Thelonius Monk on a postage stamp?

Prepare to get all jazzed up. A new TV series by America's popular historian, Ken Burns, is just a month away on PBS (see our interview with Burns, page 15). A related five-CD boxed set of music from the series, "Ken Burns Jazz: The Story of America's Music," is on sale. So is a companion book, "Jazz: A History of America's Music," by Burns and Geoffrey C. Ward.

These days I mail my bills (and those rare personal letters) using my favorite stamps showing the pictures of old-time baseball players. It's hard to imagine the US Postal Service would have issued that series without Burns's monumental TV project "Baseball" (1994) first reigniting interest in the history of the game.

Will "Jazz" have a similar effect? It's already creating disagreements among the cognoscenti over what was left out.

Music from the 1970s onward is given short shrift compared with coverage of the first 50 years of this indigenous American art form. All this has fans buzzing, which is fine. But Burns's real target audience is those with little knowledge of jazz and its integral role in American culture. Has he made his story intriguing enough to hook them into following his 10-part tale? If so, look for a reissue of stamps featuring the likes of Thelonius Monk, Coleman Hawkins, and Miles Davis.

How's this for a juxtaposition? At the World Summit on Arts and Culture held in Ottawa, Canada, last weekend, the subject was American domination of world culture: how to stem the tide and preserve local cultures. It followed directly on the heels of a Nov. 28 White House Conference on Culture and Diplomacy in Washington.

Among that gathering's chief topics: how to better promote US culture to the world.

It's all in how you perceive US "culture." People in other countries "think that we are movies, hamburgers, and other cliches," said Evelyn S. Lieberman, a State Department official, prior to the conference, according to The New York Times. The State Department tries on a shoestring budget to broaden that view. "Everything that we do is a reflection of our vast, diverse culture - quilts, dancers, jazz, all of our arts traditions," Ms. Lieberman said. "We have unbelievable things to say that are not just violence in the movies."

New York has its long-running mini-musical "The Fantasticks." But the world record for stage durability goes to "The Mousetrap" in London. The murder-mystery, based on a story by Agatha Christie, opened in 1952 and is scheduled to give its 20,000th performance Dec. 16. The eight roles have been played by 318 actors over the years.

"I do think a lot of the charm of 'The Mousetrap' is that it's old-fashioned - it's an old-fashioned play in an old-fashioned setting, performed in a straightforward fashion," the play's director, David Turner, told the Associated Press.


(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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