Jazz and Public Diplomacy

February 12, 2011

Over at Mountainrunner Candace Burnham has a post on the current use of jazz in American PD,  questions whether it is a cold war relic and  laments the lack of imagination in the current offering.    In the comments John Ferguson questions the payrates and touring model that is used by State.

What I would add is the need to recognize the decline in the audience for jazz since the 1950s.  In her post Candace laments the lack of interest in jazz in the US but the problem is that this is same everywhere.   The kind of attention that could be generated by dispatching Duke Ellington or Dizzie Gillespie cannot be reproduced.  Jazz is largely the province of music students and an aging, specialist audience.    Sending Butch Morris on tour may cause excitement among a fraction of that audience but unless your ear is attuned towards the more adventurous end of the jazz spectrum exposure to ‘conduction’ is probably going to damage relations with the US….(certainly I’ve learned from experience that there are certain gigs it’s best not to take your friends to).  The result is a need to think through just where you want to spend your PD dollars and what content you should be providing and, although it pains me to say it, jazz may not be the best bet.

Here are links to the two current music programmes that State is running- The Rhythm Road and Musical Overtures and for comparison a link to the music programme that the British Council is operating.



  1. […] who blogs at Public Diplomacy, Networks and Influence, commented on my jazz diplomacy guest […]

  2. …so what are your values in terms of music, pleasure, community, intelligence in music and culture? How do you measure success? Not all music is popular in the sense that jazz once was. Does lack of mass appeal have anything at all to do with lack of success in music expression? Why base any response to music on numbers of listeners? The issue is not quantitative but qualitative. What gives to music its appeal and for whom? In terms of cultural dialogue, Conduction has proved itself time and again in performance in unique ways specific to it and those involved in it. Beyond that, reading your comment, I have the sense that you are something of a fool.

  3. Uninformed opinions usually reveal themselves as such without too much in the way of outside effort being required, but when garbage is allowed to stand in print unchallenged, the damage can be extensive. It does seem odd that the author doesn’t acknowledge that the popularity of Western art music has declined much more precipitously than that of jazz or that the point of art as diplomacy is not to represent this (or any) country by what is most popular in the moment, but to send forward its most accomplished musical contributors. Furthermore, it seems odd to find the work of Butch Morris singled out in this hatchet job on jazz. Morris’ Conduction system has been introduced to thousands of musicians in every corner of the globe, achieving through his unique method a rich and genuine cultural exchange that must, I think, be at the heart of any real use of art as diplomacy. I guess this writer would send Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga (they are fairly popular) to work things out with the Pakistanis. People who love music, speak deliberately and from a base of knowledge even when they speak critically.

  4. I would echo the the comment of Mr. Stanley–“It seems odd to find the work of Butch Morris singled out…” As for diplomacy, Conduction® offers a unique opportunity for musicians of any culture to participate in an exchange of ideas through music. His work with musicians across the globe proves this in that musical traditions of any culture may participate fully in Conduction®–something that is utterly unique in cultural exchange; and perhaps even a glimpse into a possible future of cultural diplomacy. What better way to initiate an exchange/dialogue, than a context where each culture’s musical traditions may participate fully in an empowered fashion? Mr. Morris’ music is typically marketed as jazz, but his work transcends conventional definitions.

  5. My post needs to be read in the context of Candace Burnham’s post at Mountainrunner (link is in the post). The reference to Butch Morris comes from there – there’s certainly no intention ‘to single him out’.

    (I also don’t have a hidden agenda to dispatch chamber ensembles or Lady Gaga to any particular part of the world.)

  6. I think Candace Burnham’s categorization of Butch Morris’s work simply as “jazz” doesn’t do justice to the many collaborations he had throughout the years with the most diverse ensembles (symphonic orchestras, contemporary music ensembles, pop-rock bands etc.) and with musicians coming from different traditions, cultures and subcultures (US, Europe, Africa, Asia…), which makes every single Conduction something on its own, addressing diverse audiences as well, as I had the opportunity to realize myself during several performances.
    To me, going beyond the jazz community per se, and working with musically, culturally and linguistically “mixed” ensembles as Mr. Morris is doing, is in itself an act of cultural diplomacy. What is deeper in Conduction, though, is that this practice requires and fosters interaction among musicians – well beyond patterns established within the jazz, the classic, or any other music tradition – which affects both the social organization of (inter)cultural and interpersonal encounters, and the interplay between music cultures.

  7. In my post (February 19, 2011) I erroneously referred to Candace Burnham. All my comments, though, were connected to the post “Jazz and Public Diplomacy” by Robin. I apologize for the misquote.

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