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San Francisco Jazz Festival Becomes a Global Village

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Sophie Milman
Jazz is as American as baseball.

One thing the two share in common, however, is that Americans are no longer the only ones playing the game. The South Koreans won the gold medal in baseball at the 2008 Summer Olympics (the United States finished with the bronze). Likewise, the battle for supremacy in the jazz world is getting hot and heavy. The Americans are still in the lead, but the race is getting tighter all the time.

What we are seeing is the globalization of America's music. It may have been born in New Orleans and raised in the clubs of New York, Chicago and other cities, but it's maturing in places all around the world.

Thankfully, you don't need an airline reservation to get an earful of what's brewing in jazz on an international level — all you need is some tickets for the San Francisco Jazz Festival.

The event, which runs 3 October through 9 November, features an amazing assortment of jazz musicians from around the world. The artists — including Malian kora master Toumani Diabate, Polish pianist Marcin Wasilewski and Russian-born vocalist Sophie Milman — are not household names in this country. Yet the music they make might be enough to alter the U.S.-centric views of jazz for some listeners.

“I think most people's perception is that jazz is an American art form and that most of great jazz music is made by American artists," says Randall Kline, executive director for festival presenters SFJAZZ. “But that perception is shifting. It's not that there haven't always been significant (international) jazz artists; it's just that there's a lot more now."

Some countries have been fertile ground for jazz for decades. Americans are familiar with some of the bigger-name artists from South American and the Caribbean, especially Cuba, following the success of the Buena Vista Social Club film and soundtrack. Other regions, such as the Middle East and Eastern Europe, have seen their jazz scenes flourish in recent years.

Kline believes that social and political changes in some countries, which have allowed artists more freedom to express themselves through music, have greatly factored into the equation.

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