Jazz In The Cold War

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In 1945, the United States emerged from World War 2 as a global power, contemporaneously with forty countries liberating themselves of colonialism. It was the intention of the United States for these newly developing nations to side with the West and Capitalist ideals, not the Soviet Union and its Communism.“In 1956 the State Department was persuaded that jazz was an important tool in achieving this diplomatic objective,” (Monson 111).

As U.S. cultural diplomacy was establishing its primacy, the Soviet Union was quick to bring attention to the hypocrisy behind the racial inequality in America. The U.S. responded with a daring propaganda action by strategically promoting jazz music and showcasing multiracial bands in order to positively accentuate American culture. “The State Department hoped that showcasing popular American music around the globe would not only introduce audiences to American culture, but also win them over as ideological allies in the cold war,” (Perrigo).

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The Jazz Ambassadors and the cultural exchange programs of the nineteen-fifties and sixties were integral in relieving tension in the Cold War and preventing major conflict. “Jazz was born and grew up in the United States and nowhere else. As a European composer remarked to me: ‘Jazz is one of America’s best-loved artistic exports,’” (Stearns 31). After the Thirteenth Amendment was passed and the Industrial Revolution took place, freedmen fled to cities to find well-paying work. These men brought their music, which consisted of Work Songs and Field Hollars, which were call and response tunes meant to keep steady time so the workers wouldn’t fall behind.

These songs were mostly consisting of pentatonic or Blues scales, which was essential in the creation of Jazz. These workers also brought their music from West Africa; freedmen from the Ewe tribe in modern-day Ghana or the Yaruba tribe in modern-day Nigeria imported African rhythms like the Abakwa that are still found in most jazz played today. These African concepts were introduced to the European instruments and chords already in America, which eventually led to Dixieland Jazz, Second Line, and marching bands in the early twentieth century. As a port city at the mouth of the Mississippi River, New Orleans was an inclusive city and a breeding ground for cultures. Jazz is a culmination of the musical concepts from West Africa and Europe shaped by slavery and American culture in New Orleans.

The Bureau of International Educational and Cultural Affairs’ Mission is to “increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchange that assist in the development of peaceful relations,” (History and Mission of ECA). In August 1954, President Eisenhower asked Congress to approve a President’s Emergency Fund in order to establish a cultural exchange program capable of portraying the good nature of the cultural values of free enterprise.

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