American Jazz, Soviet Union, Cold War


In the Soviet Union in the 1950s, everyone jammed. While High Soviet officials worked their hardest to jam the incoming Voice of America and Music U.S.A. radio broadcasts, Soviet musicians and youth jammed underground to the hot swing .and blue harmonies of American jazz. Jazz, with its rebellious syncopations, rogue tunings, and egalitarian arrangements, connected with the Soviet people. Amicable cultural exchange between the two superpowers began only in 1958, and even then it only took place in small, mitigated steps. Knowing the Soviet proclivity for American music, American statesmen saw the opportunity to replace the stodgy, pedantic propaganda of Radio Free Europewith something more powerful and popular-jazz, America's only original art form. In the Soviet Union, jazz broadcasts and tours from America's finest jazz groups exemplified what political scientist Joseph S. Nye Jr. dubbed "soft power": convincing and converting another country's citizens through the appeal of culture and values instead of military or economic force. Jazz music proved to be a perfect lever of soft power in the Cold War because it could entice Soviet citizens through popularity and appeal rather than force, leading to the changed mindset which eventually eroded the power of the USSR.