Daniel Stein Explores Jazz as Cold War Diplomacy

by Phillip Witteveen on July 11, 2014


“I will examine Louis Armstrong and the All Stars’ concert tour through East Germany in March of 1965,” begins Daniel Stein, in a sentence that puts landing gear down on “largely unexplored territory,” intellectually speaking. That territory is the Honalee of convening spaces where Cold War era jazz, the Civil Rights Movement, and diplomacy intercede in Stein’s interdisciplinary scholarship.

Stein—whose scholarly attention to Louis Armstrong and Armstrong’s autobiographical writing has, by now, coalesced into a book (Music is My Life)—recently published an article in Americana, teasing out further implications from the lesser known fringes of his research interest. A marginal inclusion in either German-American or jazz history, Stein’s ledes through these two histories’ intercession show their tacit correlation: they are connected, despite appearances.

Stein’s article exfoliates from its first claim—“I will examine Louis Armstrong… in March of 1965”—as an examination of State Department sponsored performances, and its headliner (Louis Armstrong).

Stein makes extensive note of source materials on this tour, including everything from the then-current controversy of the “Bloody Sunday” (in Selma, Alabama), smoking where smoking is strictly prohibited, and Eisbein, the closest thing East Germany has to soul food. From all this, Stein finds that although Armstrong’s position was determinedly non-political, the prevailing sensibilities of that time instance themselves in his interviews and on-stage expression. The Armstrong recorded in performance and in conversation forms a kind of prism for the events and transitions in his particular moment in history. For Stein, 1965 is refracted in “Louis Armstrong and the All Stars” concert tour, in a way that is telling both of the energy of that time, and of its media of expression: the music and musicians, themselves. Maybe the most significant evidence in Stein’s analysis bears on Armstrong’s own enervated reception by a public that was not only international, but that also spanned the Iron Curtain. (Even at a time of mutually assured destruction, jazz was electrifying, and universalizing.)

Be sure to read Stein’s article here, and check out Music is My Life, an analysis of “Armstrong’s oeuvre as well as his complicated place in American history.”

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