“Jazz does not belong to one race or culture, but is a gift that America has given the world.”
– Ahmad Alaadeen
Last week, the world celebrated International Jazz Day – a celebration of the musical genre and the special role it plays in bringing together people of every age, race, creed and culture. The day was first designated in November 2011 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and it has been growing in scope, stature and significance ever since.
Jazz, once a uniquely American art form, has been embraced in nearly every corner of the populated world. Many of its most ardent and enthusiastic devotees – both listeners and performers themselves – are now found outside of the United States. And, there are dozens of wonderful programs around the world that use Jazz as a means to promote peace and foster cross-cultural understanding, even among those who share little if any other common ground. It is a grand idea, though not a new one.
Beginning in the 1950s, the U.S. State Department launched a cultural diplomacy campaign using America’s top Jazz artists to win the hearts, minds and ears of people in more than 35 countries throughout Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. The results were tremendous, surprising and long-lasting. The improvisational spirit, expressions of freedom and creativity that the music evoked had a profound impact on those experiencing it, changing perceptions of America for the better and improving relations during the Cold War.
Today, though still beloved by its countless fans the world over, Jazz is much further down the list when it comes to America’s cultural exports. But, from movies and television, to music and fashion, to fast food and high tech – the world still seems to love all things American, even those who find so little else to admire or respect about our democratic way of life and our ideals of freedom, liberty, justice and equality.
With every export comes a new way to celebrate America’s unique contributions to the world and its people. There is a tremendous opportunity here and, one could argue, a responsibility for every American company and industry to help transcend political and economic differences. And, it isn’t limited to firms working in the arts, entertainment and cultural space. American business might take a page from the pioneering work of the State Department all those years ago, and the musicians and organizations that supported it. In this spirit, nearly every company could find a new purpose in promoting and positioning whatever goods or services they create and the promise and possibilities behind them.
At a time when we need to foster understanding and common ground more than ever – and show those with whom America shares the world the very best of what we can create and how those innovations can make life better and richer, it is something that every responsible business and industry should consider.