Tag Archive for Jazz at Lincoln Center

Jazz Counter-Diplomacy: Wynton Marsalis Evades Venezuela

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (Photo: Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images)

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (Photo: Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images)

It is hardly a secret that the U.S., with the cooperation of mainstream American media, has been seeking to effectively overthrow the Venezuelan government at least since the late Marxist anti-imperialist Hugo Chávez (democratically) rose to power in 1999. Who can forget Chávez’s 2006 speech at the U.N. General Assembly when he called Bush II “the devil” who thinks he is “the owner of the world.” Pretty much nailed that one, it must be said, no?

Well, things are no different now that Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro, is the president of the oil-rich but economically impaired, in a year of plummeting oil prices, Bolivarian Republic. As Eva Golinger, author of The Chavez Code: Cracking U.S. Intervention in Venezuela, wrote in Counterpunch in February, 2015, “There is a coup underway in Venezuela. The pieces are all falling into place like a bad CIA movie.” She traces the U.S. media’s toeing of the State Department line (“The New York Times has a shameful history when it comes to Venezuela”) and goes on to note, 

This year President Obama approved a special State Department fund of $5 million to support anti-government groups in Venezuela. Additionally, the congressionally-funded National Endowment for Democracy is financing Venezuelan opposition groups with over $1.2 million and aiding efforts to undermine Maduro’s government. There is little doubt that millions more for regime change in Venezuela are being funneled through other channels that are not subject to public scrutiny.

Things heated up further in March, 2015, when, as noted in Al Jazeera America,

U.S. President Barack Obama signed an executive order last week saying the Latin American nation poses an “extraordinary threat to the national security” of the United States. He imposed sanctions on seven Venezuelan military and intelligence officials, accusing them of human rights violations, and extended the sanctions to members of their families. The individuals are barred from doing business with American citizens, traveling to the United States and could have their assets in the U.S. seized.

An extraordinary threat to national security, eh? Is Venezuela earmarking $5 million to support Socialist Alternative candidate Kshama Sawant‘s re-election bid for the Seattle City Council? Perhaps that explains Wynton Marsalis’ last-minute scratch of Caracas from Jazz at Lincoln Center’s 12-city South American tour, as reported by the AP on 3-12-15, in a widely distributed article whose gushing lede reads, “American jazz legend [italics added] Wynton Marsalis has canceled concerts in Venezuela at a time of rising tensions between the two nations.”

The AP story continues:

The New York-based trumpeter and composer was scheduled to perform his Swing Symphony on Friday alongside the Simon Bolivar Orchestra conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, the first of three concerts planned in Caracas.

Marsalis and other musicians from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra also were supposed to lead a series of workshops with Venezuela’s world-famous El Sistema network of youth ensembles. Both that organization and the orchestra are supported by Venezuela’s socialist government.

Further on, Greg Scholl, executive director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, is quoted to puzzling effect:

Jazz “is a powerful tool to bring people across cultures and geographies together,” he said in an interview from New York. “But it’s important that it’s performed in conditions when the music can be heard. Intentionally or otherwise, if our performances there and the work that we were doing with them there was to become politicized those conditions no longer exist. And that could be harmful to both of our institutions.”

Ignoring the routine jazzocratic froth of “bringing people together,” exactly what “conditions” would cause the music not to be heard? One can only hope Marsalis will address the issue on his blog and clear the diplomatic fog. Meanwhile, the astute Norman Lebrecht of the classical music blog Slipped Disc interprets the AP story thus:

This may be a precedent.

Jazz king Wynton Marsalis has pulled his musicians out of this weekend’s concerts with the Simon Bolivar orchestra in Caracas, citing political differences.

[. . .]

Last week, Venezuelan president Maduro imposed new visa restraints on US citizens. Although Marsalis and his Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra members were provided with visas, they decided that worsening political and economic conditions in Caracas were not conducive to music.

Or perhaps, as John Halle, director of studies in music theory and practice at Bard College Conservatory, put it on Facebook when he shared the Lebrecht post: “Joining a long history of jazz musicians carrying water for the State Department.” Or getting a bit part in a bad CIA movie.