Monday, June 24, 2013

From Russia with Love

Danny: Monday 6/24/13 NYC;
It's hard to believe that in just less than 24 hrs , we will be leaving for Russia on our fourth tour as musical ambassadors for the Dept. of State. We've been blessed to have gone to so many countries around the globe, bringing many genres of American music to people that don't always have access to this type of live music.
We've been to South East Asia, the Middle East, back to Malaysia and now Russia.
When I was a small child growing up here in NYC during the 60's, I could have never imagined that one day I'd be travelling to Russia . The Cold War was all over the news, I was so scared at night that every time a plane flew overhead, I thought it was going to drop the big one. I lived by the airport so I lost a lot of sleep;) I had never met anyone from Russia until I was at Mannes College of Music, a conservatory on NYC's Upper West side. Even then it seemed so amazing to me that I was able to meet a Russian student. It was even more amazing that he was such a great Jazz pianist! I ended up meeting and playing with a community of Russian Jazz musicians and we often spoke about how they came to learn about Jazz.
The first Jazz orchestra was founded in Moscow Russia in 1922 by poet, translator, dancer and theatre worker Valentin Parnakh and was titled “The RSFSR First Eccentric Orchestra Jazz Band -
See more at:
As modern Jazz and Bebop developed, the western cultural idea of Jazz was frowned upon in Russia.
Recordings of American Jazz artists were often rare and traded among the Russian players. Charlie Parker solos were memorized and passed on sometimes by transcription and even memorized aurally.
Cultural wars were heating up and America was accused of being in a cultural Stone Age. How could we compete with the Bolshoi Ballet for example? Also press about racial tensions and inequality here in the States was tarnishing our image on the world stage. In the late 1950's, Adam Clayton Powell, the US representative from Harlem suggested that instead of just sending Symphonic music abroad, we should send out what he called "Real Americana", since Jazz bands were often racially mixed and showed real freedom of expression. He asked his good friend Dizzy Gillespie to put together a band for a cultural diplomacy tour. Dizzy in kind, put together an 18 piece band that toured Southern Europe, The Middle East and South Asia. See more at;
Thus the Jazz Diplomacy concept was born and has continued almost seamlessly over the years. The groups have become more diverse in musical scope, embracing many American roots and roots influenced styles. Also the groups are not as well known as Dizzy and Louis Armstrong, but the impact of the program is still strong.

The RSFSR First Eccentric Orchestra Jazz Band from Russia

Dizzy charming the snakes in Pakistan

Satchmo getting down and dignified

The JRB being diplomatic with the US Ambassador in Manilla on Thanksgiving

The JRB with the students of the Chinese international school in Malaysia

A typical day on the road might include going to a local school to do a workshop, a media event at a local radio station and then an evening concert at a community performing arts center. Between all the driving and looking for great local cuisine, there isn't much time for much else.
Over the past few years, I've been lucky to teach two very talented Russian percussion students at Mannes and I'm looking forward to seeing them in Moscow next week. I'm exited about learning even more about their culture and seeing where they live. It's amazing that what I feared in childhood has come full circle and become a blessing of friendship and discovery.
I'm looking forward to sharing the next two weeks you through pictures and stories. I hope that the music brings us all a little bit closer.

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