Annals of wasted tax money III: I’m with the band


Here’s a short film about the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s State Department tour of Poland in 1958, when Brubeck was a wealthy musician who could afford to pay for his own vacations, but his government thought there might be some value in putting him in front of some Communists anyway. As Cynthia Schneider, a former U.S. ambassador, has written:

During the heyday of cultural diplomacy from about 1950-1975, America’s greatest
actors, musicians, artists, writers, and dancers were sent abroad by the U.S. government. In the
late 1950s more than one hundred acts were sent to 89 countries in four years. The very best jazz musicians were sent on lengthy tours to the Middle East, Africa, South America, Asia, and
Europe. From 1963 up to his death in 1974, Duke Ellington traveled continuously for the State
Department, to the Soviet Union, Africa (three times), South American and Asia (multiple trips).
Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie and other black musicians who toured for the State Department
recognized the irony of being sent as “cultural ambassadors” by a country that often denied their civil rights. In the best tradition of cultural diplomacy, they did not mince words, but rather
spoke about the inequalities in America. They also insisted on performing for “the people”, and
not just the elites. When Duke Ellington demanded that the public clamoring outside the concert
hall be allowed in, he introduced American concepts of equality into the Soviet system, into the
lives of Soviet citizens.

This business of tossing tax dollars after travelling artists and other cultural hoitie-toities is widespread. Here‘s (opens a .pdf) a paper that discusses such practices in eight different countries. “In 2001-02, (Australia’s foreign-affairs department) allocated A$61,184,000 for (cultural-dipomacy) programs with a primary focus on Australia’s image promotion,” the author writes. That was with John Howard as prime minister. Communist.

Filed under:

Annals of wasted tax money III: I’m with the band

  1. Well, I’m not sure this is entirely equivalent (ie I don’t know who funded his trip) but on this historic opening day of the 2008 Olympics, after reading your blog, I thought of the 1981 Academy Award winning documentary From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China – chronicling his travels post Cultural Revolution China.


  2. Your satchel of online jazz is bottomless, Mr. Wells.

    What a reminder of why America is a great nation. First and foremost, because they took the trouble to be.

    Off to buy a Dave Brubeck CD. I cannot click your link, Dot, because I can only afford one CD at present.

  3. The tune on the video is ‘Three to Get Ready,” from “Time Out,” the one indispensable Brubeck album, Jack.

  4. “he introduced American concepts of equality into the Soviet system, into the
    lives of Soviet citizens.”

    It is hard not be sarcastic when faced with a remark like this. Was this before or after they exiled Solzhenitsyn?

  5. It’s a good day when the Government is cutting arts funding, and P.Wells is giving us some Dave Brubeck in protest.

    Thanks for the video, great stuff.

  6. Thanks for the info, Mr. Wells – “Time Out” has been playing chez moi for many hours now. It’s totally awesome.

Sign in to comment.