Each April, the State Department, in concert with music lovers around the world, celebrates Jazz Appreciation Month. In honor of this uniquely American art form, musicians, museums, schools, embassies, and others in the United States and around the globe host jazz-themed events to highlight jazz's contributions to our country and to the world.
Jazz Appreciation Month started a few days early for the State Department this year. On March 26, Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) hosted an amazing jam session to celebrate the joint State Department-JALC Rhythm Road -- American Music Abroad program, an initiative that sends urban/hip-hop, gospel, bluegrass, and jazz artists to perform before and engage with younger and underserved audiences in countries where people have few opportunities to meet American performers and experience their music first-hand. Musicians who toured during the current Rhythm Road season, along with alumni from past program tours, gathered together at Dizzy's Coca Cola Club in Manhattan to perform and tell stories about their experiences representing American culture and values abroad.
All of the musicians had amazing stories to tell about the life-changing moments of their exchange programs. Alvester Garnett, a drummer in the Jed Levy Quartet, described what it was like to play for "the most enthusiastic crowd" he had ever seen in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after the 2010 earthquake. Sara Milonovich of Mountain Quickstep humorously described how Eastern Europeans reacted the first time they watched members of her band "clog" dancing. Andy Reiner humbly mentioned that his band, the Earth String Band, was the first American band to play in East Timor.
Even jazz legend Wynton Marsalis, Jazz at Lincoln Center's Artistic Director, shared a few thoughts with the group. As part of his inspiring remarks, he mentioned how important it is that the State Department reaches out to people in other cultures through the common language of music.
The Department of State's musical exchanges are a direct continuation of the Artistic Ambassadors programs of the 1950s and 1960s. Those historic exchanges included Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, and other legendary jazz artists, and the tradition will not end with the conclusion of Rhythm Road. The State Department continues to send American musicians overseas on international exchange tours through the American Music Abroad program, administered in partnership with American Voices.
About the Authors: Robert Keith serves as a program officer, and Thomas Donahue serve as a cultural affairs intern in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.