Monday, September 10, 2007

Swing States: Jazz Diplomacy along the Silk Road

In the Christian Science Monitor, Moises Velazquez-Manoff brings us a report on "Jazz Ambassadors" in Central Asia.

Buried in this feature is a policy proposal from yours truly:
The US touts tolerance and diversity along the Silk Road, says Barnett Rubin, director of studies at New York University's Center on International Cooperation. But its primary interests in the region, he says, are access to military bases for the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns to counter Russian influence and eventually tapping abundant oil and natural gas resources. "If anyone tells you that the US has an interest in democracy in Central Asia, don't believe them," Dr. Rubin says.

"Cultural exchange is no substitute for an effective foreign policy," he adds. "Patting a kid on the head is no substitute for having a policy in the Middle East that Arabs can support."

Dour as he sounds, Rubin has only good things to say about sending jazz abroad. Future presidential candidates should nominate "a secretary of swing," he half jokes. "Swinging is a very important [political] philosophy. You make something beautiful by cooperating, without anyone telling you what to do."

I doubt this administration can make good use of jazz: if they cared about jazz, they would fix New Orleans. But jazz can do something more for the U.S. than showcase diversity. It's a model for international relations in a world out of balance. Swinging is not only cooperating, it's driving forward by staying off the beat. Since September 11, we have been hitting the beat just where UBL knows where to find us. When Dizzy Gillespie ran for president in 1963-1964, he had an important lesson: just listen to his campaign song, Vote Dizzy. He keeps you guessing where he's coming down, but he always gets there in the end.

In a rare show of transparency, Dizzy announced his major appointments in advance: Duke Ellington as Secretary of State, the recently departed Max Roach as Secretary of War (when told that the post was now called "Defense," Dizzy whispered, "Don't nobody tell Max" -- later he decided to abolish the Department of War -"Because we're not having any"), and, most inspired, Miles Davis as Director of Central Intelligence. Miles knew how to end a war. When John Coltrane asked him how to end a solo, he replied, "Take the horn out of your mouth." And with Miles at the CIA, there would have been no slam dunks. He would have sent daily briefer Thelonius Monk to give the President the facts the way he gave us the notes: Straight, No Chaser.

Update: Joe Zawinul has died. My wife Susan and I saw him lead the Zawinul Syndicate at a concert in Provence last July. Talk about jazz ambassadors: he was a jazz UN. This 75-year old Austrian who played with Cannonball Adderley and Miles Davis performed with electrifying musicians from Brazil, Morocco, Cote d'Ivoire, and the Congo. Mercy, mercy, mercy.


Anonymous said...

I cast my very first Presidential vote by writing in Dizzy Gillespie in 1964, despite my gloomy conviction that Goldwater was going to win, and I've often told the "take the horn out of your mouth" story in connection with, among other things, the overlong Finale of Schubert's otherwise sublime E flat major piano trio. "Crossover dreams" was nice too--did anyone but us actually see that Ruben Blades movie?

Michael Pollak said...

You probably already know this, but just in case -- Penny Von Eschen recently published a very good book on this subject: Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War (Harvard U Press).

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