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The Jazz Ambassadors
Running Time: 90 minutes
Venue: Tiburon Library [1501 Tiburon Blvd.]
Cast: Quincy Jones, Luis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charli Persip, Leslie Odom Jr., Bill Crow, Darius Brubeck
Showtime: Thursday, April 11, 2019 @ 06:30 PM
Director: Hugo Berkeley
Description: [Screening @ Tiburon Film Society]
The Cold War and Civil Rights movement collide in this remarkable story of music, diplomacy and race. In 1955, as the Soviet Unionís pervasive propaganda about the U.S. and American racism spread globally, African-American Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. convinced President Eisenhower that jazz was the best way to intervene in the Cold War cultural conflict. For the next decade, Americaís most influential jazz artists, including Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Dave Brubeck, along with their racially-integrated bands, traveled the globe to perform as cultural ambassadors.
But the unrest back home forced them to face a painful moral dilemma: how could they promote the image of a tolerant America abroad when the country still practiced Jim Crow segregation and racial equality remained an unrealized dream? Told through striking archival film footage, photos and radio clips, with iconic performances throughout, the documentary reveals how the U.S. State Department unwittingly gave the burgeoning Civil Rights movement a major voice on the world stage just when it needed one most. Leslie Odom, Jr., narrates.
The Jazz Ambassadors tells the little-known story of when America deployed jazz legends like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, and Benny Goodman, along with their mixed-race bands, to fight on the front lines of the Cold War, giving the Civil Rights Movement a voice on the world stage when it most needed one. Drawing on an incredible performance archive and detailed personal accounts of the tours, as well as cinematic re-constructions of crucial sequences, the film immerses viewers in this thrilling journey, accompanied by a truly swinging soundtrack.
Spurred by presenter Willis Conoverís hugely-popular Voice of America radio show, audiences worldwide develop a passion for American jazz. When Louis Armstrong plays before more than 100,000 people in West Africa, U.S. diplomats take note, thinking that jazz could give America an edge in the Cold War. In January 1956, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie kicks off his tour of the Middle East and Turkey to help counter Soviet stories about American racism. Over the next 10 years, more than 20 tours featuring renowned jazz musicians visit over 100 countries, giving Civil Rights an international platform even while the performers themselves questioned representing a nation still roiling with segregation and intolerance.Benny Goodman and his mixed-race bandís 1962 tour of the Soviet Union was the first time that the Russians permitted a foreign jazz band to tour the region. The U.S. State Department scaled back the Jazz Ambassadors program when Duke Ellingtonís tour of the Middle East and India was tragically cut short by JFKís assassination.
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