JAM Session: America's Jazz Ambassadors Embrace the World

Jointly presented in Hong Kong by Consulate General of the United States


13-23 .09 .2011

Time 10:00 - 22:00


Event Hall, UG/F, Citywalk 2, Tsuen Wan

18 Yeung Uk Road, Tsuen Wan

Free admission



Jam Session: America's Jazz Ambassadors Embrace the World is a photographic exhibition chronicling the history of the famed "Jazz Ambassadors" program, which sent some of America's most renowned jazz musicians to perform throughout the world during the 1950s, '60s and '70s.  With U.S. government sponsorship, such legendary jazz greats as Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Sarah Vaughn and many others showcased America's talent and diversity, and the power of music to bridge cultural and political differences.  The exhibition's 55 photographs beautifully depict the stories of these Jazz Ambassadors and the different activities that characterized their tours.


As a first salvo in a program that would continue for more than two decades, Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. proposed that Dizzy Gillespie form a big band to represent the United States as musical envoys.  The Eisenhower Administration agreed and the State Department sent the group out to Southern Europe and the Middle East in 1956.  Dizzy and his orchestra were consummate ambassadors — touching people from all walks of life.  From encounters with high-ranking officials to spontaneous exchanges with children, the musicians were determined to make friends, and did so successfully.  One enthusiastic Gillespie concert attendee in Zagreb, was moved to exclaim, “What this country needs is fewer ambassadors and more jam sessions!”  Jazz diplomacy had begun, and both the U.S. government and the world were captivated.


Later the same year, Benny Goodman and his band traveled to East Asia; in 1958, the Dave Brubeck Quartet visited Eastern Europe, the Middle East and South Asia; Louis Armstrong and the All Stars toured Africa in 1960-1961; and Benny Goodman packed his bags again, setting off for the Soviet Union in 1962.  The following year, the Duke Ellington Orchestra and its charismatic bandleader crisscrossed the Middle East and South Asia — beginning a decade of journeys.  These dynamic cultural diplomacy initiatives continued under the direction of the State Department until 1978, and countless jazz musicians, including Benny Carter, Miles Davis, Woody Herman, Earl Hines, Oscar Peterson, Clark Terry and Sarah Vaughan, circled the globe on America's behalf.


Developed in collaboration with University of Michigan professor Penny M. Von Eschen and drawn from collections around the United States, Jam Session: America's Jazz Ambassadors Embrace the World captures memorable moments from jazz tours to 35 countries and four continents.  These include Dizzy straddling a motorcycle with a famous Yugoslav musician; Louis meeting a revered national leader in Nigeria; Benny entertaining kids in Moscow's Red Square and many more.  It is the first time that photographs representing this positive experience in American cultural diplomacy have been collected for a single exhibit.


This exhibit is an example of how art can be used to bring together different cultures.  With the United States being the birthplace of Jazz, and Hong Kong showing increasing interest for this art form, the United States Consulate General Hong Kong and Macau and the Hong Kong Jazz Association are pleased to jointly present this exhibition.  We hope you enjoy it.


Information compiled courtesy of the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts

Program enquiries: (852) 2841 2258

This exhibition is presented internationally by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State


Jam Session is organized by Meridian International Center Art for Cultural Diplomacy


Festival Partner


Venue Sponsor


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