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Jazz Goes To The Cold War

In the 1950s and 60s, as the Cold War & the civil-rights movement heated up, the U.S. State Department sent jazz musicians on goodwill tours around the world.

Louis ArmstrongThis week on Night Lights it’s “Jazz Goes to the Cold War,” a program about the U.S. State Department’s sponsorship of international jazz tours during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1956, as both the Cold War and the civil-rights movement heated up, the American government asked Dizzy Gillespie to assemble a new big band to promote the image of American freedom around the globe. Gillespie obliged, although he made it clear that he would not feel compelled to “promote racist policies.” He was the first of a number of jazz artists to undertake such a tour, including Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong. We’ll hear music from all of those musicians (Ellington’s Far East Suite, inspired by his 1963 State Department tour, Gillespie’s live Dizzy in South America V. 1, and Brubeck’s The Real Ambassadors, a 1962 civil-rights musical that took an ironic look at bureaucratic sponsorship of jazz) and discuss Penny von Eschen’s new book, Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War, now available from Harvard University Press.

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