Thursday, March 25, 2010

All that jazz

For what it’s worth department
There are world travelers and there are world travelers. I did not travel much outside the U.S. when I was young, but in the last few years I’ve had occasion to visit a number of countries in various parts of the world. My wife and I typically stay in brand-name hotels that cater to American business tourists, either in major cities or in tourism-focused towns; and aside from eating street food while walking around, we are likely to be found eating in establishments where an English menu is available. In other words, you would do well to question the authenticity of our experience.

Nonetheless, it has struck us that no matter where we are in the world, the background music in restaurants and stores, the tunes playing on a taxi radio, the songs sung on street corners, are all likely to be American jazz, usually sung in English. I don’t think this is entirely because it is assumed the American tourist clientele will enjoy it; rather, it seems to be ubiquitous and to be ubiquitously enjoyed. We hear rock and hip-hop and other kinds of music, too. But the predominance of jazz and the genuine affection people hold for it is far more obvious outside the U.S. than inside.

Last week we were at a pre-conference banquet in a historic Polish town. The conference attendees were mostly from Europe, with just a few Americans present. The hosts had arranged for a feast of traditional Polish food and had hired a Polish band—a polka band, as a matter of fact.The band played American standards for the most part, arranged as polkas. There were no obviously Polish pieces at all (nor did we have to suffer through the “Beer Barrel Polka,” thankfully).

“American food,” in many parts of the world, is represented by McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, KFC, and Subway. But “American culture” is represented by jazz.

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