Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Syria -- Putin's "Shock and Awe"?

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Of course historical "parallels" are misleading.  What history teaches -- if it "teaches" anything -- is that the past, present, and future are unpredictable. Granted, historical "patterns" can be "discovered" -- but that may have more to do with the "discoverer" than the actual "discovery."

So. Putin's foray into Syria is strangely reminiscent, at least to me, of George W. Bush's "shock and awe" adventure in Iraq, although of course Dubya was supposedly "attacking" a dictator rather than supposedly "supporting" one (Russians in Syria re Assad).

But there are similarities --"lessons" being too strong a word: Outside powers (declining powers?) trying to impose their will on parts of the world their "experts" really know little about (ok -- Russians did/do have a "relationship" [geopolitical, military, even religious] with their clients in Syria for many years; and so did the USA in pre-U.S. Embassy hostage-taking Iran or, arguably, with post-Saddam Iraq.

And, of course, being "tough" regarding international affairs for domestic political purposes. Dubya, arguably, got into the Iraq mess because of upcoming congressional elections that were predicted not to be favorable to Republicans after the national humiliation of 9/11; as for Boba, he doubtless realizes that Russians may look at state-controlled Tee-Vee, but what's more important to them -- bottom line -- is what is in their refrigerators. So he's PR-temporizing  -- some would say -- by sending Russians to kill/die in Syria to support Russia's "ally."

Yet another "international" triumph may keep the ex-KGB's agent opinion-ratings up, or so his cronies would say. But Putin and his boys may have miscalculated; people, in all parts of the world, are not that stupid, as we found out (perhaps too late) in our very own USA re Bush and Iraq. Remember the comedy of "Mission Accomplished"? (Dubya Papa ran the CIA; perhaps a sweet fact-music to Boba's ears).

But essentially these international interventions by "global powers" in a globalized world -- powers actually no longer "global" in their power militarily to influence global events -- are quite similar in their hubris:
We can make 'em furreners as/like what we want 'em to be. Just bomb 'em to death.
Forget about it. Or better, rethink about it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Estonia Launches New Channel to Win Over Its Russians; via AH on Facebook

Ints Kalnins / ReutersJournalists work in the editorial office of the new Russian language TV channel ETV+ in Tallinn, Estonia, Sept. 24.
TALLINN — On Monday, ethnic Russians in Estonia will wake up to a new television channel created expressly for them, a move by the Estonian government to reach out to its Russian minority and counter what Western governments have described as the Kremlin’s infowar.
Although ethnic Russians make up a quarter of the former Soviet country’s 1.3-million population, they are often cut off from ethnic Estonians by media, language and geography. The new government-funded Russian-language channel is aimed at bridging those divides.
The channel’s launch also attests to the concerns of politicians in the Baltic countries that after Russia’s meddling in Ukraine under the pretext of protecting ethnic Russians there, ethnic Russians living on their soil could be stirred up by Russian propaganda to undermine stability.
In interviews for this article, ethnic Russians in Estonia dismissed that idea but complained about their treatment by school systems, employers and the government.
“Everything comes down to language: If you don’t know the [Estonian] language, you aren’t a person,” said a Russian bus driver, Alexander, 33, who asked for his surname to be withheld from print. Most ethnic Russians interviewed for this article made the same request.

Into the Ether

Named ETV+, the new channel is part of Estonia’s government broadcasting company, ERR, and will be the only government channel entirely in Russian.
The decades-old idea of the country having its own Russian-language channel gathered steam in early 2014, as Baltic governments mulled how to counter aggressively anti-Western Russian television broadcasts inside their borders, such as major pro-Kremlin Russian channels Channel One and NTV, which are readily available in Estonia.
Estonia’s Culture Ministry convened a committee of journalists and professors last May, and the Cabinet gave the TV project the green light a year ago, local media reported.
The station has an annual budget of about 4 million euros, which it gets from the Estonian federal budget, said ETV Plus spokeswoman Anastasia Drachyova.
ETV+ says its target age group is 25 to 55, and that it will make use of social media websites Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and VKontakte.
ETV+ will be the only Russian-language TV station in Estonia focused on Estonian topics. Most of its shows will be entertainment and lifestyle, including new ones made for ETV+. Two Russian-language news shows are moving over from another ERR channel, while discussion and analytical programs have also been created for the new channel.
Darya Saar, the Russian-speaking editor-in-chief of ETV+, told The Moscow Times that the Estonian government’s criterion for developing the station’s audience is that by 2017, every resident of Estonia should spend 15 minutes a week watching the channel.
One factor in the new channel’s potential success or failure will be how well it navigates polarizing topics such as the conflict in eastern Ukraine and integration of ethnic Russians in Estonia.
In e-mailed comments, Ainar Ruussaar, an ERR executive board member, said ERR is “an independent public service broadcasting organization, not the government’s mouthpiece,” adding that Estonian law “doesn’t allow” the company to be a state propaganda organization.
Ethnic Russians said in interviews that they would tune in to the station, if only to check it out.
“If it’s interesting, then we’ll watch it,” said Irina Kuznetsova, 25, a resident of the Estonian border town of Narva.
Some were skeptical about the channel’s independence from the Estonian government or its effectiveness.
As an overture to Estonia’s official treatment of its ethnic Russian population, “they are about 20 years late with this channel,” said Larisa, 54, a Tallinn resident.
Ints Kalnins / Reuters
Journalists talking in the studio of Estonia’s new Russian-language TV channel, ETV+, in Tallinn last week.

Barriers to Integration

Estonia restricts citizenship — and therefore a sizable bulk of government jobs — to people who have passed an exam in the Estonian language. For many ethnic Russians who found themselves living in the Baltic country after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, this restriction is a major barrier to their integration.
Many of Estonia’s Russians don’t have an Estonian passport. Out of the 330,000 ethnic Russians living in Estonia, up to 90,000 have Russian passports, while tens of thousands more are stateless persons with neither Estonian nor Russian citizenship, according to Estonia’s Interior Ministry.
When it comes to ethnic relations, “the main problem has always been segregation,” said Matthew Crandall, a U.S. lecturer in international relations at Tallinn University.
“Ethnic Russians and ethnic Estonians do not interact at desired levels. This is true in housing regions, employment and education,” he said by e-mail.
Economic woes and discrimination were the most common topics that came up in more than 30 street interviews conducted by The Moscow Times last month in Tallinn, Narva and Kohtla-Jarve to gauge sentiments among Estonia’s Russians.
For many people, the question of whether the Estonian government does enough for ethnic Russians provoked the same reply: “It doesn’t do anything.”
A number of people described discrimination against Russians at work.
Sitting with friends in a Tallinn pizza shop, Valery, 24, said employers prefer to hire Estonian speakers. During a construction job, “I got less than an Estonian in the exact same job, and I had worked longer,” he said.
Bus driver Alexander said he had trouble getting jobs because of language bias: Even after he learned Estonian well enough to receive Estonian citizenship, that wasn’t enough for one prospective employer, who wanted him to speak it fluently with passengers.
When he drove buses for another company in Tallinn, his supervisors told him to keep Russian radio stations turned down “because people might complain.”
Young ethnic Russians are acutely aware of the correlation between Estonian language skills and their prospects.
Tallinn teenager Alexander Fridlund, 19, who just finished high school, said “many Russians don’t know Estonian, and they have lots of problems because of it.”
His friend Filipp Obolonin, 18, was even blunter: “If you don’t know the language, you’re going to get minimum wage.”

Separate Schools

Some people interviewed for this article complained about the way ethnic Russian children learn Estonian.
Kuznetsova, the 25-year-old in Narva, said that because her son’s classes are taught in Estonian, “I have a child who doesn’t understand anything” at his school.
Children from Russian-speaking homes generally attend grade schools in which classes are taught in Russian.
But in Tallinn, Gerbert Samosha, 22, complained that the government is closing Russian-language schools. “There are almost no Russian schools left in my neighborhood,” he said.
Both Russian-language and Estonian-language schools are closing because the number of school-age children has dropped during the past 10 years, the Education and Research Ministry said.
“We haven’t closed a single school because of language,” said Irene Kaosaar, head of the ministry’s general education department.
Many ethnic Russians, however, view the shuttering of Russian-language schools as discrimination directed at them.
Alexander Kozlov, 22, was hanging out with his friend Samosha in Tallinn’s Tammsaare Park.
Kozlov is now finishing his last year at a St. Petersburg university. “I moved there specifically to be with my own,” he said.
Ints Kalnins / Reuters
Engineers working in the control room of the new channel, which ERR denies will be a propaganda mouthpiece.

Unfounded Fears

In almost all interviews for this article, ethnic Russians rejected the idea that Russia could stir up their frustrations and provoke unrest. Many called it unlikely or absurd.
In Narva, which sits across a small river from Ivangorod in Russia, Sergei, 35, and his friend Alexei, 37, both called the idea of Russia-fomented political disturbance “total rubbish.”
“We have lived our whole lives in this city, with Russia nearby,” said Sergei, who works in metals construction. “It isn’t necessary for Russia to protect anyone here because we have always lived here peacefully and we will live here peacefully.”
In Kohtla-Jarve, Valentina Yurkevich, 58, said she didn’t see the risk of such a scenario.
“No, it isn’t possible,” she said, saying the two countries are more inclined to trade with each other.
Marina, 47, who was walking with her daughter Yelena, 20, in Kohtla-Jarve said the Russia-phobic worries were unfounded. “That isn’t true,” she said. “If there aren’t any actions on the Estonian side, Russia … isn’t going to do anything,” Marina said.
Still, some people brought up the Bronze Soldier riots, suggesting that the eight-year-old incident is still a raw subject for ethnic Russians.
In April 2007, Estonian authorities chose to relocate out of central Tallinn a Soviet-era memorial to Russians killed in World War II, as well as the graves of Red Army soldiers at the site.
That sparked large street protests by ethnic Russians — backed by pro-Kremlin youth groups in Russia — that turned into two nights of rioting in which one person was killed.
Ethnic Russians claimed that Estonian police used excessive force on protesters; the BBC reported at the time that police used water cannons and tear gas. For their part, ethnic Estonians were scared by the violent outburst and blamed Russian residents for what happened.
“The Bronze Soldier riot did cement and enhance a social cleavage that still exists today,” said Crandall at Tallinn University. “This has had a wide impact on Estonian domestic politics, where elections are still cast in a Russia-Estonia light.”

Monday, September 28, 2015

Jazz Strategy: Dizzy, Foreign Policy, and Government in 1956

Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture (1900-present), Spring 2005, Volume 4, Issue 1

Scott Gac

Yale University

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1955: Legendary Radio Corporation of America chairman David Sarnoff calls a conference in Midtown Manhattan. He presents a ten-ounce turntable, which seems ordinary except for its portability and the fact that the United States government has already tossed several of these record players out of military planes. Sarnoff’s introduction is serious. There is no dispute over sound theory. Packaged with various pro-American recordings, some members of the federal government believe that lightweight phonographs can help win the Cold War. The self-powered players are the latest device to further American empire (James).

Sarnoff, the visionary who helped launch television in 1939 – “Now we add sight to sound,” he said – was, in 1956, more a stargazer than a prophet when adding flight to sound (qtd. in Casey and Werner 88). The conference on the skydiving phonograph, though, pointed to a much larger postwar theme: the emphasis on sound in foreign policy. Long before the American military serenaded Manuel Noriega with ear-splitting rock tunes, the government spent millions blanketing foreign nations with more soothing sounds of America through radio programs, live performances, and library recordings.

The sudden jump in funding for government sponsored cultural programs showcased a new commitment made after World War II. From 1947 through 1951, an average of $37 million was set aside for cultural endeavors, with a 1951 high of $57 million and a 1948 low of $14 million. The average from 1952 through 1956 was $109 million. These figures, while calculated separately as budget items, represent part of a broader foreign policy that included military and diplomatic resources. The increased funds available for government sponsored cultural events reveal a great concern with how other nations viewed the United States. “In recent years,” wrote Franz Joseph in As Others See Us, “the social scientists have given much attention to the ‘images’ that each nation has of other nations” (vi). 1.

1955: “Coke, Boogie-Woogie, and Gum Not So Bad” states the New York Times (Raymond). An official visit to the United States by a Polish observer appears to work. Jerzy Putrament publishes a popular article in Poland saying that the widespread denunciation of American goods is misguided. He thinks that many commercial items in America have no connection to a capitalist conspiracy (as he had been taught) and everything to do with their pleasurable effects. The Pole proposes that Coca-Cola be used in his nation’s campaign against alcoholism. “It Isn’t the Gum” – a tongue-in-cheek, op-ed piece printed a few days later hopes that gum users in New York and in Moscow will build on Putrament’s enlightenment and stop leaving their non-conspiratorial chewing gum around the subways.

Inviting foreign nationals to witness the evils of capitalism first hand was part of changing the international view of America. Following the collapse of the anti-fascist alliance and the onset of the Cold War, the Soviet Union restarted its criticism of America which had been suspended during the two countries’ war coalition. In 1945 and 1946, L’Humanité, the official organ of the French Communist Party which was faithful to the Soviet stance, portrayed the promise of Hollywood with extensive coverage of the visits of Rita Hayworth and other American icons. Abruptly, in 1947, the United States appeared in the paper’s pages as a failing imperial power on the precipice of social and economic upheaval. All things American were derided and, according to Cora Sol Goldstein, “American cinema and the American film industry were a particular target, and Hollywood was accused of introducing American ideology and values through entertainment” (19-20). 2.

The relentless Soviet criticisms of the capitalist country were, by and large, dismissed as propaganda and Putremant’s revelation, while entertaining, did not signify any great victory. It was taken for granted that communist and capitalist countries fundamentally disagreed on basic social issues. The one censure that stuck, though, was the charge of racism. The Soviet Union and her allies pointed to segregation and the violence that accompanied it as evidence of an unenlightened America.

Of course, with pictures of tortured black bodies and Josephine Baker decrying a new slavery in the South, communist media accessed a seemingly endless stream of material to present to their readers. Clearly, this was not the American way of life that the United States government wanted foreigners to see. Yet, there it was, not only in communist sponsored publications, but in the popular presses in India, Mexico, Greece, Haiti, and Great Britain; the United States was being characterized worldwide through racial conflict. To counter this image, the American government sponsored a host of cultural activities (radio programs, libraries, concerts, and plays) that presented American achievement rather than American failure (Goldstein 21).

Remembering 1956: “Adam Powell surprised me,” Dizzy Gillespie later recalled, “I went to Washington once, in 1956, playing with a small group at the Showboat, and received a call from him saying come down to the House Office Building the next day because he had something to tell me. I arrived there and all these reporters were standing around, and then Adam made a statement: ‘I’m going to propose to President Eisenhower that he send this man, who’s a great contributor to our music, on a State Department sponsored cultural mission to Africa, the Near East, Middle East, and Asia’” (Gillespie and Fraser 413).

The United States government was relatively new to artist support, yet the international cultural invasion of the 1950s by American artists was largely inconceivable without federal assistance. Prior to the Cold War, World’s Fairs, Expositions, and shows for American servicemen were about the only foreign venues for which state assistance for the arts was available (Kammen 793-803). On the domestic front, attitudes toward government cultural funding had changed drastically during the Depression. The first sustained venture in state support for the arts took place under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Starting in 1932 and ending in 1943, the WPA supported many cultural undertakings in an effort to employ artists as social relief for a nation suffering an epic economic crisis.

The end of the unemployment dilemma, helped largely by the war effort, ensured an end to the WPA. When government funding for the arts reemerged in the post-war era, its object was far less altruistic. Cultural productions developed into one of the nation’s preferred methods to vaunt overseas. The result? Federal funding for the arts became a focal point for the debate over an appropriate postwar American image for foreign consumption. 3.

"What then is the American, this new man?" asked St. John de Crevecoeur in the eighteenth century. This question demanded an answer, again, as the United States looked to become a global leader in the mid-twentieth century. Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., representative from New York City’s Harlem, had an answer: Dizzy Gillespie.

By 1956, John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie had long since risen from his impoverished South Carolina childhood and was recognized as one of the leaders of the recent musical revolution that spawned a new form of jazz called bebop. Gillespie may already have been an international superstar, yet the proposal for the trumpeter to front a jazz tour on the behalf of the United States government was daring. With the South in disarray over segregation, the suggestion that a black man represent the nation seemingly would not pass. For years, Powell made little headway when pleading with the Eisenhower Administration for his own worldwide speaking tour in defense of American racial progress. In 1956, he temporarily transferred his own goal to music and Gillespie. The Congressman’s idea was not without some precedent – African American baritone William Warfield had performed in Cairo in 1955 thanks to support from the federal government. A jazz musician, however, was an entirely different proposition (Hamilton 290-294).

Music, part of the country’s Cold War propaganda from the start, had an interesting beginning as an American symbol. When the Department of State looked for performers from New Orleans, its Symphony was chosen time and again. If, in the supposed birthplace of jazz, musicians such as the enormously popular Louis Armstrong were ignored, securing sufficient support for a Gillespie tour was certainly going to be troublesome. Classical music and classically trained musicians were the initial cultural cold warriors of choice, ensuring that the majority of the performers (with exceptions such as Warfield) on those early government sponsored tours were white men.

By the mid-1950s, it was clear, though, that American classical musicians were fighting a losing battle – having great orchestras succeeded only in placing American culture upon a crowded mantle. Asserting American superiority in art music (classical music), competing against a hallowed European institution, was not really impressing many foreigners. At best, the country’s art musicians would be applauded for their skill, but, in this arena, the American orchestra was viewed suspiciously by Europeans nurturing prejudice about American cultural inferiority. Americans performing within, or even excelling within, what was clearly a European-dominated tradition was not great promotional material. Classical music would help portray the United States as civilized by a Western standard; it could not offer up something widely understood as American to the world. 4.

Jackson Lears wrote that “the essence of hegemony is not manipulation but legitimation” (50); the story of American music at mid-century documents the nation’s quest for validation in light of its new status as a global leader. The federal government was slow to comprehend that jazz, particularly swing, was widely understood as an American icon. There was no disputing this fact. Made fashionable by American troops and by privately financed performances, foreigners turned toward American popular music and jazz en masse after Word War II. Jazz had been the sound of the Depression, and its fans tracked band roster changes as sports enthusiasts tracked the players on their favorite teams. During the war, swing music evoked visions of “‘home’ values,” becoming a symbol “of a war to defend the American way” (Erenberg 234-5). At home and abroad, jazz became increasingly synonymous with American values – particularly freedom. 5.

Foreigners were thus annoyed after the war when, time and again, they requested jazz performers from the United States and, instead, found themselves listening to groups like the New York Philharmonic (Wagnleitner iv). When the State Department finally recognized the broad appeal of jazz as an inherently American art form – deciding in 1955 to emphasize “real Americana” – the face and the sound of government sponsored music tours changed (“Remote Lands”). Classical musicians were no longer the exclusive representatives of America and a host of other musical styles gained access to federal sponsorship. (Alden; Sheed).

The evening of May 9, 1956, displayed the nation’s newfound musical diversity that was exported overseas. That night there were five government funded concerts, three of which presented the usual classical fare – the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Bangkok, pianist Eugene Isthmian in Japan, and Robert Shaw’s Chorale in Cologne – while the other two presented the new amalgamation – Native American Tom Two Arrows in Burma and Dizzy Gillespie’s band in Belgrade (“ANTA”).

February 1956: “DIZZY TO ROCK INDIA” — a short article with an exciting headline ran in the New York Times in February 1956 announcing that “Dizzy Gillespie and his band will make a ten-week tour of India, the Near East and the Balkans beginning in April.” The tour will be the first foreign visit of jazz music sponsored by the American National Theatre and Academy (a group which recommends “artistically qualified” entertainers to the State Department for federally funded international tours). Gillespie’s troupe will consist of about twenty performers. 6.

The Department of State thought better of pushing Dizzy Gillespie and his band out of the back of a plane, but, like the skydiving phonograph, the Gillespie tour started with a big crash. Just before the troupe was to fly to Bombay, tensions between India and the United States resulted in concert cancellations (“Dizzy to Rock”). Officially, Jawaharlal Nehru refused to sacrifice his policy of nonalignment. But the Indian leader was particularly upset by the continued U.S. military aid to Pakistan, so he spoiled the State Department’s plans for Gillespie (Shipton 281; Gillespie and Fraser 417). If, as Penny Von Eschen writes, the State Department tours “tried to make critics of U.S. policy identify with America or the idea of America independently of American policies,” Nehru saw through the cultural game that the Americans were playing — rightly linking American foreign policy to the Gillespie show (“Satchmo” 172). Before the tour even started, Gillespie got a good feel for what he later called the “political implications” of his trip (Gillespie and Fraser 417).

The bandleader remembered that American papers criticized Nehru as “ungrateful” (417). After all, he turned away a free concert. Meanwhile, the State Department quickly rescheduled the group to start in Abadan, Iran, a city close to the Iraqi border (Shipton 281). The India incident was the first of several skirmishes that set the tone for the musicians. As the jazz group traveled to places harboring valuable natural and military resources, several of the host countries expressed displeasure with the make-up of Gillespie’s troupe.

The trumpeter’s big band had been sporadically employed during the late 1940s and the early 1950s, so its personnel was constantly changing. There was nothing unusual in the fact that Gillespie had to choose several musicians before his 1956 State Department tour. But Gillespie’s band, typically staffed by black men, was now a remarkable, to use its leader’s terminology, “‘American assortment’ of blacks, whites, males, females, Jews and Gentiles” (Gillespie and Fraser 414). While there is scant evidence, there is little doubt that the State Department greatly influenced the band’s new look (Shipton 280). The addition of white musicians, altoist Phil Woods and trombonist Rod Levitt, and also women, singer Dotty Saulter and trombonist/arranger Melba Liston, were most noticeable. That Gillespie recalled the assembly over twenty years later revealed just how unusual it was for his group (Gillespie and Fraser 414-16).

The 1956 version of the Gillespie band, like any group of mixed racial composition, would have stirred disapproval in America, especially in the South. But a greater controversy erupted abroad over the women in the group and the religious affiliation of one of the musicians. During a layover in the Cairo airport, American racial strife was the last thing on the minds of Gillespie and Rod Levitt. After the band was served a free drink, Levitt remembered, “they turned all the lights out and started showing a movie” (qtd. in Gillespie and Fraser 416-17). The film was a virulent anti-Israeli propaganda film. Gillespie, who laughed at almost anything, turned to his Jewish trombonist and joked, “How do you like it?” (417).

Levitt’s troubles did not stop there. For several hours, it looked as if Pakistani officials were not going to allow him to leave their country because he wrote “Jewish” on his visa. The band, set to leave for Syria, impatiently awaited resolution. The State Department defused the situation by refiling Levitt’s visa, listing him as a Christian ­ the Gillespie band left Karachi together (Gillespie and Fraser 414-16).

Far more radical for Muslim nations, though, was the independence of the two women in the group. Melba Liston remembered a stream of questions regarding gender dynamics in the United States: “I had lots of women come to me in the Middle East tours to find out how life was over here for women and how in the world I could be running around there traveling and single” (qtd. in Gillespie and Fraser 415-16). The relative freedom that the two women presented on and off stage was a primary focus of their audience. No doubt their accomplishments affected their female listeners who were confused and awed at the situation and wanted to learn more. There existed a clear disjunction between the interests of foreign listeners and the interests of the foreign press which reported on race in America when covering the musical act.

April 1956: “Professor Joins the Gillespie Band,” reports the New York Times. Dr. Marshall Stearns, a professor at Hunter College who teaches a jazz course at the New School, takes over the role of music educator on the Gillespie tour.

Three years after the inaugural jazz concerts, Leonard Bernstein, on tour in the Soviet Union, introduced Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps as a work central to the musical revolution of the early twentieth century. For years, Soviet leaders slandered Stravinsky’s work as academic and bourgeois, so Bernstein’s talks, which preceded an actual performance of the work by the New York Philharmonic, were not welcome. By the time the New York Philharmonic reached Leningrad, the New York Times said “the request that he [Bernstein] say nothing about Stravinsky was transmitted through Americans from Russian sources” (“Bernstein Drops”). This was not the first time that the famous musician was quieted during this trip. A week earlier in Moscow, Bernstein’s copious program notes for his own Symphony No. 2 – based on W. H. Auden’s Age of Anxiety, a commentary “on the search for happiness in Western society” – were omitted from the program (“Bernstein Work”).

Despite regular censure in Russia, Bernstein continually lectured about music during the New York Philharmonic’s summer concerts abroad (Frankel). In his role as a music teacher, the conductor continued in a long tradition of art music analysis. In 1956, Dizzy Gillespie could not benefit from centuries of jazz scholarship because there was no such thing. But the trumpeter was one of a handful of jazz innovators in the relatively short history of the musical style. This fact did not salvage the role of jazz lecturer for Gillespie in the eyes of the State Department (“Professor”). Early on in the tour, the State Department made certain that Gillespie would teach jazz through performance, not oration (Gillespie and Fraser 418; “Gillespie’s Band”).

One very clear purpose of the Gillespie band was to present a program illuminative of jazz’s development. It is quite remarkable, then, that Dizzy Gillespie, recognized as a musical modernizer for his contribution to bebop in the 1940s, was replaced by a professor of English (“Professor”; “Gillespie’s Band”). Not only was he humorous, entertaining, and eloquent, Gillespie had lived through most of jazz history. Seemingly, the famed trumpeter was a better choice than a New York professor whose status was clinched by an impressive collection of jazz paraphernalia and a jazz history course that he started teaching in 1951 at the New School (“Institute of Jazz Studies”). No doubt Oxford University Press, the publisher behind Stearns’s 1956 book The Story of Jazz, was thrilled by the selection of their author to such a visible post. Less than a month into the tour, Stearns was telling the audience all about jazz before Gillespie and company came on stage and played the history to them.

Stearns’s appointment, especially in light of Bernstein’s role with the Philharmonic, replaced an empowered minority with a white man. Reading Stearns’s selection purely in terms of race, though, distracts from the very important issue surrounding jazz and federally funded concerts. At the time of Gillespie’s government tour, jazz was beginning to shed its image as the “unwanted stepchild of the arts” (Korsky 112). Schools and classes for jazz sprung up at a surprising rate both in the United States and in Europe. More importantly, the bebop revolution had ensured that jazz, already a popular art form, developed into an intellectual one as well.

Swing, the predominant sound of jazz in the 1930s and a most popular style in its heyday, was music created for immediate consumption through commercial channels and was directly dependant upon audience approval. Bebop overturned this relationship and built its reputation on a divide between artist and fan. Gillespie, along with Charlie Parker, Thelonius Monk, and others, fashioned a confusing array of innovations and played them to often puzzled listeners (Deveaux 3-8, 20-27, 273-294; Gillespie and Fraser 190). Swing had benefited from the likes of white performers like Woody Herman and Glen Miller, but bebop, much like ragtime, was fundamentally a black musical innovation (Deveaux 20-27; Tucker xii, 3-27; Gerard 314-15). Removed from the dance halls of Harlem where the big bands wailed, jazz became the more reclusive art of a small ensemble within the poorly lit clubs of New York’s Fifty-Second Street. Bebop marginalized the role of jazz in American culture by making it avant-garde and ultimately secured a future for jazz through the institutionalization that accompanied jazz’s status as an object for serious study. 7.

The creation of centers like the Institute for Jazz Studies (founded by Marshall Stearns in 1952 and taken over by Rutgers University in 1966) and the Lenox School of Jazz brought Czech composer Anton Dvorak’s 1893 statement that “Negro melodies…must be the real foundation of any serious and original school of composition to be developed in the United States” closer to reality (“Institute”; qtd. in Murray 22). Businessman Norman Granz captured the development by promoting the aptly titled series Jazz at the Philharmonic. Dr. Stearns was chosen to lecture during Gillespie’s tour to add, according to a 1956 New York Times piece, “a highbrow touch” (“Gillespie’s Band”). When the government began its Cold War jazz crusade, jazz was chosen not only for its American pedigree and its seeming denial of American racial conflict but also because it was fast becoming recognized as a scholarly form (Von Eschen, “Satchmo” 164; Gerard xi-xx).

June 1956: United States Ambassador to Turkey, Donald Heath, senses that something is wrong, but as embassy security summons him to the stage area, he isn’t sure what. Heath approaches the famed trumpeter and asks: “Mr. Gillespie, there’s supposed to be a jam session. What’s happening? Why don’t you want to play?” Gillespie should be on stage performing with his band and local Ankaran musicians. Instead, he is seething backstage. When he entered the embassy earlier, Gillespie noticed a large crowd, mainly children, trying to get into the show. As the Turkish band took the stage, the trumpeter clambered up the reviewing stand which allowed him to reach over the railing and to sign autographs. From this vantage point, he witnessed a young boy scale the fence of the embassy, only to be immediately hurled back by security. Now, Gillespie explains to Heath, he will not play until the children are allowed to see the concert. “You see those people out there?” Gillespie responds to the ambassador. “We’re trying to gain their friendship, not these people, big shots here with the tickets” (Gillespie and Fraser 422).

“GILLESPIE REFUSES TO PLAY FOR THE ELITE” reports one paper the day after Gillespie’s standoff in the embassy (Gillespie and Fraser 422). That day, a musician’s idealism proved stronger than policy ­ Ambassador Heath ordered the guards to let the children in. Gillespie’s antics did not cloak his basic purpose. Time and again, he placed the concerns of the “common people” – those who were priced out of his shows a – on par or above those who could pay to attend his concerts. In Dacca, Gillespie repeated the demands he made in Turkey. In Damascus, he paused the show precisely at sundown so that the audience could break their Ramadan fast with him backstage. With characteristic political tact, Gillespie presented a resolute, yet affable face to U.S. officials to ensure that his concerts reached the foreigners who he thought should witness American music. Gillespie explained five years after his 1956 tour that his private shows abroad were about money; the government-sponsored shows were about the people (An Electrifying).

The gulf dividing jazz performers and the Department of State did not subside in future years. Officials of the American government catered to the leaders of other countries, and it was only the musicians themselves who espoused a more widespread cultural experience. Seven years later after Gillespie’s inaugural tour, the State Department still had not altered their policies, and Duke Ellington was frustrated by the elite composition of his audiences during his government sponsored tour of the oil-rich Middle East (Von Eschen, “Satchmo” 171). The jazz tours were part of a diplomatic package, used as propaganda, incentive, and reward, to convince foreign leaders of American solidarity. Many of the sponsored musicians saw matters differently.

July 1956: From the New York Times: “If Congress goes along with the Senate Appropriations Committee, foreigners may come to think of Americans as a nation of chorus-singing athletes. Alarmed by the impression of the United States conveyed by officially sponsored tours of performers such as Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie…the committee urges Government-aided travel for choral groups and miscellaneous sports projects” (“Biceps and Choirs”).

Five months before the article “Biceps and Choirs” appeared in the Times, Autherine Lucy was admitted as the first African American student to the University of Alabama while the black community in Montgomery was in the midst of a now famous bus boycott. Studying the debate over the early jazz tours makes the present-day reader squeamish. I wonder if the unnamed author who contributed “Biceps and Choirs” understood the implications of the Congressional debate. Looking at the context in which the deliberations took place, it is hard to imagine that the reporter was oblivious. Gillespie and Armstong were not the only jazz musicians to receive federal funds for international concerts. Benny Goodman, for example, traveled as well, yet the famed trumpeters’s names were the ones emphasized by opponents of government jazz programs. The discussion over funding jazz made clear that jazz itself was not the issue; the argument revolved around the race of the performers. So while Gillespie enjoyed the privilege of representing the supposed success of diversity in the United States to foreign nationals in 1956, certain members of Congress worked to remove his African American face from the program.

Senator Barry Goldwater wrote to Assistant Secretary of State, Robert Hill:

This particular item has reference to the recent tour of a negro band leader, Dizzy Gillespie, which apparently involved an expenditure by the Federal Government of the outrageous sum of $100,839…Without any intention of criticizing you, I am wondering just what there is about a program of this type which would more properly fulfill the Government objectives in the area of cultural assistance to foreign countries as opposed to the excellent presentation offered by a group of young boys who have joined together for the purpose of contributing to the musical life of our country, and who have indicated a willingness to share these accomplishments with peoples abroad. (032 Tucson Kids Band, Letter to Robert C. Hill, 19 April 1957)

Goldwater could not believe that “a negro band leader” (who, by implication, did not contribute to the “musical life of our country”) was chosen over a local group from his home state of Arizona, the Tucson Kids Band. The $100,000 face of America that Goldwater wanted foreigners to see was youthful, from his district, and white.

Government sponsored cultural programs aimed to offset reports of the exact kind of race-based thinking embedded in Goldwater’s response to the Gillespie tour. Reports covering concerts of black musicians who had been sent abroad prior to Gillespie’s inaugural jazz tour demonstrated the concerted effort of State Department officials to track the perception of race in America. A statement from the American Embassy in Cairo regarding the 1955 Egyptian tour of Porgy & Bess stated that “the impact achieved outside of the theater by the personalities of the cast can easily be rated as excellent. USIS arranged three major receptions for the cast in Cairo: one primarily for Egyptian theater and radio leaders…; another for the press; and a third for cultural, social, and civic leaders” (qtd. in 511.003/1-3155, Report From American Embassy Cairo, To State Dept /USIA, 31 Jan. 1955). These receptions evoked a “highly enthusiastic acclaim” (qtd. in 511.003/1-3155, Report From American Embassy Cairo, To State Dept /USIA, 31 Jan. 1955). Translations of local newspaper accounts included in the file show the kind of influence the State Department expected:

1) “The members of the group showed unwillingness to discuss racial discrimination in the United States. They however pointed out that such discrimination is being gradually eliminated in the United States.” (qtd. in 511.003/1-3155, Al Guil Al Guedid, 17 January 1955).
2) “The American negro opera now called ‘Porgy and Bess,’ has interpreted this living community into music that now portrays the suffering, poverty, hardship and discrimination that is the lot of the negroes in America…Negroes attach great importance and significance to the recent rulings of the American Supreme Court giving the equal right to education to both whites and negroes.” (qtd. in 511.003/1-3155, “Negro Screams on the Stage of the Opera House,” Al Ahram, 5 January 1955).

The gradual elimination of racism, or at least an idea that racial discrimination was waning, was the message that the State Department wished to convey through cultural tours that included black Americans. Dizzy Gillespie and his band operated in this environment during their 1956 tour.

Federal support for black musicians did not start (or stop) with jazz performances (511.003/1-3155). But, in 1956, the international demand for and popularity of jazz performers made them the focal point of the federal funding dispute.

Gillespie was acutely aware of the racial performance that he led in the Middle East. In true minstrel show tradition, the United States government “blacked up” when sending Gillespie abroad. When the State Department asked to brief Gillespie before the tour, he refused: “They laid it all right in front of me, and I sort’ve liked the idea of representing America, but I wasn’t going over to apologize for the racist policies of America.” Gillespie explained to his wife, “I’ve got three hundred years of briefing. I know what they’ve done to us, and I’m not gonna make any excuses. If they ask me questions, I’m gonna answer them as honestly as I can” (Gillespie and Fraser 414).

The government’s refusal to allow eminent black intellectuals such as W.E.B. DuBois and Paul Robeson the right to travel, assigned musicians like Gillespie and Louis Armstrong the “official” international spokespeople for black Americans (Von Eschen, Race 167). Jazz, though, had brought different privileges to the two generations of trumpeters. For Armstrong and an older generation of jazz musicians, performing often represented a way out of a life in manual labor, while, for Gillespie and his cohorts, becoming a performer was akin to becoming a doctor – it was a respectable profession (DeVeaux 46-50; Tucker 28-46). In the 1950s, Armstrong proved a far more vocal critic of events than Gillespie. The elder jazz statesman gained notoriety in government circles for canceling a state sponsored tour of the Soviet Union due to his disgust over 1957 events in Little Rock.

Earlier, in 1956, Gillespie lead the way with a more muted tone, one that, despite the antagonistic stance he struck prior to the tour, appeared to gel with State Department objectives. On the racial implications of his band, he wrote:

They [foreign audiences] could see it wasn’t as intense because we had white boys and I was the leader of the band. That was strange to them because they’d heard about blacks being lynched and burned, and here I come with half whites and blacks and a girl playing in the band. And everybody seemed to be getting along fine. So I didn’t try to hide anything. I said, “Yeah,…We have our problems but we’re still working on it. I’m the leader of this band, and those white guys are working for me. That’s a helluva thing.” (Gillespie and Fraser 421)

Gillespie certainly knew that the United States had problems. The bandleader, along with Ella Fitzgerald and others, was picked up backstage at a Texas concert for gambling before his international tour – an arrest clearly motivated by racism (Shipton 266). But his success, measured in dollars and by the white musicians in his band, indicated to Gillespie that things were, indeed, improving. Nonetheless, the irony in Gillespie’s message to President Eisenhower at the close of his 1956 tour jumps at the modern reader: “I urge you to do all in your power to continue exploiting this valuable form of American expression of which we are so proud” (“Diz Set”). Gillespie meant “exploit” in a most positive way. But by the early 1960s, many black nationalists thought that Gillespie and his fellow “U.S. jambassadors” sounded too much like Uncle Tom and too little like Nat Turner (Von Eschen, Race 178).

It is a familiar debate. But just as Frederick Douglass changed his mind about minstrelsy in the 1840s and 1850s – first, calling blackface performers “the filthy scum of white society” and, later, stating that minstrel songs “awaken the sympathies for the slave, in which anti-slavery principles take root, grow and flourish” – the role of the jazz musicians and the State Department needs to be reevaluated in a new light (qtd. in Lott 4, 15; Douglass 40). Were the State Department jazz tours emblematic of a larger push in national government for a gradual easing of racial tensions in the nation, or merely an interesting footnote to the Cold War? Situating black musicians as actors for foreign policy had domestic ramifications. Not only did the United States government publicly acknowledge the contribution of black culture to American history and contemporary society, the use of jazz contributed to a then raging debate over nation, race, and representation.

1957: An article defends the musical politics that the United States is promoting through state sponsorship of jazz. It is believed to be so influential that communist governments might soon be “more friendly to the United States.” Donald B. Cook of the State Department stands up for the Gillespie tours – by this time there had been two – stating that “the $141,000 invested by the Government in tours by Dizzy Gillespie’s jazz band…had helped to offset reports of radical prejudice in the United States” by showcasing a preeminent black American (“U.S. Finds”).

Gillespie was hardly a pawn of United States foreign policy. He pointed out an important fact about his situation: “We didn’t have to lay out any money to support it and didn’t have to worry about jobs because all the jobs were preset” (Gillespie and Fraser 414). A government tour was the kind of institutional support that only a few fortunate musicians would ever receive – Gillespie could not lose playing for the State Department. He was paid a prorated weekly salary of $2,150 (which exceeded that of the President of the United States) whether one or 100,000 tickets sold (032 Tuscon Kids Band, Congressional Record). Ultimately, the $16,458 worth of ticket sales did not come close to covering the price tag for the tour which was over $100,000.

Yet the government hardly bought themselves a Cold War operative. The back and forth between Gillespie and his State Department handlers makes it difficult to read his tour as pure propaganda. If anything, the tour mirrored the divisiveness regarding race and class back in the States.

Clearly, the State Department did not sponsor jazz musicians to make money but rather to make a point. Jazz was a “sonic weapon” for the United States government (Belair). Cheaper than researching a new military machine, jazz was sent on the near impossible mission to battle the perception of the United States as a racist society. In the midst of black protests and Southern response, State Department officials stood by their support of jazz and continued the program at a time when the federal government is often understood to have been aloof on racial issues (“U.S. Defends”).

We need more scholarship that researches the intertwined role of politics and culture in the 1950s. A host of issues revolving around foreign policy, the cultural status of an art form, the individual musicians, foreign listeners, race, gender, and religion surrounded the joint venture of Gillespie and the American government international policy. To say that jazz was manipulated in the American quest for global resources is trite. Of course, American performers were sent to regions harboring crucial economic and military resources. But what happened there, as Reinhold Wagnleitner demonstrated in Austria, is a more complex story. Insofar as the United States was definable as a culture in the postwar era, it was defined by jazz, which was achieving new heights in the cultural hierarchy. And this, especially for foreigners, meant that American cultural life greatly depended on African Americans – a remarkable idea that was hotly contested, more at home than abroad.

Gillespie wired President Eisenhower after his tour: “Our trip through the Middle-East proved conclusively that our interracial group was powerfully effective against red propaganda” (“Dizzy Urges”; Von Eschen, Race 178). Christian Herter, acting Secretary of State, agreed, telling critics in 1957 that the government would continue to pay top dollar to showcase the very best of American culture abroad (“U.S. Defends”). “The language of diplomacy,” wrote one foreign music critic, “ought to be translated into a score for bop trumpet” (“Indians Dizzy”). Gillespie started the negotiations on March 23, 1956, the day of the first foreign concert of jazz sponsored by the American government.


1. For a table on government funding for cultural programs, see Table 1 in
Wagnleitner, 57.

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2. See also, Wagnleitner, ix-xv, 1-7.

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3. Michael Kammen considers government funding during the 1950s to be insignificant stating that the U.S. has no cultural policy until the establishment of the NEA in 1965, but notes “an awakening sense of popular pride in American cultural activities” in Cold War America (801). This view misses the link between government funding and the “discovery” of American cultural producers.

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4. Wagnleitner superbly illuminates this contest: during the war, the National Socialists used Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony to demonstrate German genius; later the BBC employed it for their propaganda broadcasts in Germany; American orchestras played it to display their cultural maturity; lastly, communist politicians utilized it to claim the mantle as the legitimate heirs of the European humanistic tradition. See especially 194.

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5. By 1949, the New York Herald Tribune had declared that jazz was one of the “most exportable commodities – second, perhaps, only to dollars” (qtd. in Wagnleitner 202.)

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6. Gillespie’s name was selected as a result of a combination of forces that open the way for his inaugural jazz tour. Changing ideas about the significance and stature of jazz at home and abroad play a big role. There was also, of course, the authorized process set by the Department of State. This decision-making process for state backed foreign tours is rather arbitrary. One connection to the right political figure – especially someone with pull in the Department of State – and the sanctioned procedure quickly turned into a show. Nonetheless, the official procedure employed the following steps. An artist was first recommended to the board members of the American National Theatre and Academy (ANTA), initiating the process that would allow for monetary support from a special Presidential fund. At the time, the ANTA board was made up of prestigious members of the artistic community representing all fields of American culture. Their responsibility was to determine whether or not the proposed musicians are “artistically qualified.” After the ANTA panel approved the group, a special committee of delegates from various government agencies including the State Department, named the Operations Coordinating Board, deliberated further. At this juncture, the judgment of the Department of State’s appropriate field post was heavily relied upon. For example, if a tour was slated for England, the London field office was queried about foreign relations’ advantages and revenue potential. (511.003/2-1556, Department of State, Telegram to Mission in Tripoli, Consulates in Algiers, Casablanca, Tangier and Tunis, 15 February 1956; 032 Tucson Kids Band, Robert C. Hill, Letter to Barry Goldwater, 18 April 1957.)

If approved the performers received funds from the President’s Special International Program for Cultural Presentation, administered by ANTA. Despite the formalities, there was never any question that the State Department controlled the process. In Gillespie’s case, the State Department sends a one line telegram to the American National Theatre and Academy stating, “Dizzy Gillespie project approved” (032 Gillespie, Douglas N. Batson, Telegram to Mr. Robert C. Schnitzel, 25 January 1956). The amount requested for the Presidential fund for cultural programs in 1956 was $6 million a decent sum when compared to the cost of the entire USIA for the same year which totaled $87,336,630. (110.11-HE/9-1859, David M. Keiser, Letter to Christian R. Herter, 18 September 1959; “$12,650,000”; Rubin 51.)

The Department of State set the boundaries for cultural programs. The most crucial of which was how many and what type of groups could travel to certain regions of the world. In 1958, State Department officials allotted five openings for cultural groups to be sent to Europe and decided that only one could be a symphony orchestra. The program and the selection process had several flaws that were acknowledged at the time. The first was that performers with established international reputations were highly favored. There was no substitute for an artist’s prior experiences outside of the United States in order to evaluate revenue potential abroad. A far more severe consequence of these measures was that it ultimately relied upon a judgment concerning who and what was deemed “artistically qualified” (032 Tucson Kids Band, Robert C. Hill, Letter to Barry Goldwater, 18 April 1957). From the onset of the program until 1955, a jazz performance was never certified. Then, rather suddenly, jazz became the focus of government funding efforts. How and why this happens goes a long way towards uncovering the drastic changes in who and what was to represent Cold War America.

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7. This position modifies Wagnleitner who writes of jazz concerts representing the opposite of “‘serious’ music from the United States” (221).

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Works Cited

032 Gillespie, Dizzy/1-2556; General Records of the Department of State,
Record Group 59; National Archives at College Park.

032 Tucson Kids Band/4-1957; General Records of the Department of State,
Record Group 59; National Archives at College Park.

110.11-HE/9-1859; General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59; National Archives at College Park.

“$12,650,000 Asked For Atomic Ship: Eisenhower Requests Funds to Design, Start Work on Global Cruise Vessel.” New York Times 27 May 1955: 1.

511.003/1-3155; General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59; National Archives at College Park.

511.003/2-1556; General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59; National Archives at College Park.

Alden, Robert. “Hands of U.S. Tied in Asia ‘Cold War’: Best Weapons, Such as Jazz and Movies, Not Exploited Information Aides Say.” New York Times 11 June 1956: 11.

An Electrifying Evening with the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet: Recorded Live in
Concert. 314 557 544-2 Verve Master Edition. New York: Polygamy Records,
Inc., 1999.

“ANTA Concerts Listed In 5 Countries Tonight.” New York Times 9 May 1956:

Belair, Felix, Jr. “United States Has Secret Sonic Weapon – Jazz: Europe Falls Captive as Crowds Riot to Hear Dixieland.” New York Times 6 November 1956: 1+.

“Bernstein Drops Talk With Music: Leads 2 Stravinsky Works Without
Explanation to Leningrad Audience.” New York Times 1 September 1959: 21.

“Bernstein Work Heard in Moscow: ‘Age of Anxiety’ is Offered by New York
Philharmonic — Program Notes Omitted.” New York Times 24 August 1959: 16.

“Biceps and Choirs: Senate Group Backs Them to Promote U.S. Abroad.” New York Times 18 July 1956: 54.

Casey, Marcy and Tom Werner. “Father of Broadcasting – David Signoff.” Time 7 December 1998: 88-90.

Devious, Scott. The Birth of Bebop: A Social and Musical History. Berkeley:
U of California P, 1997.

Douglass, Frederick. The Anti-Slavery Movement. A Lecture by Frederick
Douglass before the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society. Rochester: Press of Lee, Mann & Co., 1855.

“Diz Set for Tour of South America.” Pittsburgh Courier 21 July 1956: 23.

“Dizzy to Rock India: Gillespie and Jazz Group Tour East and Balkans.” New
York Times 2 February 1956: 19.

“Dizzy Urges Ike to Back Jazz Tours.” Pittsburgh Courier 4 August 1956: 21.

Greenberg, Lewis. “Things to Come: Swing Bands, Bebop, and the Rise of a
Postwar Jazz Scene.” Recasting America: Culture and Politics in the Age of Cold War. Ed. Larry May. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1989.

Frankel, Max. “Critic in Moscow Scores Bernstein.” New York Times 28
August 1959: 26.

Gerard, Charley. Jazz in Black and White; Race, Culture, and Identity in the Jazz Community. Westport: Pager, 1998.

Gillespie, Dizzy and Al Fraser. To Be or Not to Bop: Memoirs of Dizzy Gillespie.
New York: Ad Capo Press, 1979.

“Gillespie’s Band a Hit in Beirut.” New York Times 29 April 1956: 124.

Goldstein, Cora Sol. “Ideological Constraints and the American Response to
Soviet Propaganda in Europe: The Case of Race.” Paper for the Conference of Europeanists, Chicago, March 2004.

Hamilton, Charles V. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.: The Political Biography of an
American Dilemma. New York: Athenaeum Press, 1991.

“Indians Dizzy Over Gillespie’s Jazz.” Pittsburgh Courier 2 June 1956: 18.

“Institute of Jazz Studies: History.” Institute for Jazz Studies. 1997. Rutgers
University. 29 June 2005.

“It Isn’t the Gum.” New York Times 25 November 1955: 26.

James, Michael. “A 50c Phonograph Is the Newest U.S. Weapon: Can Be Air-
Dropped with Messages for Red-Ruled People.” New York Times 11 November 1955: 1+.

Joseph, Franz M., ed. As Others See Us: The United States through Foreign
Eyes. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1959.

Kammen, Michael. “Culture and the State in America.” Journal of American
History 83.3 (December 1996): 791-814.

Corky, Frank. Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music. New York:
Pathfinder Press, 1970.

Leers, Jackson. “A Matter of Taste: Corporate Cultural Hegemony in a Mass-
Consumption Society.” Recasting America: Culture and Politics in the Age of
Cold War. Ed. Larry May. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1989.

Lott, Eric. Love & Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class.
New York: Oxford UP, 1995.

McRae, Barry. Dizzy Gillespie: His Life & Times. New York: Universe Books,

Murray, Albert. “Ellington Hits 100.” The Nation 22 February 1999: 22-26.

“Professor Joins Gillespie Band.” New York Times 17 April 1956: 28.

Raymond, Jack. “Coke, Boogie-Boogie and Gum Not So Bad, Says Pole after
Visit.” New York Times 24 November 1955: 1.

“Remote Lands to Hear Old Democracy Boogie.” New York Times 18 November 1955: 16.

Rubin, Ronald I. The Objectives of the U.S. Information Agency: Controversies
and Analysis. New York: Frederick A. Pager, 1966.

Shed, Wilfred. “Les Jazz Fans Hot – and Cool – of Europe.” New York Times
18 November 1956: 248.

Shipton, Alyn. Grooving’ High: The Life of Dizzy Gillespie. New York: Oxford
UP, 1999.

Stearns, Marshall W. The Story of Jazz. New York: Oxford UP, 1956.

Tucker, Mark. Ellington: The Early Years. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1991.

“U.S. Defends Trips by Entertainers.” New York Times 5 May 1957: 55.

“U.S. Finds Unrest in Soviet Sphere: Information Chief Believes Reds May Face Shake-up – Gillespie Tour Hailed.” New York Times 11 April 1957: 11.

Von Eschen, Penny. Race Against Empire: Black Americans and
Anti-colonialism, 1937-1957. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1997.

_____. “‘Asthma Blows Up the World’: Jazz, Race, and Empire During the Cold War.” “Here, There And Everywhere:” The Foreign Politics of American
Popular Culture. Eds. Reinhold Wagnleitner and Elaine Tyler May. Hanover: UP of New England, 2000.

Wagnleitner, Reinhold. Coca-Colonization and the Cold War: The Cultural Mission of the United States in Austria after the Second World War. Trans. Diana M. Wolf. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1994.


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Jazz in the Third Reich

Image from, with caption: jazz and the Nazis in aris 1940-1944 - from the barrelhouse; André Zucca took these colour photos for Nazi magazine 'Signal', 

During the Weimar Republic, jazz conquered Germany and in the process became a symbol of the Roaring Twenties. Yet bitter protest was already stirring from nationalist conservatives and right-wing circles. After Hitler took power in 1933, the conflict over jazz intensified. So-called fremdländisch (alien) music had to be eradicated. After some early prohibitions in this regard and the creation of the Reichsmusikkammer, which would mean exclusion for Jewish musicians and impede artistic exchange with foreign musicians, there followed a liberal phase owing to the 1936 Olympic games being held in Berlin. With the success of the new jazz-style swing and the strengthening of the so-called Swingjugend (Swing Youth), however, further repression came in 1937 and 1938. District Nazi party leaders, police directors and local businesspeople began to issue numerous decrees prohibiting swing, jazz, and swing dancing for their respective region, city or local establishment. Despite these restrictions, jazz’s presence continued, because of the ease with which ignorant inspectors were outsmarted, and the sympathies for the agreeable swing style harboured even by some Nazi functionaries.

After the beginning of World War II, the boycott of cultural products from so-called enemy nations, and bans on dancing, also came to affect jazz. Nevertheless, jazz experienced an upturn in the years of the German Blitzkrieg, so much so that after the initial war successes, the prohibition on swing dancing, for example, was once again lifted. On the other hand, jazz bands were brought from countries occupied by or allied with Germany as a substitute for the German musicians called into the armed services. These bands satisfied the demand for syncopated popular music by the civilian population as well as by soldiers on leave from the front. For economic reasons, the Nazi regime for a long time even tolerated the production and distribution of German as well as foreign records and films with jazz content. On various occasions, moreover, swing music was actually used in foreign propaganda. This occurred, for example, in recordings and radio broadcasts of the propaganda big band Charlie and his Orchestra, which was assembled by order of Goebbels’ Propagandaministerium (Ministry of Propaganda). Only on 17 January 1942 were public and private dance events finally prohibited. The defeat at Stalingrad (31 January – 2 February 1943) and Goebbels’ proclamation of 'total war' (18 February 1943) signalled the end for most of the venues used by swing bands, which in the end led to the downfall of jazz as well.

Despite all the campaigns of defamation and prohibition, as well as the incarceration of some jazz musicians and jazz fans, it cannot be said that there was no German jazz scene in the Third Reich. Sustained by professional and amateur musicians, jazz bands, and also by enthusiastic swing fans and record collectors, it is more accurate to say that the development of jazz was severely encumbered by political conditions. This made the jazz scene increasingly dependent for its survival upon the loopholes of Nazi cultural policy. Such loopholes existed because the cultural politics of the Third Reich vis-a-vis jazz and jazz-related music was characterized by the coexistence of contradictory and ambivalent measures, for which no unified strategy existed. Depending on the inner dynamic of Nazi ideology and foreign policy developments, Nazism’s response to jazz oscillated between prohibition for ideological reasons, and toleration and appropriation for economic and market-driven considerations. This explains why the Nazis did not decree an all-encompassing, nationwide ban on jazz, nor issue any corresponding law.

Jazz in the Camps
Though ostracized by the Nazi regime as 'degenerate', reports by historical witnesses and survivors substantiate the claim that jazz, as well as jazz-related music, could be heard within numerous Nazi camps. That such reports do not constitute the exception is made clear by similar activities of prisoners of war, in camps for foreign civilians and forced labour camps, in police detainment camps, in the internment camps of Vichy France, in the Dutch transport camp Westerbork, and in the ghettos of Łódź, Warsaw and Vilna, not to mention the equally secret jazz sessions of the members of the Swingjugend in youth detention and concentration camps. A few examples should serve to make the spectrum of these jazz activities clear.

In the French prisoner camp in Perpignan in 1942, for example, the Viennese Erich Pechmann, imprisoned because of his Jewish faith, sang blues pieces and, in addition, imitated instruments with his voice. Using only these simple methods, as Fred Wander relates, Pechmann was able to boost the morale of his fellow prisoners:

When he played, everything became quiet. He magically produced the sound of an entire band. […] Everywhere where Pechmann went, he reassured these frightened people.

Pechmann himself would not survive his detention, and died on 4 August 1944 of typhus.

In November 1939, a group of students from Czechoslovakia founded a vocal octet called the Sing Sing Boys in Sachsenhausen. One part of their programme consisted of well-known musical dance numbers of film melodies in a swing arrangement. Beyond that, they used compositions in the jazz idiom from their musical leader Karel Štancl as well as satirical songs from the Liberated Theatre in Prague, which had been closed in 1938 due to its antifascist leanings. These songs contained the heavily jazz-influenced melodies of Jaroslav Jezek, and their performance was prohibited by the German occupiers. Josef Sárka described the concerts of the Sing Sing Boys in a letter:

These appearances were regularly planned. Saturday, Sunday, but also spontaneously, when the oldest camp prisoners came to visit for example. Or during recreational time, when there was no trouble brewing in the camp and it was unlikely that the SS would enter the camp.

Sometimes even SS members were in the audience, looking for a distraction. Even those prisoners who did not have the energy or opportunity to be present at such concerts were, after a note from Štancl, thankful for the encouragement and variety: 'I cannot think of a single appearance in front of the comrades which was not well-received, with satisfaction and even a certain amount of thankfulness.' All members of the Sing Sing Boys were released under the auspices of a prisoner amnesty program by spring 1943.

In the concentration camp at Buchenwald there were already plans in 1939 to found a jazz ensemble, but this could only be realized four years later, with the support of the illegal International Camp Committee of inmates. This organization had been able to place politically active prisoners in key positions in the camp bureaucracy. Herbert Weidlich, active in the office detail, could now assign all of the musicians of the jazz orchestra Rhythm to the specially created work detail for 'Transport Protection'. This provided enough time for rehearsals, which were held secretly during time officially allotted for work. A further advantage was that the musicians were not threatened by dangerous or physically demanding work. Not least, the 'manipulation' of transports from Buchenwald to other camps guaranteed a constant supply of personnel. Gradually Rhythm developed into a big band with an international personnel that ranged from the amateur to the professional. Older prisoners, who had at first rejected 'bourgeois' jazz music, recognized that these performances served not only to boost the morale of the prisoners, but also as camouflage for illegal meetings of the camp committee. The concerts themselves took place in specific blocks and, with the knowledge of the SS, also at entertainment evenings held in the movie barracks, so that here, too, jazz music could be heard. Through newly arrived musicians allocated to the band, band members were even made familiar with the latest stylistic developments in jazz. According to Jiri Zák, a US pilot who had been shot down told the band about Bebop and 'Gillespie’s and Parker’s "Workshop" on 52nd Street.'

Due to its special position as a 'show camp', Theresienstadt had at its disposal an extraordinary amount of cultural freedom and a high-standing – both quantitatively and qualitatively – musical life. Alongside numerous performances of classical music, there were regular jazz concerts. The jazz combo of the clarinetist and saxophonist Bedrich 'Fritz' Weiss was one of the first music groups to be formed there. Besides this, the incarcerated jazz and dance musicians accompanied cabaret shows and grouped together to form various bands. The most famous of these was the Ghetto-Swingers, which matured from a Czech amateur band under the leadership of the pianist Martin Roman to become an big band. Their music was often rejected by older camp inmates, while younger ones like Klaus Scheurenberg considered the musicians a sensation.

‘Nigger jazz’ [… was] offered here in outstanding form without objection from the SS. For us young people, Viennese Café music was boring, but the new style of the Ghetto-Swingers buoyed us through their weekly performances in front of the café.

This popularity and even a performance in a propaganda film about the camp could not, however, protect the Ghetto-Swingers from deportation to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Those who had survived the selection formed the core for the newly-founded camp band. Guitarist Coco Schumann talked about this in an interview:

So the camp Kapo [leader of work commandos] and Lagerälteste [camp leader] had a party for the Blockältesten [block leaders] etc. And we played. They came in woman’s clothing and shoes. Then they were drunk. One of them took his shoe off and I had to drink champagne from it. […] But as hard criminals often are, when they hear music, they start crying like babies.

If the musicians in Theresienstadt could fashion a pure, artistically ambitious jazz repertoire, then they became mere musical slaves in Auschwitz, where their lives depended upon the momentary disposition of the SS and functionaries. Because the musicians were useful for them, the camp band did offer the possibility of escaping the gas chamber. Later, the remaining musicians were transferred via Berlin and Sachsenhausen into a satellite camp of Dachau. But only a few members of the Ghetto-Swingers survived the Shoah.

Depending on the particular camp and the specific situation of the camp, the function of jazz and jazz-influenced music in the Nazi camp system was extremely variable. On the one hand, it was an essential component of illegal and/or tolerated camp culture; on the other, it was a means of propaganda and distraction for the henchmen of the Nazi regime. In their own field of responsibility, individual SS members hardly bothered themselves about the music guidelines of the regime. And so it came to pass that even the SS-Rottenführer (an SS leader) Percy Broad jammed together with Dutch jazz musicians in the men’s section of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Only through such varying motivations could the scorned jazz 'survive' in, of all places, the Nazi camps. Likewise, the saxophonist Miroslav Hejtmar summarized of his performances with the Buchenwald jazz orchestra Rhythm:

Music that was strictly prohibited as ‘racially impure’ by the Third Reich was played before a public so international in composition, that under any other circumstances it would not have come together. And all of these listeners understood what it was about. The SS, though, did not get it.

By Guido Fackler

Bergmeier, H.J.P., 1998. Chronologie der deutschen Kleinkunst in den Niederlanden 1933–1944., Hamburg: Hamburger Arbeitsstelle für Deutsche Exilliteratur.

Fackler, G., 1994. Entartete Musik im KZ. In F. Ritter, ed. Heinrich Himmler und die Liebe zum Swing. Leipzig: Reclam, pp. 268-273.

Fackler, G., 1996. Jazz im KZ. . In W. Knauer, ed. Jazz in Deutschland. Hofheim: Jazz-Instituts Darmstadt, pp. 49-91.

Fackler, G., 1994. Zwischen (musikalischem) Widerstand und Propaganda – Jazz im „Dritten Reich“. In G. Noll, ed. Musikalische Volkskultur und die politische Macht. Essen: der Kommission für Lied-, Musik- und Tanzforschung in der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Volkskunde e.V., pp. 437-483.

Kater, M.H., 1992. Different Drummers: Jazz in the Culture of the Nazis, New York: *.

Kellersmann, C., 1990. Jazz in Deutschland von 1933–1945, Menden: Jazzfreund-Publikation.

Kuna, M., 1993. Musik an der Grenze des Lebens: Musikerinnen und Musiker aus Böhmischen Ländern in Nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslagern und Gefängnissen, Frankfurt/M.: Zweitausendeins.

Muth, W., 1985. Jazz Behind Barbed Wire. Jazz Forum, 2(93), 44-9.

Muth, Wolfgang: „Rhythmus” – Ein internationales Jazzorchester in Buchenwald. In: AG Jazz Eisenach (Hg.): 25 Jahre Jazz im Klubhaus AWE. Eisenach 1984 , 10-15, quote on 12.

Polster, B. ed., Swing Heil: Jazz im Nationalsozialismus, Berlin: Transit.

Zwerin, M., 1985. La Tristesse de Saint Louis: Jazz Under the Nazis, New York: Quartet.

Witness Testimonies
Hejtmar, M., Rhythmus hinter Drähten [Rhythm behind barbed wire], Weimar: archive of the KZ-Gedenkstätte Buchenwald.

Laks, S., 1989. Music of Another World, Illinois: Northwestern University Press.

Ritter, F. ed., 1994. Heinrich Himmler und die Liebe zum Swing. Erinnerungen und Dokumente., Leipzig: Reclam.

Scheurenberg, K., 1982. Ich will leben. Ein autobiographischer Bericht, Berlin.

Schumann, C., 1997. Der Ghetto-Swinger: Eine Jazzlegende Erzählt 2nd ed., Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag.

Walda, D., 1980. Trompettist in Auschwitz: Herinneringen van Lex van Weren, Amsterdam: De Boekerij.

Wander, F., 1971. Der siebente Brunnen, Berlin/Weimar

Vogel, E., 1961a. Jazz in a Nazi Concentration Camp (Part I). Down Beat, 28(25), 20-22.

Vogel, E., 1961b. Jazz in a Nazi Concentration Camp (Part II). Down Beat, 28(26), 16-17.

Vogel, E., 1962. Jazz in a Nazi Concentration Camp (Part III). Down Beat, 29(1), 20-21.

Film Documentaries
Ackerman, Roy / Jeremy, John: Swing under the Swastika. The Story of a Music That Could Kill and Save. GB: YTV Ltd., 1988 (Autor: Michael Zwerin, 2 Teile, 52 Min.).

Karalus, Paul / Segeth, Alfred: Deutschlandbilder: Aus einem Musikerleben. Coco [Schumann] der Ghetto-Swin­ger. D: WDR, 1986 (45 Min.)