|The Real Ambassadors|
|Original Cast Recording|
|Music||Dave and Iola
|Productions||1962 Monterey Jazz Festival|
The Real Ambassadors is a jazz musical developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s by Dave and Iola Brubeck, in collaboration with Louis Armstrong and his band. It addressed the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, the music business, America’s place in the world during the Cold War, the nature of God, and a number of other themes. It was set in a fictional African nation called Talgalla, and its central character was based on Armstrong.
In writing this work, the Brubecks drew upon experiences they and their friends and colleagues had touring various parts of the world on behalf of the U.S. State Department. The Brubecks and Armstrong (among many other musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, and Duke Ellington) were part of a campaign by the State Department to spread American culture and music around the world during the Cold War, especially into countries whose allegiances were not well defined or that were perceived as being at risk of aligning with the Soviet Union.
Among the events referenced, directly or indirectly, were the 1956 student riots in Greece in which stones were thrown at the U.S. Embassy, which dissipated following performances by Dizzy Gillespie; Louis Armstrong’s 1956 visit to Ghana as the guest of Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah; and Armstrong’s dispute with the Eisenhower Administration and President Eisenhower personally over the handling of the 1957 Central High School Crisis in Little Rock, Arkansas.
The musical’s soundtrack album was recorded in September and December of 1961 in the Columbia Records recording studio on 30th Street in New York City, and was released the following year. It was produced by Teo Macero. Performers included Dave Brubeck and his band (including bassist Gene Wright and drummer Joe Morello, but not including saxophonist Paul Desmond); Louis Armstrong and his band (including trombonist Trummy Young and pianist Billy Kyle); vocalese group Lambert, Hendricks & Ross; and vocalist Carmen McRae. Its most recent release was on compact disc on June 14, 1994 by Sony’s Legacy label.
The musical was performed in a cut down version of ten tunes with Iola Brubeck narrating live at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1962 by Brubeck and his band; Armstrong and his band; Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan; and Carmen McRae. Television cameras, though present, did not capture the performance, and it has not been performed since. Connecticut jazz vocalist Dianne Mower has been making efforts to bring about a Broadway revival of the show. A slide/vocal clip of Louis Armstrong singing the title tune at Monterey can be found here.
Asterisked selections appeared on the 1994 CD release, but not on the original LP release.