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

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Q: What about these American jazz players over here? How would they do back home? How would they rate?

A: Mighty few would get along back in the States, mighty few. They get careless about their instruments, sloppy. Half of them don’t practice, ‘cept on the cats. An’ cats might like that, but the audience don’t. I’d like to see a man come home that’s still serious about his instruments. Then some get sloppy about their dates and contracts and all that, and a man can’t get along that way back home. He can’t just slam away when he feels like it – we got a union and it’s strict in America. [ . . . ]

Q: Why do people buy jazz – 3 million of your records of one song and only 300,000 of an opera? What is it that jazz has?

A: Well, there’s just more jazz fans now than there are opera fans. Take the younger generation – they only had so much chance to listen to the real opera like their mothers and fathers. See what I mean? [ . . . ] Well, the kids enjoy that to a certain extent. But they’ll really jump into some croonin’ number – or Bing or Sinatra, or somethin’ like that. It’s lively. Short words. They understan’ it. [ . . . ]

Q: Louis, do you think that hot jazz will end the “cold war?”

A: Well, not knowin’ about politics – but I know that hot jazz can do a whole lot for a lot of fans that don’t care so much for that. If it’s left to people that’s peaceful with music, there wouldn’t be no wars. Wouldn’t be none. It comes from people that probably don’t care so much about jazz, but, I mean, music has done a lot for friendships, and everything.

Q: Do you think the atomic bomb has made people go to music more than they did before?

A: Well, I don’t dive into politics. Like in Geneva – that guy with the mike, you know. He would rush you with it. “Well, what do you think of the Big Four Conference?” I say, “Well, I jus’ hope that combo has a good time and straightens out that jive.”

Source: U.S. News & World Report, December 2, 1955, pp. 54-62.

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