Professor emeritus’ book sheds light on Brubeck-Armstrong allyship
The little-known story of a groundbreaking Civil Rights-era jazz musical written by Pacific alumni Dave ‘42 and Iola Brubeck ‘45 and featuring the legendary Louis Armstrong is spotlighted in a new book by Pacific Professor Emeritus Keith Hatschek.
The author will be at Pacific April 5 for a book talk and signing.
“The Real Ambassadors: Dave and Iola Brubeck and Louis Armstrong Challenge Segregation” tells the inspiring story of the Brubecks’ work 60 years ago with Armstrong. They brought the musical “The Real Ambassadors” to life as a powerful message about racial inequities in America.
During the Cold War, the United States government used African-American jazz musicians as ambassadors abroad, even as they faced discrimination at home.
“Their idea (with the musical) was to try and combine the spirit and funkiness of jazz with messages that would get people thinking more about social issues in America at a time when African-Americans faced tremendous discrimination, musicians among them,” said Hatschek, a former music industry professional and Conservatory of Music professor for 20 years until his retirement in 2021.
Hatschek learned of the story a decade ago while doing research on Dave Brubeck.
“The further I got into my research, the more fascinating it became,” said Hatschek. “It became a story of allyship because the Brubecks and Louis Armstrong on the surface are unlikely partners. What they had in common was being adamant that things had to change in America.”
Hatschek did most of his research at Pacific when the Brubeck Collection was housed at the university library. The collection included early drafts of lyrics, letters and photos.
“I was able to spend a lot of time in the collection, and Pacific's archival team was so helpful and supportive,” said Hatschek.
He also went directly to the source, spending time with Dave and Iola Brubeck on five occasions before their deaths in 2012 (Dave) and 2014 (Iola), including a day at their home in Connecticut in 2009.
“That was an unforgettable experience,” said Hatschek. “We spent time around the dinner table talking about their memories of that night in 1962 when they premiered this musical. I had to keep my wits about me to keep interviewing them, but I was getting goosebumps from some of their responses”
Original cast members, technical crew and three of the Brubecks’ children shed light on what was happening behind the scenes, which is detailed in the book.
As Hatschek learned, the five-year journey to the stage was met with resistance, and the jazz trio had to turn to allies in unlikely places.
“More and more people started to hop on the bandwagon. Critics who previously had been wishy-washy on Brubeck's music said, ‘Oh! This is great. You’ve got to check this out.’ And a concert promoter who co-founded the Monterey Jazz Festival (where the musical premiered) finessed the managers and booking agents to get all the talent together that was on the recording of the musical … Everyone rallied to the cause,” Hatschek said.
Hatschek says it’s a lesson that is still applicable for contemporary artists.
“For those of us working in the arts today, we have to look as broadly as we can for allies to try and continue this effort,” said Hatschek.
“The Real Ambassadors” can be purchased from University Press of Mississippi or Amazon. It’s also available in the William Knox Holt Memorial Library and Learning Center.