The Real Ambassadors
Dave and Iola Brubeck and Louis Armstrong Challenge Segregation
The full story of an incredible collaboration among the Brubecks and Armstrong to create jazz’s most amazing musical
Keith Hatschek tells the story of three determined artists: Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, and Iola Brubeck and the stand they took against segregation by writing and performing a jazz musical titled The Real Ambassadors. First conceived by the Brubecks in 1956, the musical’s journey to the stage for its 1962 premiere tracks extraordinary twists and turns across the backdrop of the civil rights movement. A variety of colorful characters, from Broadway impresarios to gang-connected managers, surface in the compelling storyline.
During the Cold War, the US State Department enlisted some of America’s greatest musicians to serve as jazz ambassadors, touring the world to trumpet a so-called “free society.” Honored as celebrities abroad, the jazz ambassadors, who were overwhelmingly African Americans, returned home to racial discrimination and deferred dreams. The Brubecks used this double standard as the central message for the musical, deploying humor and pathos to share perspectives on American values.
On September 23, 1962, The Real Ambassadors’s stunning debut moved a packed arena at the Monterey Jazz Festival to laughter, joy, and tears. Although critics unanimously hailed the performance, it sadly became a footnote in cast members’ bios. The enormous cost of reassembling the star-studded cast made the creation impossible to stage and tour. However, The Real Ambassadors: Dave and Iola Brubeck and Louis Armstrong Challenge Segregation caps this jazz story by detailing how the show was triumphantly revived in 2013 by the Detroit Jazz Festival and in 2014 by Jazz at Lincoln Center. This reaffirmed the musical’s place as an integral part of America’s jazz history and served as an important reminder of how artists’ voices are a powerful force for social change.
"With well-researched details and clear-eyed passion, Hatschek relates the story of the Brubecks’ creation, of the stars it brought into alignment (Louis Armstrong; Carmen McRae; the vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks and Bavan; and others), and of the social context of the early 1960s, and the timeless relevancy of its message. The story of The Real Ambassadors remains one of the most compelling chapters in the annals of music yet has been in danger of fading away. Hatschek’s book pulls it back into the spotlight, righteously explaining its enduring significance."- Ashley Kahn, music historian and author of A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane’s Signature Album
"Keith Hatschek provides a masterful and fascinating chronicle of the social activism of Dave and Iola Brubeck. Most are familiar with Dave Brubeck the jazz pianist, band leader, and prolific composer who provided the soundtrack of our lives for decades. The Real Ambassadors documents the power of art for social change and Brubeck’s fearless advocacy for integration."- Monika Herzig, jazz pianist, composer, and author of Experiencing Chick Corea: A Listener’s Companion
"This book is an engaging and thoroughly researched tale that takes the reader inside the hearts and minds of Dave and Iola Brubeck during their five-year struggle to bring The Real Ambassadors to the stage. It establishes the musical as an indelible, if long-overlooked, part of American jazz history, while also underscoring the power and influence that the democratic art of jazz can have in effecting positive change in our country and around the world."- Nick Phillips, Grammy-recognized jazz record producer
"An inspiring story that places Dave and Iola Brubeck and Louis Armstrong at the center of jazz musicians’ fight in the 1950s and '60s to overturn the impact of Jim Crow. It presents a shining example of the role of the artist citizen, a role that continues to be relevant today."- Nnenna Freelon, six-time Grammy-nominated jazz vocalist/recording artist
"Dave and Iola Brubeck’s musical The Real Ambassadors was decades ahead of its time, and though few paid attention to it at the time of its creation, its message feels even more relevant today than it ever did before. Keith Hatschek has dedicated over a decade of his life to researching this groundbreaking work, and his book, The Real Ambassadors: Dave and Iola Brubeck and Louis Armstrong Challenge Segregation, is the definitive story of an overlooked masterpiece. Anyone interested in the intersection of jazz, politics, and race, the impact of the jazz ambassadors’ State Department tours during the Cold War, and the inspiring, larger-than-life stories of seminal icons such as Dave Brubeck and Louis Armstrong, need to read this book."- Ricky Riccardi, Director of Research Collections at the Louis Armstrong House Museum and author of Heart Full of Rhythm: The Big Band Years of Louis Armstrong and What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years
"[Hatschek] documents in welcome detail the genesis and realization of Dave and Iola Brubeck’s musical, The Real Ambassadors, which has not received the attention it should in jazz historiography for its stand against racial segregation in America. . . . [The book] is rich in historical detail and reveals Dave Brubeck as an active civil rights campaigner and champion of racial equality, an aspect of his personality only hazily glimpsed until now."- Stuart Nicholson, Jazzwise
"The Real Ambassadors is a story worth telling, and Hatschek nails it with great detail. It was a historic moment in time, and the Monterey Jazz Festival was proud to play a role in its premiere presentation."- Tim Jackson, artistic director of the Monterey Jazz Festival
"Well-written . . . Hatschek’s book sheds light on another important story about the jazz world—how white and Black musicians came together to create entertaining and inspiring music."- Steven Cerra, JazzProfiles
"Keith Hatschek has produced a truly exceptional book, well written, researched, and, for the most part, well edited. Hatschek deserves a wide readership in recounting a story of which far too few of us are aware, even fifty years on. It is also a worthy addition to the literature on "jazz diplomacy."- Richard J. Salvucci, All About Jazz