THE TUESDAY BOOK: How jazz joined the US diplomacy arsenal

Satchmo Blows Up The World Penny von Eschen Harvard University Press, pounds 19.95/pounds 18.95 (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897

PENNY VON ESCHEN takes her title from an article in Drum magazine celebrating the African tour which Louis Armstrong and his All Stars made at the height of the Cold War in 1956. He had been sent by CBS television, which wanted to film his return to his roots, but when the US government saw the ecstatic local response, they couldn't wait to send him back as their cultural ambassador. Neither could the soft drinks companies which plastered Lagos and Accra with the slogan: "You like Satchmo. Pepsi brings you Satchmo. Therefore you like Pepsi."

The real motor in this story is the US State Department, which in the mid-Fifties made the export of jazz its pet project. As von Eschen points out, this was extraordinary, given that jazz was still regarded by conservative Americans as a degenerate art fuelled by sex and drugs, and that its leading lights were black. While America was in the throes of a last-ditch battle between segregationists and the civil-rights movement, her cultural agencies were flourishing black jazz musicians as the country's badge of acceptability.

Presidents Eisenhower, Johnson, and Nixon desperately needed that badge, Johnson comically so. After he gave mortal offence to the jazz-loving king of Thailand by sitting cross-legged with his feet pointing towards the monarch's face, Stan Getz was sent east to smooth things over. More seriously, jazz ambassadors were despatched whenever the US had an image problem, or wherever the battle for oil, cobalt, uranium or tin looked like being lost to the Soviets. As covert US operations in countries bordering Vietnam grew in intensity, so did the jazz onslaught, helped by spin from the Voice of America.

Willis Conover, who fronted its music broadcasts, opined that "jazz is a musical reflection of the way things happen in America ... People in other countries can feel this element of freedom. They love jazz because they love freedom." Some of the ambassadors agreed. Benny Goodman - who jammed with the delighted Thai king - was declaring as early as 1956 that racism had been routed in America, and that jazz had played its part.

Others remained obdurate. Satchmo blackmailed Eisenhower into a reluctant crackdown on racism in Alabama by threatening to tour no more.

This book abounds in piquant moments where artists went off-message. Duke Ellington caused a furore by parading with his unmarried companion in Baghdad in 1963. The scandal was only defused thanks to Kennedy's assassination, the next day.

Von Eschen's prose may occasionally get clogged, but 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.

Suggested Topics
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Sustainability Manager

    Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

    Graduate Sustainability Professional

    Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

    Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

    £850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

    Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

    £100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

    Day In a Page

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn