2008 Brubeck Festival: 50 Years of the "Real" Ambassadors

Fifty years ago, four rising jazz musicians led by Dave Brubeck boarded a DC-6 on behalf of the U.S. State Department. Their Cold War mission was to play jazz concerts behind the Iron Curtain and in the Middle East and Asia. This “Cultural Ambassador Tour" had a profound effect on Brubeck and the musicians he met in other countries. It also influenced American diplomacy, setting the stage for other artists to be sent on similar tours for decades to come.

This year, the Brubeck Festival explores the international flavor of jazz by celebrating the 50th anniversary of Dave Brubeck's legendary mission. In celebration, University of the Pacific's Brubeck Institute has partnered with The George Washington University, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Smithsonian Institution, the Library of Congress, the Meridian International Center and the National Endowment for the Arts to present a two-week, coast-to-coast festival. The first week, March 31 through April 5, will be held on the Stockton campus of University of the Pacific. The second week, April 8 through April 13, will be held in Washington, D.C. where the cultural ambassador program was launched.

“I still believe that our best weapon for winning the hearts and minds of people who are different from us, is one that does not threaten or intimidate, but reaches out with a gift of the best of our culture and receives the best of other cultures in exchange," Dave Brubeck said about the 50th anniversary of his Cultural Ambassador Tour. “It can only enrich all who are engaged in the activity and enlighten our mutual understanding of the world we share."

The tour was organized in 1958 under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The quartet consisted of Dave Brubeck, saxophonist Paul Desmond, bass player Eugene Wright and drummer Joe Morello. They traveled to Poland, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iran, Turkey, Sri Lanka and Iraq. While the Brubeck trip was not the first time a jazz group represented the United States abroad - Dizzy Gillespie visited the Middle East in 1956 - the Brubeck tour was so successful it led to many others including excursions by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Benny Goodman, and Miles Davis.

The tour had a cultural impact on Brubeck and jazz in general. Brubeck would later comment that the off-beat rhythms and timing he heard in music on the tour directly influenced the structure of the compositions on the recording Time Out, the first jazz album to ever sell more than 1 million albums. The song “Blue Rondo la Turk" on that album was based on the timing of a Turkish zeybek, a type of dance that Brubeck saw on the tour. Five years later, Brubeck and several other jazz musicians including former “jazz diplomats" Louis Armstrong, Carmen McRae and the jazz trio Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, recorded the album The Real Ambassadors. Dave and Iola Brubeck wrote the album's music and lyrics based on experiences from the tour. The music on the album was premiered at the 1962 Monterey Jazz Festival.

To keep with the international flavor of the 1958 tour, the festival will offer music from several different countries. Featured artists include Deepak Ram Quartet from India, the Open World Russian Jazz Octet, Hiromi's Sonicbloom from Japan, and the Latin-influenced Pete Escovedo Orchestra.

In addition to performances, the Brubeck Institute and its partners will present academic lectures and forums examining the role of jazz in diplomacy, the history of the 1958 tour, and the future of cultural diplomacy. Invited lecturers include Dr. Penny Von Eschen, professor at the University of Michigan, writer on cultural diplomacy and civil rights and recipient of the 2008 Brubeck Institute Award for Distinguished Achievement; Dr. John Brown, senior fellow at Georgetown University and the University of Southern California, writer, and a former foreign service officer whose primary area is public/cultural diplomacy; and Professor Keith Hatschek, director of the Music Management program in University of the Pacific's Conservatory of Music and an authority on Brubeck's tours in Poland.

The George Washington University will host a symposium on cultural diplomacy and the tour. Experts will discuss trans-cultural communication, the relationship of cultural diplomacy to the issues of security and development policy, the problems and challenges of doing cultural diplomacy in the Middle East, and will show photographs and other materials from the 1958 tour. The Library of Congress will host a concert event about the 1958 tour that will feature comments by Dave Brubeck and journalist Hedrick Smith, and music that either was played on the tour or was composed as a result of the tour.

“It's highly appropriate that the 50th anniversary of the tour be held during a time when America's relationship with many countries is being questioned and challenged," said Steve Anderson, director of the Brubeck Institute. “Hopefully, this festival will serve as a reminder that effective diplomacy is more than just sending politicians or money to troubled regions of the world. America's diplomatic efforts have yielded extraordinary results when done in a people-to-people manner, sharing ideas, values, and cultural experiences, as demonstrated by the success of Dave Brubeck and other jazz artists performing around the globe."

University of the Pacific founded the Brubeck Institute in 2000 in honor of one of its most prominent alumni, Dave Brubeck (class of 1942). The Institute builds on Brubeck's legacy and his lifelong dedication to music, creativity, education, and the advancement of important issues, including civil rights, international relations, environmental concerns, and social justice. It does this through its five core programs including the Brubeck Collection, Brubeck Festival, Brubeck Outreach Program, Brubeck Fellowship Program, and the Summer Jazz Colony.

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