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New IJS website highlights America's jazz ambassadors

Louis Armstrong performs for patients in a children's hospital in Cairo, Egypt in 1961.
Photo credit: Louis Armstrong House and Archives, Queens College.

The Rutgers University Libraries' Institute of Jazz Studies (IJS) launched Jam Session: America's Jazz Ambassadors Embrace the World, chronicling State Department-sponsored tours of jazz musicians between 1956 and 1978. The web site, the fifth in IJS's ongoing Jazz Greats: Digital Exhibits web series, was a joint effort between the Institute and Meridian International Center, a non-profit cultural, arts and educational organization in Washington, D.C., which produced a highly-regarded exhibition by that title last spring and summer.

The web site can be viewed at:

In the cultural exchange arena, the Soviet Union had considerable potency, especially in the areas of classical music and ballet, but the United States had a unique and remarkably effective resource: jazz," said Dan Morgenstern, Director of the Institute of Jazz Studies. "By the time the State Department began to sponsor tours by noted jazz artists, Louis Armstrong had already been dubbed 'Ambassador Satch,' and the Voice of America's 'Music U.S.A.,' Willis Conover's outstanding jazz radio show, had gained thousands of fans for jazz behind the Iron Curtain. Aside from its musical appeal, jazz epitomized democracy in action; not by coincidence, jazz was the first integrated public forum in the U.S. Jazz pianist Teddy Wilson came before Jackie Robinson. And jazz musicians made personal contact with their audiences to a much greater degree than other artists, often to the concern of the local authorities. In a fundamental way, jazz was America's not-so-secret weapon."

The exhibit and web site focus on five of the most illustrious and active jazz ambassadors: Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Goodman. Another section recalls the efforts of George Wein, founder and impresario of the Newport Jazz Festival, who cooperated with the State Department in sending jazz overseas, as well as other tours instigated by the Department. Also included is a 24-page Education Guide prepared by Meridian. The web site will be updated, with the exhibit schedule and other news regarding Jam Session.

Images for the web site came from a number of distinguished cultural institutions and individuals: the Louis Armstrong House and Archives at Queens College; the Dave Brubeck Institute at University of the Pacific; the Smithsonian, home to the Duke Ellington Collection; the Benny Goodman Papers at Yale University; the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, housing much of the State Department cultural files from the period covered by the jazz tours; the Woody Herman Society; and with Dave Usher of Detroit, a longtime Dizzy Gillespie friend and associate. The main contribution of the Institute came from the files of IJS founder and State Department jazz adviser Marshall Stearns. IJS media archivist Tad Hershorn did digital restoration of all photographs and other ephemera for the exhibit and wrote an essay on restoring historic images for the web site.

Other musicians featured in IJS's Jazz Greats Digital Exhibits series, which can be downloaded from the Institute of Jazz Studies web site, include Benny Carter, Mary Lou Williams, Fats Waller and Count Basie. The Jazz Greats Digital Exhibits series can be viewed at:

To read the unabridged version of this news story, please see:

Posted March 30, 2009