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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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LOUIS ARMSTRONG /
DAVE BRUBECK

The Real Ambassadors

Poll Winners Records PWR 27293

 

 

1. Everybody's Comin'
2. Cultural Exchange
3. Good Reviews
4. Remember Who You Are
5. My One Bad Habit
6. Lonesome
7. Summer Song
8. King for a Day
9. Blow Satchmo
10. The Real Ambassador
11. Nomad
12. In the Lurch
13. One Moment Worth Years
14. You Swing Baby (The Duke)
15. Summer Song
16. They Say I Look Like God
17. I Didn't Know Until You Told Me
18. Since Love Had Its Way
19. Easy As You Go
20. Swing Bells/Blow Satchmo/Finale
21. Easy as You Go
22. Take Five
23. In Your Own Sweet Way
24. Oh, So Blue
25. Lord, Lord

Louis Armstrong - Trumpet, vocals (tracks 1-20)
Carmen McRae - Vocals
Dave Lambert, Jon Hendricks, Annie Ross - Vocals (tracks 1-20)
Trummy Young - Trombone, vocals (tracks 1-20)
Joe Darensbourg - Clarinet (tracks 1-20)
Dave Brubeck - Piano
Billy Kyle - Piano (tracks 1-20)
Eugene Wright - Bass
Irving Manning - Bass (tracks 1-20)
Joe Morello - Drums
Danny Barcelona - Drums (tracks 1-20)

 

Some years ago, I had the original LP of this album in my record collection but eventually decided to get rid of it, as I had always been puzzled by it. The music was composed by Dave Brubeck and his wife Iola in the hope that it would become a Broadway musical. It was recorded in 1961 and performed in public only once - at the 1962 Monterey Jazz Festival. It was intended to have a message against racial intolerance but Broadway producers turned it down, saying (in Brubeck's words) "You're lecturing, you're not entertaining".

It is true that the atmosphere in the USA was not wholly receptive to such a message in the early 1960s, but the music does not succeed entirely because the lyrics are rather naive and give out mixed messages. The basic idea for the musical was that musicians like Armstrong and Brubeck were sent on tours sponsored by the State Department, so that they were the "real ambassadors" bringing a message of understanding to other countries. Yet it was naive to get Armstrong to sing They Say I Look Like God against a background of religious plainchant, although Louis sings the words with conviction (even such words as "Could Thou perchance a zebra be").

This is just one of the places where the message is undermined by the artless lyrics. It doesn't sound right to hear the notably sociable and popular Louis singing "All of my life I've been lonely" (in Lonesome). Remember Who You Are makes Louis sound like Louis Prima singing in Walt Disney's Jungle Book. Other tracks just seem irrelevant to the "Ambassadors" theme. For instance, My One Bad Habit is a straightforward love song performed by Carmen McRae.

There also seems to be a mismatch between the performers. While Louis comes across as the instinctive musician/singer from New Orleans, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross have the aura of sophistication and they perform in different styles. So when L, H & R sing Blow Satchmo, their slick, gabbled vocalese seems inappropriate for Louis' trumpet style. At least the album illustrates Satchmo's ability to get to grips with unfamiliar material.

In the sleeve-note, Iola Brubeck reveals that this album only includes half the score of the planned show. It is hard to imagine what the remaining half comprised, as the present album is a heterogeneous mixture of subjects. The idea that jazz musicians are the real ambassadors is hardly substantial enough for a whole musical, and this is emphasised by the theme draining away in the later tracks of this album. I approve of the anti-racist intentions of the project, which is obviously well-meaning, but the naivety of the lyrics and the concept is insufficiently profound for such a serious subject. It is a pity, because the musicians are so talented that their contributions are better than the material deserves.

This reissue contains five bonus tacks recorded in 1961 at Basin Street East in New York by Carmen McRae singing with the Dave Brubeck Trio. The performance is somewhat obscured by the talkative audience but Carmen's beautiful voice overcomes the distractions. An uncredited Paul Desmond is present on the vocal version of Take Five, where he contributes a fine alto sax solo.

Tony Augarde
www.augardebooks.co.uk



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