“Prohibited from broadcasting in the United States, Conover’s program was virtually unknown to American audiences. But for the people listening from Eastern Europe, the sound of Willis Conover’s program, the Voice of America Jazz Hour, was a rare window into American life and American jazz during the second half of the 20th century.
“It was incredible — not only for me but for millions of people around the world,” says Valery Ponomarev, a Russian trumpeter who came to the US in 1973.
Ponomarev says that Conover’s broadcasts sounded like freedom. And his legacy has not been forgotten — nearly 8,000 people have signed a petition to have Conover honored with a US postage stamp for his musical contributions to ending the Cold War. The U.S. Postal Service has yet to respond.
“When I first heard real jazz music…I was blown away from this Earth,” Ponomarev says in between an impromptu scat performance. “Can you imagine hearing something like that for the first time? Jazz music was my music from that point on.”“