Jazz’s Cold War Diplomacy in Visiting Photographs

By Beacon Staff

Following last year’s Pulitzer Prize photography exhibit, the Montana Museum of Art & Culture at The University of Montana is hosting another photographic journey through history with “Jam Session: America’s Jazz Ambassadors Embrace the World.”

The exhibit chronicles the international tours of the jazz legends who served as cultural ambassadors for the U.S. State Department from the 1950s through the 1970s.

With very little international dialogue at the height of the Cold War, U.S. government officials searched for ways to open relations through the sharing of music unique to America, which not only fused African and African-American cultures with other traditions but also represented an art form that the government felt could help others understand the open-minded and creative sensibilities of our country.

Organized by Meridian International Center in Washington, D.C., the exhibit showcases over 80 images of jazz greats such as Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Sara Vaughn and Dave Brubeck.

I had the opportunity to visit the Pulitzer Prize exhibit twice and I was awestruck by and reminded of the power of the still image. Having a soft spot in my heart – which is closer related to an obsession – for jazz music, I am more than willing and excited to make the drive to Missoula for a viewing. To me there is something inherently intriguing in seeing the high contrast black and whites or the grainy color film images of these musical geniuses.

See a slide show if images in the exhibit on the New York Times Web site here.
Visit the Jam Session: America’s Jazz Ambassadors Embrace the World Web site here.
Visit the University of Montana MMAC Web site here for gallery hours and locations.