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Jazz as diplomacy, jazz as world language

May 4, 2005

St. Louis Jazz Notes - Jazz was created in America, and while it may be a niche music commercially in its home country, it is also well loved all over the world. Over the past half-century, musicians from Europe, South America, Asia and Africa have made valuable contributions to jazz, and listeners in countries like Japan and Germany have proven to to be just as committed, if not more so, than jazz fans in the USA.

And so with the 30-year anniversary of the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam war in the news last week, I was fascinated to see this article about jazz in Vietnam. What particularly struck me was this quote from musician Quyen Van Minh (shown above), and how similar it is to statements I've read from other jazz musicians born and raised outside the USA, particularly those who grew up in Russia and the Eastern Bloc under Communism.

"One day, I tuned on an unknown programme and heard a kind of music which had highly sophisticated harmonisation and I loved it. I promised myself that I would learn to play that kind of music, although I did not even know what it was. Years later, I was lucky to get some jazz tapes that were brought home by Vietnamese students studying in Russia, Germany, Poland and other eastern European countries."

Considering that the roster of jazz-loving countries now includes pretty much all of the United States' former adversaries from the 20th century, I suppose this is really just an excuse for me to muse that perhaps America would be held in higher esteem by the rest of the world today if we were to send more jazz musicians - and fewer soldiers, tanks and weapons - overseas to represent our way of life. Or maybe we could just bombard our adversaries with albums by Bird, Duke, Miles and Trane instead of cruise missles. Think we'll see bebop bands in Baghdad thirty years from now?

Posted by Dean Minderman

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