“The Jazz Ambassadors” Premieres Friday, May 4


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

Discover how the Cold War and Civil Rights movement collided when America asked Dizzy Gillespie and American Masters Louis ArmstrongDuke Ellington and Benny Goodman to travel as cultural ambassadors and combat racially-charged Soviet propaganda through their music. Narrated by Leslie Odom, Jr., the new PBS documentary The Jazz Ambassadors features a new interview with American Master Quincy Jones, striking archival film footage, photos, radio clips, and iconic performances. The film is directed by Peabody Award winner Hugo Berkeley (Land RushA Normal Life) and produced by Mick Csáky (American Masters — Sister Rosetta Tharpe: The Godmother of Rock & Roll).

Here’s a preview:

Willis Conover’s popular Voice of America radio show gave American jazz a worldwide stage, and Louis Armstrong, its brightest star, was ready for the spotlight. A front-page story in The New York Times claimed America’s best Cold War weapon was “a blue note in a minor key,” and that Armstrong was its best ambassador.

In summer 1963, Duke Ellington headed to the Middle East and India on his first Jazz Ambassador tour. In a rare Swedish Television interview, he discusses the plight of African Americans, their contributions to society, and jazz music as “the American music.”

The Jazz Ambassadors premieres Friday, May 4 at 10 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) and streams beginning May 5 on pbs.org/jazzambassadors and PBS apps.