Monday, November 2, 2009

Jazz at Liberty

Recently I asked a colleague, “How many times have you gone looking for John Kennedy’s speech at the Brandenburg Gate and wound up listening to Phil Woods blowing sax?” I recently posed this odd question to one of my colleagues.

While trying to find Radio Free Europe or Radio Liberty coverage of Kennedy’s June 1963 speech for a researcher, I came across a Radio Liberty tape from June 30 and July 1, 1963. All the accompanying notes, however, were in Russian, leaving this English-only speaker ignorant of the contents. Hoping for the best, I put the tape up on our machine and listened. There was no “Ich bin ein Berliner” but, instead, jazz, lively jazz. With a concurrent, but unrelated, program of poetry on the same tape, it appeared that Radio Liberty was down with some avant-garde material in 1963, until I realized that they were two unrelated programs.

It was a pleasant surprise finding that the jazz program was an interview with—and performance by—the famous jazz saxophonist Phil Woods conducted after a trip to the Soviet Union, when jazz was frowned upon by the Soviet government. In the interview, Woods mentioned a session in New York during which he played numbers from Soviet composers (later issued by Radio Liberty as the Jazz at Liberty LP) and gave his thoughts about the state of jazz in that country. What’s particularly cool about this tape is that it contains the first-ever broadcast of three numbers from the session, “Madrigal #1,” “Madrigal New York,” and “Nyet.” Moreover, in the interview, Woods gave a solo performance of one tune’s theme. Combined with the performances of the New York session, this must have been a treat for listeners behind the Iron Curtain.

Definitely a fascinating tape to stumble upon! Here's a clip of the interview:

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Broadcast Records, Russian Service Sound Recordings, Box 4, Hoover Institution Archives.

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