Posted by: Heather Fabrikant, Deputy Cultural Attaché & Tim Standaert, Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer
April is Jazz Appreciation Month and it certainly started with a bang in Kyiv this year. One of the world’s most renowned jazz pianists, Chick Corea, and the incredible vibraphonist Gary Burton wowed an enthusiastic crowd with a first class performance at Palats Ukrainy on April 7th. The duo played a mix of standards and new pieces that reflected diverse influences: Dave Brubeck, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and even Mozart and the Beatles.
April was established as Jazz Appreciation Month a decade ago to commemorate this uniquely American musical genre; this year’s theme focuses on the legacies of women in jazz who helped build a more just and equitable nation through their music. Throughout the month of April, concerts, retrospectives and celebrations in the U.S. and around the world are paying homage to jazz traditions and legacies. For a taste of this year’s festivities click here. This year’s poster slogan “Jazz: Born in America. Enjoyed Worldwide” is fitting for Ukraine, where jazz appreciation has a long history bringing us to this month’s Kyiv performance of jazz greats Chick Corea and Gary Burton.
Over 55 years ago, the Eisenhower administration sent the first official jazz Ambassador, famed trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, overseas. He brought jazz music and messages of tolerance and cross-cultural understanding to places like Iran, Greece, and Turkey and ushered in a new and exciting era of musical diplomacy.
In the early 1960s, authorities in Moscow refused the American government’s first proposal of sending Louis Armstrong to the USSR. Instead, the Kremlin finally allowed Benny Goodman and his orchestra to tour the Soviet Union. During their travels throughout the USSR in 1962, Goodman’s band gave four performances in Kyiv in late June to excited fans at Palats Sportu, laying their heads down each night (or rather in the early morning) at the Hotel Moskva. Following in Goodman’s footsteps, Earl “Fatha” Hines played in Ukraine in 1966, as did the legendary Duke Ellington in 1971. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, many jazz performers have naturally appeared in commercial concerts in Ukraine, where jazz has a dedicated following.
In recent years, the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv has supported visits by a number of musicians performing jazz and other musical styles in Kyiv and cities throughout Ukraine, including the Ryan Cohan Quartet, Herbie Hancock, Mary Wilson, and now Chick Corea and Gary Burton. In addition, through U.S. State Department programs like Rhythm Road and Cultural Envoys, many different kinds of American music including rap, bluegrass, country and rock and roll can be heard around the world.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Americans visiting Washington, DC, each summer are exposed to the musical traditions of foreign countries during the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival. We should mention that a Ukrainian group from Zakarpattiya will be performing this year and Ukraine has been invited to showcase its music and culture in the summer of 2014. Come visit the current exhibit on the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival at the Ivan Honchar Museum in Kyiv!