Fear Not Contemporary Art, Part Two

In a 2001 interview on Fresh Air with Terri Gross, trumpeter and producer Quincy Jones discussed “Soul Bossa Nova” (1962).

This iconic tune (the theme for the Austin Powers movies) may seem kitschy today, but imagine its original context in the early 1960s: the Civil Rights movement, modernism’s internationalism, its embrace of the avant garde… Jazz was not the high-brow classy thing we think of now, but it was cutting edge, dangerous. It conjured nightclubs, interracial relationships (oh my!), critiques of segregation.

Jones described the song’s origins: on tour with Dizzy Gillespie in Brazil, the audience members included teenaged Antonio Carlos Joabim and Astrud and João Gilberto. History was made with this meeting: it inspired “Soul Bossa Nova” and, according to Jones, Joabim’s ground-breaking bossa nova tune, “Desafinado,” is “pure Dizzy Gillespie.”

I was surprised to learn that a major cross-cultural exchange by artistic legends was facilitated by the U.S. government: the tour was sponsored by the State Department.

Artists as cultural ambassadors? Seems so progressive! Today’s politicians view the arts with so much suspicion. Why can’t we have politicians as fervently vocal in their support of contemporary arts and culture as the Guilianis of the world are in their opposition to it?


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