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Iraq-U.S. Jazz Connection Spans Decades, Differences

Published on 22 February 2014

Discover the World Of Judaica

by Office of the Spokesperson


Washington, D.C.

In the weeks before American jazz pianist Dave Brubeck arrived in Baghdad to play at the Khayyam Theater on May 8, 1958, “tension mounted and enthusiasm increased daily,” according to an Embassy Baghdad dispatch at the time. Iraqi jazz enthusiasts “could hardly believe their ears” when they heard Brubeck was coming, and gave his performances a wild and warm reception, the embassy said.

Today, American and Iraqi musicians are performing together, thanks to programs like the Youth Excellence on Stage (YES) Academy from the nonprofit organization American Voices. Since 2006, YES Academy has brought together Americans and Iraqi Arabs, Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis to explore music, dance and theater. The 10-week program covers not only jazz, but also hip-hop, classical, and rock music.

YES Executive Director John Ferguson says jazz can spark some of the most substantive interactions. “People who have close contact with traditional music take to jazz very easily,” he said. “That’s been our experience in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and western China.” Many Iraqis also “come from a folk tradition that is improvised and very spontaneous,” he said.


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Posted 2014-02-22 13:13:00