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'Jazz Ambassadors' Tells Story of American Diplomacy Through Music


Louis Armstrong and his wife Lucille pose in front of the Sphinx near Cairo, Egypt in 1961. Credit: Courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum

A new documentary about U.S. Public Diplomacy during the Cold War premieres Friday on Public Broadcasting System (PBS) television in the United Sates.

Jazz Ambassadors, a remarkable story of music, diplomacy and race, features a group of now high-profile and legendary jazz performers, including trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie.

Dizzy Gillespie (first on right) and his orchestra – including Quincy Jones (third from right at back) – in Turkey, 1956. Credit: Malcolm Poindexter III / Courtesy of the Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University.
Dizzy Gillespie (first on right) and his orchestra – including Quincy Jones (third from right at back) – in Turkey, 1956. Credit: Malcolm Poindexter III / Courtesy of the Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University.

​Gillespie, who died in 1993, was an instrumentalist, a composer, arranger, improviser, singer, bandleader and music innovator. He went on a tour of the Middle East and Turkey to help counter Soviet stories about American racism.

His 1942 song, "A Night in Tunisia," was a hit — not only in Tunisia — but in the Middle East and North Africa.

"A Night in Tunisia," with its trademark blend of Afro-Cuban rhythms and Asian flow was considered inspirational by many, and became one of the signature pieces of his “be-bop” jazz revolution in 1940s.



The documentary also features trumpeter Louis Armstrong, whose photo at the foot of Giza pyramid and the Sphinx became very popular in the Middle East, pianists Duke Ellington and Dave Brubeck, arranger Quincy Jones, drummer Charlie Persip, and clarinetist Benny Goodman, who became one of America’s most important cultural ambassadors.

The idea behind Jazz Ambassadors was spurred by Willis Conover, the popular Voice of America radio broadcaster, whose short-wave jazz show helped contribute to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Voice of America radio DJ Willis Conover in his booth. Credit: Courtesy of the Willis Conover Collection, University of North Texas Music Library.
Voice of America radio DJ Willis Conover in his booth. Credit: Courtesy of the Willis Conover Collection, University of North Texas Music Library.

Conover's show helped audiences worldwide develop a passion for American jazz.

Photos:
VOA's Legendary Jazz Radio Broadcaster Willis Conover With Some of the Documentary's Stars.

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    Diaa Bekheet

    Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets. He is currently an editor for our main English site, VOAnews.com. @voajazz  facebook.com/jazzclubusa

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