198 - The Real Ambassadors: Dave Brubeck, Iola Brubeck, and Louis Armstrong

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The story of The Real Ambassadors, a jazz musical created by Dave Brubeck and Iola Brubeck for Louis Armstrong in the 1950/60s—a poignant tale of cultural exchange, anti-racism, jazz history, and it’s a love story—between life-long husband and wife partners, Iola and Dave Brubeck and their vision for a better world.

The original show, featured Louis Armstrong, Carmen McCrae, Dave Brubeck and Lambert Hendricks and Bavan, and was performed live only once, at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1962. This year’s Monterey Jazz Festival, September 23-25, 2022, is the 60th Anniversary of the performance.

The musical is based on the Jazz Ambassadors Program established by President Eisenhower and the US State Department during the Cold War as an effort to win hearts and minds around the world. Jazz musicians were sent out to represent the freedom and creativity of America through their art form. The irony is that Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie and most of the other Jazz Ambassadors were Black—they were treated like royalty around the world, but could not stay in hotels or play in integrated bands in their own country.

The Brubeck’s musical was a chance for Louis Armstrong to speak out about his deep feelings about racism and segregation in this country — feelings he rarely expressed publicly.

The story features original music, rare archival recorded letters back and forth between the Brubecks and Louis Armstrong about the project, rehearsal recordings and interviews with Dave and Iola Brubeck. Other voices include: the Brubeck’s sons, Chris and Dan Brubeck; Keith Hatschek, author of newly released book, "The Real Ambassadors;” Ricky Riccardi, Director of Research Collections for the Louis Armstrong House Museum; and singer/actress Yolande Bavan, the last surviving performer involved in the project.

Thanks to: Keith Hatschek, Chris, Brubeck, Dan Brubeck, Ricky Riccardi, Yolande Bavan, Lisa Cohen, and Wynton Marsalis.

Special thanks to: The Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation and the Louis Armstrong House Museum; Michael Bellacosa and the Brubeck Collection, Wilton Library, Wilton, Connecticut; The Complete Louis Armstrong Columbia & RCA Victor Studio Sessions 1946-66 Mosaic Records 270; The Milken Family Foundation Archive Oral History Project; and The Library of Congress.

The Real Ambassadors was produced by The Kitchen Sisters (Nikki Silva and Davia Nelson) and Brandi Howell in collaboration with Jackson Spenner. Mixed by Jim McKee.

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