The Jazz Ambassadors

Air date: 05/04/2018

The Jazz Ambassadors

Premieres Friday, May 4 at 10 p.m. on PBS (check local listings)

Streams beginning May 5 on pbs.org and PBS apps

 

Synopsis:

The Cold War and Civil Rights movement collide in this remarkable story of music, diplomacy and race. In 1955, as the Soviet Union’s pervasive propaganda about the U.S. and American racism spread globally, African-American Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. convinced President Eisenhower that jazz was the best way to intervene in the Cold War cultural conflict. For the next decade, America’s most influential jazz artists, including Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Dave Brubeck, along with their racially-integrated bands, traveled the globe to perform as cultural ambassadors. But the unrest back home forced them to face a painful moral dilemma: how could they promote the image of a tolerant America abroad when the country still practiced Jim Crow segregation and racial equality remained an unrealized dream? Told through striking archival film footage, photos and radio clips, with iconic performances throughout, the documentary reveals how the U.S. State Department unwittingly gave the burgeoning Civil Rights movement a major voice on the world stage just when it needed one most. Leslie Odom, Jr., narrates.

Notable Talent:

  • Quincy Jones, Musician and Arranger
  • Charlie Persip, Drummer, 1965 Dizzy Gillespie Tour
  • Adam Clayton Powell, III, Son of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.
  • Darius Brubeck, Jazz Musician
  • Bill Crow, Bass Player, Benny Goodman USSR Tour
  • Leslie Odom, Jr., film narrator
  • Hugo Berkeley, Peabody Award-winning director (Land Rush, A Normal Life)
  • Mick Csáky, producer (producer & director of Sister Rosetta Tharpe: The Godmother of Rock & Roll for American Masters)

 

Short TV Listing

Discover how the Cold War and Civil Rights movement collided in a music story of diplomacy and race. 

Long TV Listing

Discover how the Cold War and Civil Rights movement collided when America asked Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman to travel as cultural ambassadors and combat racially-charged Soviet propaganda through their music.

 

Running Time: 60 minutes

 

Noteworthy Facts:

  • Spurred by presenter Willis Conover’s hugely-popular Voice of America radio show, audiences worldwide develop a passion for American jazz.
  • When Louis Armstrong plays before more than 100,000 people in West Africa, U.S. diplomats take note, thinking that jazz could give America an edge in the Cold War.
  • In January 1956, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie kicks off his tour of the Middle East and Turkey to help counter Soviet stories about American racism.
  • Over the next 10 years, more than 20 tours featuring renowned jazz musicians visit over 100 countries, giving Civil Rights an international platform even while the performers themselves questioned representing a nation still roiling with segregation and intolerance.
  • Benny Goodman and his mixed-race band’s 1962 tour of the Soviet Union was the first time that the Russians permitted a foreign jazz band to tour the region.
  • The U.S. State Department scaled back the Jazz Ambassadors program when Duke Ellington’s tour of the Middle East and India was tragically cut short by JFK’s assassination.

 

Buzzworthy Moments:

  • Louis Armstrong performing in the British West African colony of The Gold Coast (now Ghana), where he dedicates the iconic song “Black and Blue,” about the agony of racism, to Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah.
  • Quincy Jones shares his incredible experiences at age 22 as Dizzy Gillespie’s musical director, arranger and trumpet player with the band, performing in countries including Iraq, Iran, Syria and Pakistan.
  • In a press interview after the September 1957 incident in Little Rock, AR, where white crowds prevented African American children from entering their school, Louis Armstrong discusses racism in American homes and says he refuses to lie about it overseas.
  • In a rare interview on Swedish Television amidst the U.S. struggle towards Civil Rights, Duke Ellington discusses the sacrifices and cultural contributions made by African Americans, as well as jazz being recognized as “the American Music” while the genre was “mostly Negro.”

 

Production Credits:

The Jazz Ambassadors is a co-production of THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET and Antelope South Limited and Normal Life Pictures, in association with the BBC and ZDF, in collaboration with Arte. Directed by Peabody Award-winner Hugo Berkeley and produced by Emmy-winner Mick Csáky. For THIRTEEN: Benjamin Phelps is coordinating producer, Julie Anderson is executive producer and Stephen Segaller is executive in charge.

Underwriters:

Major support for The Jazz Ambassadors was provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional support was provided, in part, by Jody and John Arnhold, The Fong Family, Dr. Edward C. Mapp, and public television viewers.

 

About WNET

WNET is America’s flagship PBS station and parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21. WNET also operates NJTV, the statewide public media network in New Jersey. Through its broadcast channels, three cable services (THIRTEEN PBSKids, Create and World) and online streaming sites, WNET brings quality arts, education and public affairs programming to more than five million viewers each week. WNET produces and presents such acclaimed PBS series as Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, PBS NewsHour Weekend and a range of documentaries, children’s programs, and local news and cultural offerings. WNET’s groundbreaking series for children and young adults include Get the Math, Oh Noah! and Cyberchase as well as Mission US, the award-winning interactive history game. WNET highlights the tri-state’s unique culture and diverse communities through NYC-ARTS, Theater Close-Up, NJTV News with Mary Alice Williams and MetroFocus, the daily multi-platform news magazine focusing on the New York region. In addition, WNET produces online-only programming including the award-winning series about gender identity, First Person, and an intergenerational look at tech and pop culture, The Chatterbox with Kevin and Grandma Lill. In 2015, THIRTEEN launched Passport, an online streaming service which allows members to see new and archival THIRTEEN and PBS programming anytime, anywhere: www.thirteen.org/passport.

 

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Photos
For editorial use in North America only in conjunction with the direct publicity or promotion of THE JAZZ AMBASSADORS. No other rights are granted. All rights reserved. Downloading this image constitutes agreement to these terms.

Young State Department Officer Tom Simons (near right) enjoys lunch with members of the Duke Ellington Orchestra in Sri Lanka, 1963. Credit: Courtesy of Tom Simons

Louis Armstrong (center) plays in Accra, The Gold Coast (present day Ghana) in 1956 to a crowd estimated at 100,000. He's flanked by clarinetist Edmond Hall (left) and trombonist Trummy Young (right). Credit: Courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum

Louis Armstrong (center) is greeted by nine local trumpet players at the airport in Accra, The Gold Coast (present day Ghana) in 1956. Credit: Courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum

Louis Armstrong on stage in Accra, The Gold Coast (present day Ghana) in 1956. Trombonist Trummy Young and clarinetist Edmond Hall play behind him. Credit: Courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum

Duke Ellington listens to musicians in Pakistan, 1963. Credit: Courtesy of the Duke Ellington Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

Louis Armstrong delights children at an orphanage in Cairo, Egypt in 1961. Credit: Courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum

Louis Armstrong's visit to the Congo in October 1960 brought a one-day ceasefire to the war-torn country. Credit: Courtesy of the National Archives, College Park, USA

A still image from Black and White (1933), a Soviet animated film depicting race relations in the USA. Credit: Courtesy of Gosfilmofond, Russia

Louis Armstrong hams it up on radio DJ Willis Conover's Voice of America show "Music USA." Credit: Courtesy of the Willis Conover Collection, University of North Texas Music Library

Dave Brubeck performs in Warsaw, Poland in April 1958. Credit: Marek A. Karewicz / Courtesy of the Brubeck Collection, Holt-Atherton Special Collections, University of the Pacific Library. (c) Dave Brubeck.

The Dave Brubeck Quartet performs in Krakow, Poland in April 1958. Credit: Courtesy of the Brubeck Collection, Holt-Atherton Special Collections, University of the Pacific Library. (c) Dave Brubeck.

The Brubeck family arrive in Turkey in May 1958; left to right: Dave Brubeck, his twin 11-year old sons Darius and Mike, and wife Iola. Credit: Courtesy of the Brubeck Collection, Holt-Atherton Special Collections, University of the Pacific Library. (c) Dave Brubeck.

The Dave Brubeck Quartet on tour in 1958; right to left: Dave Brubeck, Eugene Wright, Joe Morello and his wife Jean, and Paul Desmond. Credit: Courtesy of the Brubeck Collection, Holt-Atherton Special Collections, University of the Pacific Library. (c) Dave Brubeck.

Dave Brubeck studies a musician performing on the sitar in India, 1958. Credit: Courtesy of the Brubeck Collection, Holt-Atherton Special Collections, University of the Pacific Library. (c) Dave Brubeck.

Duke Ellington and his Orchestra perform in Bombay, India in 1963. Credit: Courtesy of the National Archives, College Park, USA

Duke Ellington arrives in Lebanon during his 1963 State Department tour of India and the Near and Middle East. Credit: Courtesy of the J. William Fulbright Collection, University of Arkansas Libraries

Recording the Soundtrack at Air-Edel Studios in London, August 2017. Back row from left to right: Paul Booth (sax, clarinet), Patrick Clahar (sax), Dennis Rollins (tenor trombone), Karl Rasheed Abel (bass), Mark Mondesir (drums), Fayyaz Virji (bass trombone), Kevin Robinson (trumpet), Freddie Gavita (trumpet, flugelhorn). Front row left to right, Michael McEvoy (soundtrack composer) and Hugo Berkeley (director).

Historian and jazz critic Robert O'Meally. Credit: Henry Adebonojo

Bill Crow, bass player on the 1963 Benny Goodman tour of the USSR. Credit: Henry Adebonojo

Director Hugo Berkeley and Bass Player Bill Crow in New York, February 2017. Credit: Henry Adebonojo

Louis Armstrong and his wife Lucille pose in front of the Sphinx near Cairo, Egypt in 1961. Credit: Courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum

Dizzy Gillespie poses with the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (right), in Iran, 1956. Credit: Malcolm Poindexter III / Courtesy of the Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University

Dizzy Gillespie (right) tries out a traditional rabab instrument in Pakistan, 1956. Credit: Malcolm Poindexter III / Courtesy of the Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University

Dizzy Gillespie (with turmpet), singer Dottie Salter (holding the snake) and trombone player Melba Liston (at back), charm a cobra in Karachi, Pakistan, 1956. Credit: Malcolm Poindexter III / Courtesy of the Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University

Dizzy Gillespie (first on right) and his orchestra – including Quincy Jones (third from right at back) – in Turkey, 1956. Credit: Malcolm Poindexter III / Courtesy of the Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University

Voice of America radio DJ Willis Conover in his booth. Credit: Courtesy of the Willis Conover Collection, University of North Texas Music Library