Music and musicians have often played a role in soothing relationships between nations. Louis Armstrong penetrated the Iron Curtain at a concert in East Berlin in 1965. Recently, the Minnesota Orchestra contributed to the thawing of relations between the US and Cuba through a series of concerts and workshops in Havana.
Perhaps less known is a concert that took place this year, when New York saxophonist Bob Belden performed with his group Animation in Tehran, the first US group to do so since 1979.
As testimony to the diplomatic power of music, Belden (October 31, 1956-May 20, 2015) told The New York Times: “Everybody is nice to us here…a guy comes up to me, an Iranian, asks me where I’m from. I say, ‘America!’ He says, ‘I love you!’ I tell him I’m a jazz musician. He says, ‘I love jazz!'”
In addition to Animation, Belden was known as a prodigious arranger, often reinterpreting rock and jazz classics in new ways. He was well-known for an album of Sting’s music. He brought together Indian musicians to do a new take on the music of Miles Davis, using sitar and tabla. The album was nominated for a GRAMMY in 2009 for Best Contemporary Jazz Album.