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'The Real Ambassadors' At 60: What Dave Brubeck, Iola Brubeck & Louis Armstrong's Obscure Co-Creation Teaches Us About The Cold War, Racial Equality & God
(L-R) Dave Brubeck, Iola Brubeck, Louis Armstrong

Photo by Jack Bradley, Courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum

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'The Real Ambassadors' At 60: What Dave Brubeck, Iola Brubeck & Louis Armstrong's Obscure Co-Creation Teaches Us About The Cold War, Racial Equality & God

'The Real Ambassadors' may not be among Dave Brubeck or Louis Armstrong's most essential albums — it's the soundtrack for a musical that never got off the ground. But as a cultural artifact, it contains dimensions we're still parsing 60 years on.

GRAMMYs/Apr 20, 2022 - 07:33 pm

While a terrifying racial spasm rocked 1960s America, Louis Armstrong dared to ponder if God could be Black.

In "They Say I Look Like God," a staggering track from the 1962 album The Real Ambassadors, backing singers send an incorporeal chant into the rafters. "God created man in his image and likeness," they intone. "In the image of God created He them." Then, in comes Pops over a smoldering minor blues. "Could God be Black? My God!" he growls. "If all are made in the image of Thee / Could Thou perchance a zebra be?" To which the vocal trio responds with a triumphal "Hallelujah!"

Dave Brubeck's wife and creative partner, Iola, wrote the tune while Jim Crow still menaced much of America. While extremely weighty feelings about racial equality permeated The Real Ambassadors — a co-creation between the Brubecks and Armstrong — she meant the "zebra" line to be humorous. It didn't come across that way. Even today, the mere evocation of the song is liable to move musicians, scholars and the Brubeck family alike to their core.

It happened to Dave and Iola's daughter, Catherine Brubeck Yaghsizian. While discussing "They Say I Look Like God" for her father's centennial, she burst into tears. Over Zoom, saxophonist and jazz historian Loren Schoenberg's jaw drops at its mention.

Even Armstrong was emotional performing it at the Monterey Jazz Festival, during its sole performance featuring the original ensemble. "I looked over to Louis and he wasn't laughing at all," Dave recalled to author Philip Clark in 2020's A Life in Time. "There were tears flowing down his cheeks." To hear Brubeck tell it, the audience (and, backstage, Dizzy Gillespie) were visibly touched as well.

Despite the monumentality of "They Say I Look Like God," it appears on a Dave album that is, well, not the most essential. Nor the fifth most. Nor the fifteenth. Despite's Dave's intention for The Real Ambassadors to be something like his magnum opus, critics rarely cite it as one of his masterpieces. It was a commercial bomb upon release.

In a sense, this is understandable. As a front-to-back listening experience, The Real Ambassadors is a tad stodgy and undercooked. This is despite the tremendous talent of the people who made it: the Brubecks; Armstrong, with his All-Stars; singer Carmen McRae; the vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.

Even the Brubecks' eldest son, pianist and educator Darius Brubeck, agrees. "I say this with a great deal of respect for what the record is, but if it had been treated as a priority and they'd been given more studio time and their own schedules had gelled together and so forth, it could have been better," Darius tells GRAMMY.com. "It's a miracle it's as good as it was, but really, it was a rush job."

That said, The Real Ambassadors is more than a lumpy-yet-rewarding obscurity with a few good songs — like "They Say I Look Like God," the radiant "Summer Song" and the exuberant "King for a Day." Taken with a few supplemental materials and an open mind, the album is something of a Russian nesting doll, revealing new layers of meaning the more you pull it apart.

And given that 2022 marks its 60th anniversary, now's as good a time as any to examine it.

Spreading Jazz Abroad

The Real Ambassadors was a direct response to the U.S. State Department-sponsored jazz tours of the mid-to-late 1950s and early '60s, in which world-famous musicians Gillespie, Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington — as well as Dave and Satch — were sent abroad to rehabilitate America's Jim Crow-tarnished image. Their experiences on these Cold War-era tours carved out tributaries of inspiration, which flowed into the album.

"[T]hey never dreamed that the musicians would bring their own agendas," author Penny M. Von Eschen wrote in her in-depth 2004 analysis of the “jazz ambassador” tours, Satchmo Blows Up the World. "Nor did they anticipate that artists and audiences would interact, generating multiple meanings and effects unanticipated by the State Department."

The Real Ambassadors wasn't just meant to be an album — it's the soundtrack to a stage show that never took off. A closer examination of its witty and evocative lyrics unveils much more than a what-we-did-on-tour narrative. It speaks to Dave and Satchmo's passionate commitment to civil rights, as well as their intergenerational connection. And Dave's relationship with Iola. And Dave's spiritual life. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

A Life in Time author Philip Clark agrees that The Real Ambassadors has a fractal-like quality that’s not immediately apparent from simply throwing on the record. "You have what’s called, in opera, a highlights album," he explains to GRAMMY.com. "It has some of the music with none of the narrative around it."

The narrative for The Real Ambassadors musical predated the State Department tours — Iola had been kicking around the idea for a stage show for a few years before it crystallized. And Armstrong's biting and righteous words directly informed it.

Back in 1957, Armstrong canceled his state-sponsored tour of the Soviet Union after President Eisenhower refused to enforce court-ordered desegregation in Little Rock, Arkansas. "President Eisenhower should take these little children by the hand and lead them into that school" he erupted. "The way they are treating my people in the South, the government can go to hell." (After Eisenhower eventually acquiesced, Armstrong participated in the program.)

Spurred by Armstrong's impactful words, Iola began sketching out the musical in embryonic form. "Everywhere my mother was driving us around, to piano lessons, and just in life, she'd always had a clipboard and a notebook with her, always working on ideas," Darius says.

Originally called World, Take a Holiday, the musical centered around two couples: bandleader "Pops" Anderson and vocalist Rhonda Brown, described as a "far-out chick," and Pops' manager, Saul Hoffman, and his wife, Ellie.

In the original script, "Pops" — essentially Louis — and his band arrive in the fictional African nation of Talgalla. Believing him to be the ambassador sent by the Americans, they declared him king for a day and carried him on a throne. (Bizarrely, this actually came to pass during Armstrong's "jazz ambassador" tour in 1960, when he stopped in the Congo during its civil war, both sides declared a 24-hour truce, and fans carried him on a throne.)

Acutely aware of Armstrong's music, attitude and public statements, Dave and Iola Brubeck increasingly blurred the "Pops" character with the real-life trumpeter — who embodied the title in music, word and deed.

Wit, Emotion & Swing

Released in 1962, The Real Ambassadors was a vibrant mix of humor, social commentary and swinging music. And it couldn't have existed if Dave hadn't taken over the world with Time Out  — his epochal 1959 record with alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, bassist Eugene Wright and drummer Joe Morello — because The Real Ambassadors was a passion project and almost certainly a money loser.

"Once 'Take Five' had radio airplay and was a hit single, Columbia basically let him do whatever he wanted to do,"
Ricky Riccardi, a Louis Armstrong expert who won a GRAMMY in 2022 for album notes on Satch, tells GRAMMY.com. Even though there was a years-long buildup to the project, "It wasn't until 'Take Five' brought in the cash that he was like, 'Pay for Louis Armstrong. Pay for Carmen McRae. Book the studio."

Although the album is but one facet of the overall The Real Ambassadors project, it catches a great deal of the light. "The whole thing is laced with irony throughout," Darius says, citing the riotous "Cultural Exchange."

He also calls "Remember What You Are" one of the cleverest moments on the record, explaining that it recalls the briefing — or, perhaps, lecture — the State Department gave the musicians. "It ironizes the contrast between the directness and honesty of the jazz musicians,” he says, “versus the very circumscribed way that they're supposed to present themselves."

Darius goes on to quote one of his mother's sardonic lines: "When controversy enters, you retreat!" And while "controversy" may not be the best word to describe the difficulty of getting The Real Ambassadors out there, it was pockmarked by unfortunate miscalculations and roadblocks.

Armstrong's wife, Lucille, a trained dancer, initially rejected the idea of her husband's participation in the stage show, thinking he wouldn't be able to prepare and would embarrass himself as a result. But her fears were eventually assuaged — it mostly involved just plain singing, not unlike in a recording studio.

After several false starts with marginally interested producers, the ensemble got a break from Monterey Jazz Festival co-founder Jimmy Lyons, who booked all the performers involved as standalone acts so they could perform the The Real Ambassadors musical together.

"When they finally stepped on stage, I'm sure Dave probably almost had a heart attack of joy: 'Oh my god! We're finally doing it!'" Keith Hatschek, who authored 2022’s The Real Ambassadors: Dave and Iola Brubeck and Louis Armstrong Challenge Segregation, tells GRAMMY.com.

While there was a camera crew present at the Monterey Jazz Festival, they, astonishingly, didn't film The Real Ambassadors. The lack of film was partly because Dave didn't have $750 — the equivalent of approximately $7,500 today — immediately on hand.

What else set the stage for The Real Ambassadors' long march into obscurity? For one, Armstrong's and Dave's manager, Joe Glaser, threw a wrench in the works. He didn't want his headliners tied up for months on Broadway when they could be making money on the road.

As Hatschek points out, such an ambitious project in 1962 would be precluded by the bottom line. "It would basically reduce everyone's income dramatically," he says. "Carmen McRae was a headliner. Louis was a headliner. Dave was a headliner. So, they would all be out touring on their own, and their booking agents would all be getting commissions and whatnot."

The stage production aside, the record represents a cultural strand that was nearing its end — two years before a certain, explosive "Ed Sullivan Show" performance in 1964.

"The Real Ambassadors is a little before Beatles time, and it's that funny moment in American popular culture where jazz was about to disappear, in terms of being a flavor in popular music," GRAMMY-winning musician and scholar Loren Schoenberg, who is the Founding Director and Senior Scholar of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, tells GRAMMY.com. 

"People say jazz was once America's popular music, and I always react negatively to that. But it was a spice, a taste, a flavor that was omnipresent for about 30 years."

A Multidimensional Artifact

Where else can The Real Ambassadors lead you? Even if it only reminds you of Iola's incalculable importance to Dave's life and art, it's worth the price of admission.

"My mom was hilarious, and this is a real chance to show them as a creative team," their son, multi-instrumentalist Chris Brubeck, tells GRAMMY.com. "She was a mother of six and the person who invented the whole circuit of jazz being played in colleges. I think it was really important to Dave that Iola's talent as a lyricist and smart, smart person would be recognized."

At the end of the day, The Real Ambassadors is an invitation to commune with the deeper things of the Book of Brubeck. Jazz shorthand mostly bundles Dave with Time Out and his penchant for what he called "odd time signatures," but his discography goes so much deeper than tranquil tones and tricky meters.

The Real Ambassadors can also send you down the road of Dave's transportive religious offerings, like 1968's The Light in the Wilderness and 1969's The Gates of Justice. In fact, Christian themes ran deep in his and Iola's careers and private lives. In an era where religion and politics — much less the nexus of the two — were verboten at the dinner table, the Brubecks operated on a different plane.

"As the eldest of six children, politics and religion were about the only thing we discussed around the table," Darius says with a laugh. "Dave shut down trivial conversations when he had the chance to be with his family. He wanted to test his ideas; he wanted to challenge ours; he wanted to detect and stamp out any conditioning toward prejudice of any kind we might have been getting from our peers."

Want to shed more light on Dave's conquest for civil rights, which completely dovetailed with his Christianity? Look up the myriad instances where he stood up for his bassist, Eugene Wright, when he was mistreated and locked out of opportunities due to being Black.

Also, cue up the scene in "Ken Burns Jazz" where Dave bursts into tears, recounting his childhood experience of meeting a Black cowboy who showed Dave a brand on his chest. The Real Ambassadors wouldn't exist without that experience. "My dad said, 'These things can't happen,'"Dave remembered in the clip, his voice cracking with emotion. "'That's why I fought for what I fought for.'"

The Brubecks and Armstrong didn't just take on that fight; they lived it until their dying days. The album also proves that, in his later years, Armstrong wasn't a washup going through the motions — as decades of baked-in, unfair and untrue characterizations, busted in Riccardi’s 2011 biography What a Wonderful World, would have him.

"The Real Ambassadors shows him at 60 years old, challenging himself in a way he had never previously done," Riccardi says. "He's learning really challenging original compositions by Dave and Iola Brubeck with tongue-twisting lyrics and deep emotion."

In the past two decades, The Real Ambassadors has taken on new resonance in academia, as typified by Hatschek's, Von Eschen's and Riccardi's scholarship. Over the decades, it was performed and celebrated a few more times — albeit not with the original participants, sans one performance with Dave. And with both a modern-day civil-rights struggle and the Cold War back in public consciousness, The Real Ambassadors oddly feels riper than ever in 2022.

"It's like a plant you think is dead because there's nothing on the surface, but it keeps putting up shoots in unexpected places," Darius observes. "It's because it contains truths that are sadly relevant a whole generation later."

But that sadness aside, your journey into the center of this lopsided musical artifact is guaranteed to bring a whole lot of joy. Because at the heart of it, beneath the layers of cultural significance, a simple directive powers this music, one that you don’t need to pick up a book to understand: blow, Satchmo.

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Recordings By Janet Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Odetta & More Inducted Into The National Recording Registry

Janet Jackson

Photo: Christopher Polk/Getty Images

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Recordings By Janet Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Odetta & More Inducted Into The National Recording Registry

Selections by Albert King, Labelle, Connie Smith, Nas, Jackson Browne, Pat Metheny, Kermit the Frog and others have also been marked for federal preservation

GRAMMYs/Mar 25, 2021 - 02:37 am

The Librarian of Congress Carla Haden has named 25 new inductees into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. They include Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation 1814,” Louis Armstrong’s “When the Saints Go Marching In,” Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade,” Nas’ “Illmatic,” Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration,” Kermit the Frog’s “The Rainbow Connection” and more.

“The National Recording Registry will preserve our history through these vibrant recordings of music and voices that have reflected our humanity and shaped our culture from the past 143 years,” Hayden said in a statement. “We received about 900 public nominations this year for recordings to add to the registry, and we welcome the public’s input as the Library of Congress and its partners preserve the diverse sounds of history and culture.”

The National Recording Preservation Board is an advisory board consisting of professional organizations and experts who aim to preserve important recorded sounds. The Recording Academy is involved on a voting level. The 25 new entries bring the number of musical titles on the registry to 575; the entire sound collection includes nearly 3 million titles. Check out the full list of new inductees below:

National Recording Registry Selections for 2020

  1. Edison’s “St. Louis tinfoil” recording (1878)

  2. “Nikolina” — Hjalmar Peterson (1917) (single)

  3. “Smyrneikos Balos” — Marika Papagika (1928) (single)

  4. “When the Saints Go Marching In” — Louis Armstrong & his Orchestra (1938) (single)

  5. Christmas Eve Broadcast--Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill (December 24, 1941)

  6. “The Guiding Light” — Nov. 22, 1945

  7. “Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues” — Odetta (1957) (album)

  8. “Lord, Keep Me Day by Day” — Albertina Walker and the Caravans (1959) (single)  

  9. Roger Maris hits his 61st homerun (October 1, 1961)

  10. “Aida” — Leontyne Price, et.al. (1962) (album)

  11. “Once a Day” — Connie Smith (1964) (single)

  12. “Born Under a Bad Sign” — Albert King (1967) (album)

  13. “Free to Be…You & Me” — Marlo Thomas and Friends (1972) (album)

  14. “The Harder They Come” — Jimmy Cliff (1972) (album)

  15. “Lady Marmalade” — Labelle (1974) (single)

  16. “Late for the Sky” — Jackson Browne (1974) (album)

  17. “Bright Size Life” — Pat Metheny (1976) (album)

  18. “The Rainbow Connection” — Kermit the Frog (1979) (single)

  19. “Celebration” — Kool & the Gang (1980) (single)

  20. “Richard Strauss: Four Last Songs” — Jessye Norman (1983) (album)

  21. “Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814” — Janet Jackson (1989) (album)

  22. “Partners” — Flaco Jiménez (1992) (album)

  23. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”/”What A Wonderful World” — Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (1993) (single)

  24. “Illmatic” — Nas (1994) (album)

  25. “This American Life: The Giant Pool of Money” (May 9, 2008)

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Sounds Of Change: Chris Stapleton Performs An Aching Version Of Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World"

Chris Stapleton

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Sounds Of Change: Chris Stapleton Performs An Aching Version Of Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World"

Shrouded in amber fog and accompanying himself on sonorous electric guitar, Chris Stapleton performed Louis Armstrong’s paean to a better Earth, "What A Wonderful World"

GRAMMYs/Mar 31, 2021 - 09:23 pm

Featuring stars from Patti LaBelle to Andra Day to Gladys Knight, "A GRAMMY Salute To The Sounds Of Change" was a decades-spanning celebration of the iconic songs that inspired social change and left an everlasting imprint on music and history.

Here's a clip from the 2021 special in which country powerhouse Chris Stapleton performed Louis Armstrong’s paean to a better Earth, "What A Wonderful World." 

Stapleton accompanied himself on electric guitar, shrouded in amber fog, showing how the old chestnut easily transmutes into a variety of American idioms. 

Watch the performance above and read a full recap of the event here.

"A GRAMMY Salute To The Sounds Of Change" is available on-demand on Paramount+.

Here's What Went Down At "A GRAMMY Salute To The Sounds Of Change" 

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SXSW Attracts Record Numbers

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

SXSW Attracts Record Numbers
The recently concluded 2010 South by Southwest Conference & Festival in Austin, Texas, attracted a record total of more than 13,000 industry professional registrants, according to Billboard.biz. The festival, which launched in 1987, featured performances from approximately 2,000 musical artists representing more than 40 countries, a slight .05 increase from last year's event. According to a previous report, SXSW 2009 injected approximately $100 million into the Austin economy. (3/25)

Music Matters Reinforces Value Of Music
Music Matters, a UK-based collective of artists, songwriters, labels and retailers, is educating consumers regarding the value of music, intellectual property and legal music consumption. The campaign includes educational video vignettes featuring artists such as Louis Armstrong, Kate Bush and Nick Cave, among others, and a digital certificate designed to help consumers identify legal music sites. The certificate is available across legal online music outlets supporting the campaign, including Amazon, iTunes, MySpace Music, and Spotify, among others. (3/25)
 

Louis Armstrong's Later Years Were Richer Than Many Thought. Here's How Two Leading Scholars Dismantle Old Thinking.
Louis Armstrong performing on the 'Kraft Music Hall' show in June 1967

Photo: David Redfern/Redferns via Getty Images

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Louis Armstrong's Later Years Were Richer Than Many Thought. Here's How Two Leading Scholars Dismantle Old Thinking.

GRAMMY-winning author and scholar Ricky Riccardi knocks down Louis Armstrong mischaracterizations in his writing; National Jazz Museum Senior Scholar Loren Schoenberg thinks we shouldn't give them oxygen at all. They're both right — and here's why.

GRAMMYs/Jun 24, 2022 - 08:35 pm

There is arguably nobody on Earth keeping the flame for Louis Armstrong like Ricky Riccardi.

As the Director of Research Collections for the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens, the man has devoted much of his life to shaping how we frame, contextualize and listen to Satchmo. (He even won a GRAMMY in 2022 for Best Album Notes about the man.) Riccardi also wrote two books about him, Heart Full of Rhythm and What a Wonderful World, with a third on the way — and that second one addresses the often-misunderstood back half of Armstrong's career.

Therein, Riccardi takes a holistic view of the American musical pioneer’s legacy. He expertly lays out how his later, more commercial works — think “Hello, Dolly!” — aren’t aberrations, but natural extensions of his paradigm-reshaping work in the 1920s, back when he slugged out masterpieces like "West End Blues." This is diametrically opposed to how some listeners and critics have talked about Armstrong in his final decades, leading up to his 1971 death: as a wash-up, a sell-out, or worse, an Uncle Tom.

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Louis Armstrong performing in 1966. Photo: David Redfern/Redferns via Getty Images

Loren Schoenberg — a saxophonist, bandleader and Founding Director and Senior Scholar at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, who also won a GRAMMY in 1994 for Pops-related liner notes — is nothing if not appreciative of Riccardi's Armstrong scholarship. He calls Riccardi's books, where Riccardi knocks down outdated mischaracterizations and hatchet jobs like bowling pins, "indispensable" and "vital for the historical record."

"When he died in '71, it was headline, breaking, front-page news, but all this stuff had clung to him," Riccardi tells GRAMMY.com, citing a heartbreakingly scornful eulogy in the New York Times: "'Don't let this happen to you,' pretty much. 'Louis Armstrong was a great talent and wasted it.'" (To quote the Times: "Armstrong survived by compromise, and it was a compromise which destroyed his art.")

While it’s fully understandable why Riccardi aims to right these wrongs, Schoenberg raises a compelling point. "This is where I differ from Ricky." he tells GRAMMY.com. "We've talked about it. He has his role to play, and I have my role to play, and we have different ways of looking at the glass of water."

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Louis Armstrong in 1970. Photo: Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

From Riccardi's vantage point, constructing an accurate image of Armstrong in the modern world means getting into the weeds of why critics railed against him in his later years — when he often dealt in comedic duets, Hawaiian numbers and other relatively lightweight fare.

Because to him, all of it — the heavy and the light — are facets of one monumental character and artist: "The trailblazing vocalist, the guy who basically invented how to improvise on your horn, the sappy balladeer, the comedian with expert timing, the civil rights pioneer, the actor… The totality of Louis Armstrong could be overwhelming, but once you let it wash over you, you'll have the time of your life, because he never lets you down — that's for sure."

But in a separate conversation, Schoenberg considers whether it's worth rehashing Armstrong-directed negativity at all in 2022 — even to discredit it. "I don't even see why we have to get into that or share that with people," he says. "A lot of ignorant statements were made. A lot of foolish things were done."

The two colleagues might differ on this, and their numberless peers might fall at any point on this Pops spectrum. But this particular point of polite divergence speaks to a friction in how we deal with long-passed legends — especially ones with so many distinct eras, and engulfed in complicated racial dynamics, like Armstrong.

Schoenberg's comments are germane to a world where these granular components of American legacies are not litigated and relitigated. "Jazz writing and jazz criticism is insular. It's a bunch of mirrors," Schoenberg says. "All the experts — we think these things, and we all know these things. Who the hell cares out in the real world?"

To that "insular" world, Riccardi's scholarship is a source of profound edification. But to a world where anyone with an internet connection can access the breadth of Armstrong's career and find the late-period gems for themselves. 

It's all ripe for the picking: 1954's burning blues masterpiece with the All-Stars, Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy. 1957's Louis: A Musical Autobiography, a compendium of inspired re-recordings of Armstrong's '20s and early '30s works. And, from 1962, that comedic and conflicted analysis of race, God and cultural exchange with Dave and Iola Brubeck: The Real Ambassadors.

Simply playing these records erases popular notions of Armstrong in his later years as a crass commercial entity, oblivious to a changing world and leaning on tired pop tunes night after night. Rather, he was still a dynamo — and he was accomplishing things he couldn’t have done as a younger man.

Read More: The Real Ambassadors At 60: What Dave Brubeck, Iola Brubeck & Louis Armstrong's Obscure Co-Creation Teaches Us About The Cold War, Racial Equality & God

With respect to Schoenberg's purview, it's not worth giving even more ink to the haters of the mid-20th century by reprinting said quotes. But is there truth to both men's assertion that Armstrong remained a man of vision and vitality. God, yes.

As Riccardi explains, Armstrong was singing before he ever picked up the cornet, which shatters easy delineations between the game-changing trumpeter and vocal pioneer. "He happened to sing, and he happened to play the trumpet. The singing influences the singers, and the trumpet influences the instrumentalists," Schoenberg says. "But it's just one person and one concept."

Plus, as Riccardi mentions, Pops himself felt he was playing better trumpet in the mid-'50s than at any other point. "He did have trouble with lips in the 1930s, so, he got around that," he says. "He focused more on tone and the upper register, playing less notes, but playing with the biggest sound possible — always lyrical, always singable."

For proof positive of how this medical limitation paradoxically deepened Pops' approach in the latter part of his career, cue up Louis Armstrong Meets Oscar Peterson — one of the most accessible late-Armstrong records, where the two men whip up a jubilant sound.

"I think that some of his later stuff in his '50s and '60s is some of the most exciting," trumpeter Bria Skonberg — a hot-jazz practitioner and Pops disciple to the core, tells GRAMMY.com. "If anything, he's pried away the need for all that bravado. His tone is just like a silver bullet that goes straight to your heart."

But aside from specific technicalities or artistic qualities, Riccardi is drawn, on a grander level, to artists in their autumn years. "I love early Lester Young and Frank Sinatra," he says. "But then I love when those guys get a little older, they lose a few miles off the fast ball, and it's like, all right, now they have to hit you in the heartstrings; they have to really make you feel it, but with less tools in the arsenal. And they always shift a little."

And leave it to Dan Morgenstern, a jazz writer, archivist, and producer who knew Pops for decades, to sum up why the whole of Armstrong's legacy matters — not just the most intrepid, youthful part.

"I don't feel that there are any points in Armstrong's active career — and he was active practically until the day he died — where he is not at a peak level of musicianship," he tells GRAMMY.com. "Whether it is in an environment that pleases the critics or not."

When reappraising a misunderstood section of Pops' legacy — or anyone else's — it's reasonable to fall under either Schoenberg's or Riccardi's lines of thinking. But ultimately, as Schoenberg mentioned, they play distinct roles in the same system.

Without Riccardi to knock down misconceptions, the world might still hold a stunted or incorrect view of Armstrong. And with that, Schoenberg can help sweep away the ashes of the old world's thinking — which didn’t afford Armstrong the subtlety, care and nuance he deserved.

The everything-all-the-time nature of streaming might flatten art in some ways. But one silver lining is that it can unthaw figures somewhat frozen in time, like Armstrong. If you want to hear magnificent Armstrong performances, there they are, from all eras, instantly available for your enjoyment and edification.

Then, pick up Riccardi's books to learn about the world that shaped Armstrong, and he shaped in return. As you learn about him, when you come across this or that ignorant statement from his contemporaries, read it, process it, and toss it. What will you get in return for doing so? A lifetime of humor, pleasure and beauty, thanks to Pops, who never stopped giving in life and continues to give from beyond.

And somewhere along the way, don’t forget to thank Schoenberg and Riccardi. Because how we commune with this quintessential American pioneer would look a lot different without them — even when they agree to disagree.

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