Penny M. Von Eschens book, Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War, is a recollection of how the government used music to reach out to the people at a time when Cold War was at its peak. The author's main points, which he tries to make in his book, include the role music played in changing the concept and perception of people towards racism in the country when the black race was considered inferior. Others are the reception crowds had towards black musicians that sang songs, which entertained people despite their skin colors, and the role of public funding, the success of music in bridging the gap between the whites and blacks. The author illustrates how music influenced people at a time when there was a widespread hatred between the whites and the blacks.
General Summaries of the Book
One of Penny M. Von Eschens arguments that capture the flavor of the book includes how the US government managed to convince the world that its nation did not focus on racism and segregation and used a group comprising of all-black musical ambassadors to help pass the message. During the Cold War period, the perception the local whites had towards the blacks was negative and perceived them as invaders of their country. In addition, blacks were considered an inferior race. Therefore, they were ignored and were not considered a part of the solution that would help change the activities and effects of Cold War. Hence, at first, the jazz musicians had little or no audience from the whites who considered their quality low but later accepted that blacks had talent.
Another argument from the author that succeeds in capturing the flavor of the book is how the target audience perceived the musicians at first before they understood that the American government sponsored them. At first, most people felt a dislike towards the musicians and did not offer them audience based on their skin color as they had their assumptions and pre-judgment about the blacks. However, after the government in the United States insisted that it supported the musicians through financial and moral methods, the crowds started opening up and receiving them as part of their own. Penny M. Von Eschen states that musicians had challenges through the negative remarks made on them while backstage by the organizers even though they had to portray a positive image in the eyes of the audience. It took strength and determination for the musicians to make it in a market that did not like them based on their skin color and made wrong pre-judgments.
Another argument from the author that succeeds in capturing the flavor of the book is how the musicians managed to reach to various people across their tours, and even though they received sponsorship from the government, they did not agree to become its puppets. The Cold War period was a tricky time for blacks, and they had to pledge allegiance and support the Whites who took advantage of them as the latter felt the former were unworthy to be on their country. However, even as the government took the opportunity to use music to change the perception of the world and decided the target audience of jazz musicians, they had no or little control over what the artists composed. Further, the artists had some form of freedom to sing what they wanted which gave them an opportunity to pass both positive and negative messages about the government and draw attention to the plight of blacks.
Penny M. Von Eschen uses the narratives and personal recollection of artists used in the tour as his main sources of research material as he writes the book. For instance, Dave Brubeck, one of the composers and musicians that sang the jazz genre during the international tours gives his encounter and forms one of the main sources of material used by the author. The author is a professor in history, has the special interest in the developments of the country, and digs information about the ignored aspect of jazz music and its connection to the period of Cold War in the country and across the world.
The author was successful in achieving their objective as he manages to capture the attention of a reader through the simple words he uses to describe the activities and events held revolving around music. He also uses understandable language that is easy to follow while making sure the readers follow through the narratives. The systematic presentation of his ideas ensures that he narrates the musical events logically and chronologically while addressing the perception of music in different countries. The author also manages to capture the positives and negatives of the musical activities as well as the irony the United States government had in using black musicians to spread the news about the need for cohesion whereas it supported high levels of racism. Von Eschen highlights in his book that the musical elements sponsored by the government targeted the elite and intelligent people in the society, but the musicians used the platform to reach out to all people across their social classes. The author succeeds in passing a positive message to the audience on the need to use music to restore peace and unity among people in a country.
Penny, M. "Von Eschen, Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War." Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press 240 (2004): 10-325.
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