In the 1950s, Ljubljana was a relative backwater. Overshadowed in Yugoslavia by Belgrade and Zagreb, both considerably larger cities, it rarely attracted international stars. But it was also a city with the greatest passion for jazz in the country. Young people in particular flocked to venues playing popular jazz tunes. The genre was both hip and, because it was American, vaguely subversive.
Therefore, the news that Louis Armstrong -- Satchmo himself – was to perform in Ljubljana caused a sensation in early 1959. It was one of several concerts by Armstrong in Communist countries under the auspices of the U.S, government, which wanted to promote American culture in Eastern Europe.
On the day of the concert, March 31, 1959, the most passionate fans started to gather at the Ljubljana Fairgrounds at four in the afternoon. Others showed up without tickets, hoping that they would somehow get in anyway. They even started a small riot, and police had to intervene. (They were eventually let in anyway, since the concert was not sold out due to the high ticket price, and the organizers wanted a packed venue.)
Only one element was missing at 8 p.m., when the concert was scheduled to begin: Louis Armstrong himself, along with his band, the All Stars. Thick fog in Ljubljana had forced the airport to close and diverted Armstrong’s late-afternoon flight to Zagreb, Croatia – about 150 kilometers (or 90 miles) away.
Despite the unexpected diversion, Armstrong was determined to perform in Ljubljana. According to media reports from that time, his entourage boarded three Chrevolets and sped towards Ljubljana at well over the speed limit.
Meanwhile, the crowd at the Ljubljana Fairgrounds was becoming restless. Eight p. m. came and went with Satchmo nowhere to be seen. As the hours passed, the crowd began chanting: “Lojze, Lojze, Lojze…,” (Lojze being the Slovenian form of Louis). Soon, March 31 turned into April Fools’ Day, with no word on Armstrong’s whereabouts, but the crowds persisted. Finally, at 1:30 in the morning, Armstrong and his band arrived at the fairgrounds.
According to eyewitnesses, the crowd jeered Armstrong at first, but went wild after hearing the first beats. When the concert was over, the three thousand-strong audience at the packed venue gave Armstrong a standing ovation. It was so late that many audience members then headed straight to work.
Armstrong gave another concert in Ljubljana six years later. However, it was his first concert, held in the small hours of the morning, that was remembered for years to come. By performing despite his late arrival, Armstrong gave Ljubljana a bit of cosmopolitan glamor and ensured that his visit is still talked about to this day.