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Interview with Louis Armstrong: "They Cross the Iron Curtain to Hear American Jazz" (December 1955)

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A: That’s right. [ . . . ]

Q: Are there Hot Clubs behind the Iron Curtain?

A: There’s got to be. Those are disciples. Those are my disciples. Guns and nothin’ else couldn’t keep them boys from comin’ over to hear hot. They come from everywhere. Lots of them come from all over, but not all of them come up and speak. They don’t want no trouble. They might just sit there and say nothin’ so people don’t notice them. [ . . . ]

Q: What kind of jazz do they go for – just the same as in the States?

A: Yeah, good music. Long’s it’s good, doesn’t matter. [ . . . ]

Q: How did things go when you played in Berlin?

A: Oh, fine, fine. There was these Berlin cats that wanted me to go and blow my trumpet at that there Russian soldier guardin’ some Russian Red Army statue – you know, inside West Berlin – but I wouldn’t. I could see this might be somethin’ important to Russians and they might get the wrong idea. All I know is the horn, not politics and things like that. And I don’t think they had anything wrong in mind. But the Russians might have taken it wrong. [ . . . ]

Q: Would a man like Molotov, the Soviet Foreign Minister, who’s never heard any jazz, spark to it?

A: Maybe, if he likes any good music. [ . . . ]

Q: Does it pay financially to come to Europe?

A: Well, we make out, but we don’t think about money.

Q: Do you get any help from the Government, from the State Department or anybody?

A: No sir, not a penny. They’re talking about that.

Q: Do you think it’s a good idea for the State Department to contribute to something like that?

A: It’s the first thing I said when I read that Jesse Owens [American Negro track star] is going all over Europe. We oughta do the same thing. Someone asked me about the Russians, suggested that our band should do the same thing that Jesse Owens is doing. Just think, if they sent this combo around to a big stadium where thousands of people could hear it – I think it would do a lot of good. But who am I to suggest things like that? [ . . . ]

Q: Tell us about that riot in Hamburg – what really happened there?

A: Nothing happened there. People just wanted us to play on some more. We played an encore. I took a bow with my shirt off, but they still wouldn’t go. Nobody was hurt.

I was supposed to play two concerts that night, but they broke up the chairs – they got tired of applaudin’ with their hands and started applaudin’ with the chairs. And they still wouldn’t go – the police tried to get them out to clear the hall for the next concert. But they refused to go. Then the police turned the fire hose on them. The hall was a mess.

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