Friday, May 25, 2007

Reading Great Jazz Book

So I've been reading this excellent book I got the other day, Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War. It discusses at length one of my favorite (if not my overall favorite) jazz albums, The Real Ambassadors by Dave and Iola Brubeck. Here's an interview with author Penny Von Eschen.

I was surprised at how little I found on the Internet about this album, given how creative it was. It was a jazz musical, performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1962, about all sorts of things -- race, diplomacy, communism, American popular culture, the music business, the nature of God, a whole bunch of stuff. The Brubecks wrote it for Louis Armstrong, who performed it with Lambert, Hendricks, and Bavan (Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross on the soundtrack), and Carmen McRae. Here's an excerpt from the Von Eschen interview: I love the fact that it was written and rewritten over a period of five years, during the early dynamic years of the tours. It very powerfully captured both the foreign policy and domestic civil rights contradictions. For example, it opened with somebody saying something about going to Moscow, and Armstrong then calls out, "Forget Moscow, when do we play in New Orleans?" -- which is reminiscent of his standing up to Eisenhower, saying that he wouldn't play in the Soviet Union. While it very directly recalls his defiance of Eisenhower, it also very directly speaks to the idea of the Brubeck's wanting to honor Armstrong's role in civil rights. This was important because by this time, both among musicians and young fans of jazz, Armstrong was seen as an artist from an earlier generation -- an "Uncle Tom" who accommodated demeaning roles and strategies. The Brubeck's wanted to bring out his defiance, and did so in another part of the play when the narrator says that the "hero" is known for keeping his opinions to himself, after which Armstrong calls out, "Lady, if you could read my mind, your head would bust wide open."

But, there are efforts at foot by a woman named Dianne Mower to bring about a revival of the TRA musical. Here's her website, and in order to help get the word out, I am planning on creating TRA's very own Wikipedia entry. UPDATE: Wikipedia entry here.

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