Train Whistle Diplomacy: Blues-based Jazz and National Identity

Jacquelynne Modeste


Since the Cold War, jazz has been inextricably linked with US cultural identity, foreign policy, and international relations. Since its inception, jazz has been linked to African Americans living in the US. The exportation of legendary African American jazzmen such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington during the Cold War period is well documented but what of their particular style of jazz? Armstrong and Ellington used the blues to ground their compositions artistically and also as part of a self-conscious effort to keep the traditions of African Americans in contemporary consciousness. What is it about the hybrid, blues-based jazz, which captivated audiences internationally? In what ways does the blues influence swing, their preferred form of jazz? This essay moves towards a definition of blues-based jazz, describes the cultural significance of the hybrid form, and identifies its pervasiveness in areas previously undocumented.

Keywords: Jazz, Blues, National Identity, Train Whistle, Diplomacy

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