The Jazz Ambassadors

May 2, 2018

During the Cold War some of the most important musicians in jazz were sent overseas by the U.S. State Department as cultural ambassadors. Beginning in 1956, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman traveled the globe promoting America as a country of freedom and tolerance while back home the nation was struggling with racism and unrest at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.

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

London-based, Peabody Award-winning director Hugo Berkeley tells the story in a new documentary, The Jazz Ambassadors. It airs Friday evening on SDPB-TV at 9, CT; 8, MT.

Berkeley says his interest in the subject began a decade ago while he was working on a documentary in the West African country of Ghana and saw footage of Louis Armstrong playing in front of a massive crowd in Accra. He was so taken by what he saw that he wanted to know more.