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

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The same thing happened in Roubaix, France. And in Lyons, too. They started throwin’ things at the local band when they came back to take over. So the next night the owner put the brass band up in the balcony so they couldn’t get hit. But people didn’t do anything to us. We played for three hours in Lyons and the people clapped from 1 to 1:30 in the morning.

But people don’t want to do anything to us – I never gave it a thought. The only time they frightened me was the night we played Düsseldorf. Backstage, after the last concert, everybody had gone but the singer and myself and this old man backstage. So he was going to put the light out when we leave, and we said goodnight, and the minute he shut the door 30 German cats came up shoutin’ “Autogramm, Autogramm!” I didn’t know where they all came from – scared me to death. [ . . . ]

Q: Are your audiences here more serious than they are in the U.S.?

A: Yes, they are. I heard about two girls who came backstage for my autograph just tonight. One was an American girl in school here and the other was a German girl who heard me play in Mannheim. Somebody asked them about the audience out front – was it like an audience in the States? This American girl said, “No, they’re different. These people take jazz very seriously.” That’s true, they don’t bounce around like the bobby soxers. They listen to jazz the way they listen to classical music. They make a study of it.

In Turin, Italy, there was some little stinker in the audience, away up in the balcony – not knowin’ these Italian fans came there to hear. We were playin’ “Sleepy Time,” and he made a little airplane out of a piece of paper, and scooted it out, and he must have been awfully good because it circled around and landed right on the stage. And about 15 Italians grabbed him. I didn’t know who he was, but they grabbed him and said, “One more time and we’ll kill you.”

Q: Is that because you’re a famous artist?

A: No, it’s because I’m playin’ something they want to hear.

Q: Is it better for the artist in Europe, where they listen instead of participating, clapping, and so on?

A: What good is playin’ if they’re making a lot of noise? Take a big band that’s full of jive, they want that. Like years ago, they didn’t care what kind of band was playin’, people were making a lot of noise anyhow. But nowadays the minute they come to a dance they go right up to the bandstand and stand there. You give a concert anyway. That’s the way they do now. They get chairs, sit down, and listen. Years ago it didn’t matter.

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