When Duke Ellington Played The Middle East

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Back in 2011, I wrote a post about American jazz diplomacy during the Cold War, a fascinating piece of jazz history–click here to read it. Jazz has always been America’s unique cultural gift to the world, though some might say that it’s been supplanted by hip hop.

And now my old friend Alan Geik, who once co-hosted a popular tropical Latin music show on KCRW, sends me a timely article from the BBC News Magazine which is really fascinating. The article is about when Duke Ellington performed in Kabul, Afghanistan in 1963. It was a different time for the country and the city. Duke Ellington’s sound was new to people and as described in the article, people were awed by the performance.

kabul-postcard
A Different Time in Kabul

People now may forget the Kabul concert and the Middle Eastern Tour. The US State Department had sent Duke Ellington and His Orchestra over for a Middle East Tour as a US public relations effort–“Jazz Diplomacy”. In addition to Jazz musicians, other American artists did similar “Good Will” tours”: Orson Welles and Walt Disney went to South America in the 40’s. After Ellington’s tour, the Far East Suite was released in 1967 with music inspired from his travels.

Duke-Ellington-Far-East-Suite
Duke Ellington – Far East Suite

Ehsan Khoshbakht’s Jazz blog has a fantastic detailed outline and photos of the journey.

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