CULP 275 - Music IR: Jazz as Diplomacy

The US State Department famously started sending jazz musicians to other countries and cultures on the taxpayer’s dime in the 1950s as a way of exporting US culture. Jazz musicians were seen as ambassadors. Adam Clayton Powell, Harlem’s member of Congress is credited with idea, and the New York Times wrote in a headline that Powell considered jazz the country’s “Secret Sonic Weapon”. Louis Armstrong (pictured above), Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, and many others made a huge impact on the world’s perception of the United States in this manner – and they spread their profoundly American music around the world. This one-credit class will look at the music itself, examining how and why jazz is a truly international music despite its distinct origins in the United States as the by-product of the collision between the Western musical vocabulary and the African musical vocabulary carried by African-Americans. From its start, jazz was not only a hybrid form, but it was also a musical form that was unusually flexible, porous, and capable of being translated to and through other musical cultures. We will do reading and listening, examining how jazz – from the beginning – featured what Jelly Roll Morton called “the Spanish tinge” and then moved in several directions at once: (1) absorbing international music traditions to establish traditions of Latin Jazz (Afro-Cuban), bossa nova (Brazilian jazz), klezmer jazz, Balkan jazz, Scandinavian jazz, and more, but also (2) blossoming traditions of jazz in other countries, and (3) drawing brilliant musicians from all over the world to the United States to come to the center of the jazz culture. We will try to answer the question: Is “jazz” (and American popular culture, more generally) a good diplomat? In addition, we will talk to musicians in jazz today who work with other cultures as part of “jazz” or come from other cultures to play jazz in the United States, learning directly from them how this art form crosses cultures and impacts our sense of global culture. In addition to regular class meetings, the class requires attendance at one evening discussion/concert on the Georgetown campus and a trip to New York City (leaving Saturday morning, February 10 and returning Sunday afternoon February 11) to meet jazz musicians (and students) at The New School for several sessions of demonstration/discussion around global jazz and to attend a rehearsal and concert by Amir ElSaffar and his Rivers of Sound band. Transportation/lodging and concert expenses will be paid by Georgetown.
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Spring 2019, Spring 2018
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