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Jazz Diplomacy

by on November 1, 2013

On 30th April 2013 people across the world celebrated International Jazz Day. This event was set up to celebrate jazz as a universal language of freedom and to highlight its diplomatic role of uniting people across the whole globe. Jazz has been recognised by many states as a tool used to reinforce international cooperation and communication, to promote peace among cultures, respect for human rights and many others (International Jazz Day, 2013). Jazz has been a tool which has brought USA and Soviet Union together during the Cold War, for Czechoslovakia it was a way of revolting against the Communist regime. On 11th January 1994, Jazz created friendship among Vaclav Havel, Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright who met in the jazz club Reduta – Prague, where Bill Clinton decided to join the jazz band and played ‘My Funny Valentine’ (‘Madeleine Albright on Jazz, Diplomacy, and Vaclav Havel’s Rhythmic Deficiencies’, 2012, Blouin Daily).

Jazz emerged as a new style of music in America in the late of 20th century. Jazz itself was first heard in New Orleans but it quickly spread beyond New Orleans. By the 1920’s there were millions of jazz records sold. The era of 1920’s is by many referred as The Jazz Age (‘THE HISTORY OF JAZZ IN THE WORLD’, 2013, UNESCO). How was jazz used as a tool for promoting public diplomacy?

If we look at the number of weapons used and deployed during the Cold War, jazz would be the most unusual one. United States of America begun its Jazz Ambassadors program in 1956 in an effort to fight Soviet propaganda. Soviet Union was portraying the USA as a barbaric and racist (‘Jazz and Cultural Diplomacy’ Jazz at Lincoln Centre). It was the USA President Dwight D. Eisenhower who called for the creation of a worldwide cultural exchange program which would improve the world’s perception of American cultural and political life (Davenport, 2009, 38).

From 1956 till the late 1970’s, American jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Benny Goodman and many others served as Jazz Ambassadors. Their aim was to play jazz music in more than 35 countries of the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa. By playing jazz music they were promoting a positive view of the United States during the period when Cold War tensions were at their highest level (U.S. Department of State, ‘U.S. ‘Department of State and Meridian International Centre Celebrate Dynamic Cultural Diplomacy Partnership, Honor Original Jazz Ambassadors’, 2010). It can even be said that the USA connected jazz with its anti-Communist agenda; with their aim to win Cold War, counter Soviet cultural propaganda and defeat Communism (Davenport, 2009, 114). Was it just about individual musicians?

Many African American jazz performers travelled across the Soviet bloc countries helping to buttress interest in black cultural products by jazz music. 1966 is seen as a milestone in Cold War cultural relations. In that year Soviet Union accepted the Earl Hines New Orleans jazz band for an official tour. Hines’s band was the first jazz band accepted to tour the Soviet Union since Benny Goodman’s in 1962 (Davenport, 2009, 126).Hines’s tour made an incredible impact on the Soviet people. The American Embassy in Moscow reported that the band played before total of 90,000 fans. The band also held jam sessions and the fans met with the band members in a secret locations, despite warnings from Soviet officials (Davenport, 2009, 128). But what was jazz to other countries?

For Czechoslovakia, jazz was a way to promote freedom, human rights and to fight against President Husak’s government. Governement was doing everything to stop every form of opposition.


In 1980’s the government passed a criminal law against possessing a copy of the 1966 eedition of the Frank Zappa Songbook, by that time one 18 year old man was sent to prison for possessing one of the copies. The government also arrested most of the members of Czech Jazz Society who published a three volume Encyclopaedia of Rock. However thanks’ to the great work of Vaclav Havel and his Charter 77, Jazz Society was permitted to flourish and attracted around 100,000 people. It was thanks to ‘velvet revolution’ and Havel’s involvement in the Jazz Society which provided him with the support base so could become a president in 1989 (‘Vaclav Havel Was Torn Between Socialism and Freedom’, 2011, The Daily Beast). 

Jazz diplomacy as a musical method of winning hearts and minds sometimes transcended economic and strategic priorities. Even though this can be seen as limitation for this kind of diplomacy, the goal of fighting communism remained and jazz prevailed as policy of redefining relations with the nations (‘How America used jazz musicians to carry the anti-communist message when politics failed’, University Press of Mississippi). For Czechoslovakia it was a tool used to fight against oppression. After the Velvet Revolution in 1989, Reduta jazz club has gained a second wind. To this day club hosts all genres of jazz production and bands such as the U.S Army Big Band, Glenn Miller orchestra and many others (Perla, Reduta Jazz Club, 2014).


Blumenfeld, L. (2012), ‘Madeleine Albright on Jazz, Diplomacy, and Vaclav Havel’s Rhythmic Deficiencies’, Blouin Daily, September 26th 2012. – accessed on 01/11/2013

Davenport, L., E., 2009. Jazz Diplomacy: promoting America in the Cold War era. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. – accessed on 01/11/2013

Gioia, T. (2013), ‘THE HISTORY OF JAZZ IN THE WORLD’, UNESCO. – accessed on 01/11/2013

International Jazz Day, April 30th 2013. – accessed on 01/11/2013

Jazz at Lincoln Centre, ‘Jazz and Cultural Diplomacy’ – accessed on 01/11/2013

Perla, Z. (2013), JazzClub. – accessed on 07/02/2014

Robertson, G. (2011), ‘Vaclav Havel Was Torn Between Socialism and Freedom’, The Daily Beast, December 22nd 2011. – accessed on 01/11/2013

U.S. Department of State, ‘U.S. Department of State and Meridian International Center Celebrate Dynamic Cultural Diplomacy Partnership, Honor Original Jazz Ambassadors’, April 8th 2010. -accessed on 01/11/2013

University Press of Mississippi, (1970), ‘How America used jazz musicians to carry the anti-communist message when politics failed’. – accessed on 01/11/2013

Pictures and videos:….0…1ac.1.30.img..1.15.585.16bIOEpDKZA#facrc=_&imgdii=_& – accessed on 01/11/2013 – accessed on 01/11/2013 – accessed on 01/11/2013


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  1. This is very interesting insight. It is intriguing to know that Jazz music played a significant role as a tool for the implementation of human rights and a voice to tell the rest of the world the values and culture of the Americans. We even saw the diversifying of genres such as blues, rock & roll & country; during the colonial period where music was simply progressing as a tool to express most importantly, to indicate freedom, to influence and finally to glorify. I think your work was well researched, unique and clearly written! Well done!

    • pierreQualcuno ha detto che non si capisce come mai fanno vedere i baci di Fiorello e Del Noce e non quelli dei &#2i&0;campeggiator82#8221;.Certo che “serie di casualutà”… oramai siamo senza alcuna vergognap

  2. jonssonigul permalink

    Thank you for a great post. Its interesting to see how music can play a role in politics and how culture can be used as a tool for diplomacy. It also reminds of the importance of finding platforms where several actors can connect with each other (even though there might be other significant differences between them) and from there create boundaries to build better and more stable relationships. Your post was well researched and well written and it will be nice to see what you will write about next.

  3. alip2013 permalink

    I agree with tino and jonsson-a well written post well done. During the Cold War the United States’s soft power was really crucial to it’s image in the world. What started with jazz ballooned into the whole idea of the Western way of life and the ‘American dream’ and, on the whole, did a good job of countering any bad press the US generated.

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