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The Jazz Ambassadors (2018)The Jazz Ambassadors (2018)

The cold war between the Soviet Union and the United States eventually reached some sort of stale mate of mutually assured destruction in the 1950s, after which the battle turned toward winning global public opinion. The Soviets, for example, churned out propaganda films about the horrors of American racism, including lynchings. The Americans created the US Information Agency that jump started things like Voice of America. About this time, the black congressman Adam Clayton Powell had an idea — why not deploy American jazz musicians as cultural ambassadors to the non-white world in order to improve the country's profile? Despite controversies, resistance from southern segregationists, and inherent complexities, all of which form the narrative of this film, that's what happened for about seven years, from 1956 to 1963. Dizzy Gillespie was the first to go, followed by Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and the mixed race bands of Dave Brubeck and Benny Goodman. But how do you conduct cultural diplomacy when your country still practices Jim Crow racism and worse? This was the period of the Little Rock Nine and Birmingham's mayor Bull Connor, who unleashed attack dogs and fire hoses on civil rights demonstrators. The jazz received rave reviews. The cultural diplomacy remained a profound challenge. I watched this one-hour film from the PBS website.

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