We were out 120 days without a day off, and it was rough travel. The water wasn’t fit to drink, but you got so thirsty, you drank it. The State Department didn’t want us to come home. They wanted us to stay out. They cancelled our concerts here at home.”

In an interview with National Endowment for the Arts chair Dana Gioia several years ago, Brubeck told how the Voice of America had been his warm-up band: “Most of the people, when they spoke to you in English, sounded like Willis Conover from the Voice of America. His show came on every night worldwide. . . To this day . . . you can hear his voice. In Russia, people sound like Willis. If you listened to my recordings in the Soviet Union during the darkest days of the Cold War, you could be sent to Siberia or worse. They listened to my records, and they called it ‘Jazz in Bones.’ Using X-ray plates, they could record Willis Conover and get a fairly good recording. If you were caught with that, you were dead. But the doctors and the nurses and the students would very carefully listen to these recordings, and they had underground jazz meetings all the time.”

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