- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press (September 30, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674022602
- ISBN-13: 978-0674022607
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 11 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #621,517 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War
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With verve and candor, Penny Von Eschen tells the story of how the U.S. tried to deploy the hot and cool sounds of jazz as a not-so-secret weapon in the Cold War. Little did they realize that the 'jambassadors' would not be the State Department's pawns. Von Eschen captures the tensions between U.S. foreign policy goals and the musicians' imperative to swing, and in so doing has uncovered terrific stories and offered fresh insights into the postwar world. (Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination)
My quartet was one of the first jazz groups to participate in the U.S. State Department's 'people-to-people' program. We understood, of course, that we played a role in Cold War diplomacy, but unfortunately, we were unaware of the part we played in the overall strategy. Penny Von Eschen's book, Satchmo Blows Up the World, successfully defines that role within the social and historic perspective of U.S. race relations and Cold War policy. (Dave Brubeck, jazz musician and composer)
The experiences playing around the world of Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, and other 'jazz ambassadors'--unpredictable, complicated, inspiring, and sometimes hilarious--come alive in Von Eschen's elegantly researched and insightful story. (Thomas Borstelmann, author of The Cold War and the Color Line: American Race Relations in the Global Arena)
In this bold and brilliant book, Von Eschen exposes a hidden history of the Cold War while teaching lessons about links between art and politics that have tremendous relevance for the troubled present and the foreboding future. (George Lipsitz, author of American Studies in a Moment of Danger)
The U.S. State Department got more than it bargained for when it sent American jazz musicians into international hot spots in the 1950s and '60s. Von Eschen brilliantly portrays artists as intellectuals, activists, and ethnomusicologists who transformed America's efforts to win the Cold War into something much more meaningful. (Krin Gabbard, author of Jammin' at the Margins: Jazz and the American Cinema)
Satchmo Blows Up the World provides the first comprehensive look at the 'jazz tours' sponsored by the U.S. government and literally follows them to the ends of the earth. Along the way, Von Eschen provides fascinating insights about them, the collisions of cultural politics and geopolitics, and the vicissitudes and upheavals of race in Cold War America. The history of U.S. diplomacy, jazz music and the civil rights era will never look quite the same after reading this wonderful book. (Nikhil Pal Singh, author of Black is a Country: Race and the Unfinished Struggle for Democracy)
From the mid-1950s through the late 1970s, the U.S. State Department deployed an unlikely tool in the propaganda war against the Soviet Union: federally funded global tours of jazz musicians, especially African American performers. Penny M. Von Eschen's fascinating Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War is both a giddy celebration of an American art form and a disturbing reminder of the challenges of racial politics. (Phil Hall Hartford Courant 2004-12-19)
This book fascinates on many levels. Whether for juicy anecdotes or a potted history of jazz in Soviet Russia, where the Americans were amazed by the expertise of fans, this is where to look. (Michael Church The Independent 2005-02-01)
This is an important book...It is a revealing look at how jazz and jazz musicians used, and were used by, our government at a time when the music had almost been forgotten in this country. (Thomas Jacobsen New Orleans Times-Picayune 2005-02-27)
From 1956 through the late 1970s, the United States government blanketed the far corners of the world with jazz, not in the service of the dollar, but in order to win the hearts and minds of the wrongly committed...Penny Von Eschen's fine study of 'jam-bassadors' and the marooned hipsters who loved them pursues this tension down to its queerest details. (Hua Hsu The Wire 2005-04-01)
About the Author
Penny M. Von Eschen is Professor of History and American Culture at the University of Michigan.
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Jazz buffs will delight in the well-documented accounts of the overseas experiences of Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, and Benny Goodman. Many other jazz ambassadors and their noteworthy band members are covered in less detail, or simply mentioned briefly (for example, Count Basie, Stan Getz, Charles Mingus, Sonny Stitt, Phil Woods). Some readers may wish that their favorite artist had been given more coverage, but in any case you'll be surprised at how many performers in the jazz community of that era were involved in this multi-decade enterprise.
As the bands endured grueling travel schedules to appear in seemingly unlikely locations for jazz concerts (such as Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union, to name just a few), they were often embraced and sometimes challenged, not just by host country officials, but also by State Department employees at U.S. embassies. A fascinating sample of these interactions is chronicled here, along with the almost universal enthusiasm for the performers by audiences and local musicians at all of their destinations.
Jazz aficionados and readers too young to remember any part of the 1950s-70s may have less interest in the book's discussion of the interplay between the jazz tours, the U.S. civil rights movement, and the Cold War policies of containment of the Soviet Union and courtship of non-aligned nations. Nonetheless, there were important dynamics at work that should attract more than just academic interest. The book does an excellent job of showing that the jazz tours presented a face of America to the world that was not exactly what the State Department was expecting, but perhaps was better because it was more authentic.
In a nutshell, this is Von Eschen's premise: in the 1950's the Eisenhower administration was getting hammered by the Soviets over civil rights atrocities in the south, and losing its influence over the newly emerging nations of Africa and Asia. In addition, the Soviets were sending symphony orchestras and ballets around the world to popular acclaim. America couldn't match them, because the state of the arts in this country was so bad. So Ike, who loathed both civil rights and jazz, started sending integrated jazz bands overseas to demonstrate racial progress and show off a form of cultural expression the Russians couldn't match. Dizzy Gillespie was the first, in 1956, followed by Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Benny Goodman and others during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. For the artists, it was a chance to fly the flag for jazz, keep big bands employed in the hardscrabble days of the 60's, and prove their joint loyalty to nation and race.
After a bit of a disorganized start in which she can't decide between following a chronological or artist-based organization, the author wisely settles on the latter. Although Von Eschen is no jazz critic, she avoids any flubs by simply staying out of the way and sticking to what she does know. For the jazz fan/historian, the highlights include a wonderful account of the joint Dave & Iola Brubeck/Louis Armstrong project "The Real Ambassadors," a musical comedy meant for Broadway but only performed once at Newport. It was based on their experiences as State Department representatives and good-naturedly sends up everyone involved. (It was studio recorded in the weeks before Newport and is available from Amazon as a Columbia CD). Also, there is a detailed acccount of Benny Goodman's 1963 disaster of a trip to Russia, where Benny managed to alienate the Russians, the State Department, and his own musicians.
In all, a well-written book. Jazzbos will be happy as long as they keep in mind that this is not exclusively a jazz book and are willing to stick with it through the cultural and political history.
This book is helpful and informational, but unless you need to read it for a class (as I am doing), I would not recommend it.