Extended through May 18th! On Exhibit: The Real Ambassadors

Posted on: Mar 11, 2014 -- Last updated on: May 7, 2014

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On Exhibit: The Real Ambassadors for Jazz Appreciation Month!

In 1961, Louis Armstrong recorded “The Real Ambassadors”, one of the most challenging albums of his entire career. Written by Dave and Iola Brubeck, it featured some striking songs with pointed statements about politics and the struggle for Civil Rights in the United States at the time. In addition to Armstrong's own band, the All Stars, Louis was joined by Dave Brubeck's quartet, the exciting vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross and legendary vocalist Carmen McRae. 

On "They Say I Look Like God," a pained Armstrong sung about race, "When will that great day come? When everyone is One / And there will be no more misery / When God tells man he's really free." Armstrong's performance left the other musicians in tears. On "The Real Ambassador," a frisky Armstrong sang, "Though I represent the government / the government don't represent some policies I'm for." Armstrong, who just turned 60, turned in one of his most wistful vocals on Brubeck's enduring "Summer Song" while the famed Satchmo trumpet wailed furiously on numbers like "Remember Who You Are" and "Blow Satchmo."

The hope was to use the Columbia Records album as a test to get “The Real Ambassadors” produced as a Broadway play (that unfortunately did not come to pass). After one memorable live performance of the work at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1962, “The Real Ambassadors” disappeared. "It was five years ahead of its time and the big shots that buy shows for Broadway were afraid of it," Armstrong said in 1962. "I had to learn all that music, and I'd never done nothing of this kind before. Brubeck is great!"

Though the album was not a large seller at the time of its release, its reputation has steadily grown over the years. Today, “The Real Ambassadors” is looked at as a high point in both the career of Armstrong and Brubeck. 

The exhibit is free with museum admission.

Photo by Jack Bradley