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Willis Conover

Jazz Ambassador to the World

Willis Conover (1920-1996) was one of VOA's treasures, an internationally-known jazz aficionado, well-connected within the jazz community but little-known in the United States. During his more than 40 years on VOA's airwaves, Conover brought "America's music" to millions around the world. He was particularly popular in the countries behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War.

Jazz is a classical parallel to our American political and social system. We agree in advance on the laws and customs we abide by and having reached agreement, we are free to do whatever we wish within those constraints. It’s the same with jazz. The musicians agree on the key, the harmonic changes, the tempo, and the duration of the piece. Within those guidelines, they are free to play what they want. And when people in other countries hear that quality in the music, it stimulates a need for the same freedom in the conduct of their lives.

- Willis Conover in “Jazz Forum”, 1958