How the U.S. Used Jazz as a Cold War Secret Weapon


Dave Brubeck in 1954

From Time Magazine by Billy Perrigo:

Almost exactly 60 years ago, in the crisp, early spring of 1958, a young boy from California named Darius shuffled through the streets of Warsaw. He shivered; it still felt like winter, and snow frosted the bullet holes that peppered the city’s buildings, a stark reminder that the Second World War had concluded little more than a decade previously. Poland was in Russia’s sphere of influence, and Darius was there as part of a mission orchestrated by the U.S. State Department. His brief: to gain exposure to foreign cultures, and not cause any trouble.

This moment was a new experiment in what is known as “cultural diplomacy.” Darius was tagging along because his father, the famous pianist Dave Brubeck, was a jazz ambassador.

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. The Brubeck Quartet’s 12 performances in Poland were some of the first in a long tour that would never stray far from the perimeter of the Soviet Union. They passed through Eastern Europe, the Middle East, central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Other tours would allow jazz legends like Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie to trumpet American values in newly decolonized states in Africa and Asia. The idea was always the same: keep communism at bay by whatever means possible.

Categories: Cold War History

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