A Cold War ‘Jam Session’ on view at the Fowler Museum


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Who knew that among all the political maneuverings of the Cold War that jazz was also in play? With the Soviet Union using its famed dancers and classical musicians to act as cultural ambassadors in many newly independent nations around the world, a worried U.S. State Department responded by calling on one resource the Soviets couldn’t match: jazz.

Chronicling an array of international concerts and appearances by jazz stars from the 1950s through the ‘70s, the Fowler Museum at UCLA presents ‘Jam Session: America’s Jazz Ambassadors Embrace the World,’ an exhibition of nearly 100 photographs opening on Saturday. A number of images capturing these cultural exchanges leave a remarkable impression, such as Benny Goodman entertaining a young crowd in Red Square (above), or a triumphant Louis Armstrong blowing amid a sea of ecstatic children in Cairo.


Other images are striking just for their warm oddity, such as Duke Ellington sampling a hookah with saxophonist Paul Gonsalves in Iraq. Also not to be lost among the images is the trace of irony in shots such as a pipe-smoking Dizzy Gillespie embodying American cool on the back of a motorbike in 1956 Yugoslavia while back home the civil rights movement was just beginning.

The show kicks off with an opening-night jam session featuring UCLA faculty members Kenny Burrell, Barbara Morrison, Roberto Miranda and more on Saturday at 7 p.m., and Burrell will also appear on Sunday at 2 p.m. with Quincy Jones and jazz historian John Hasse in a conversation to be moderated by KCRW-FM’s Tom Schnabel. The exhibition runs through Aug. 14.


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-- Chris Barton