After Jack Bradley passed away at the age of 87 on March 21, 2021, we knew we had to commemorate his life and friendship with Louis Armstrong on our “That’s My Home” site. Almost immediately, we realized this would be a multi-part series. If you’d like to catch-up, here is the link to Part 1, detailing Bradley’s first encounters with Armstrong.
That post ended with Bradley’s first visit to Armstrong’s home and a series of photos he took of the trumpeter in action in the early months of 1960. On May 24 and 25, 1960, Bradley was invited to Webster Hall in New York City, where Louis was recording an album with the Dukes of Dixieland for Audio Fidelity Records. This would be the first time Bradley was invited to the studio for an Armstrong Session. It would be far from the last.
In part 1, we mentioned that at the live performances Bradley attended in those first few months after encountering Armstrong (and dating Jeann “Roni” Failows), Bradley didn’t exactly have the best seat in the house, resulting in some distant, sometimes blurry images. That all changed in Webster Hall, where Bradley was able to get up close to Armstrong, resulting in some spectacular images.
When Jack began snapping away at the May 24 date, Armstrong was seated at a table surrounded by the Dukes (including trumpeter Frank Assunto; Louis was very close with the Assunto family), their manager Joe Delaney, Sid Frey of Audio Fidelity Records and Nat Hentoff, who wrote the notes for the original album. They were ostensibly discussing what to record. The previous year, Frey recorded Louis and the Dukes in Chicago but couldn’t release the results because most of the tunes they recorded had already been done by Louis for Decca and that label prohibited any other labels from releasing the same selections for five years (the results eventually came out in 1970 as The Definitive Album). Thus, they needed fresh material (and according to Marty Grosz, who was also at the date as an observer, Frey was pushing them towards public domain numbers so he wouldn’t have to pay much in the way of publishing rights).
With a gameplan in mind, Armstrong began warming up:
Suddenly, Armstrong spotted two guests who just dropped by: Dizzy Gillespie and Gene Krupa! Bradley caught their initial response to each other, all smiles:
Bradley eventually wrangled the three legends together for a priceless photo:
Gillespie and Krupa were there because they would be co-headlining “The World Series of Jazz” at Madison Square Garden on June 3 and the event’s sponsor, the New York Daily News, wanted to take some promotional photos. Trumpeter Max Kaminsky was present, too, but was left out of the Daily News photos. Bradley felt bad and said, “Let’s take one with Maxie,” getting this wonderful shot in the process:
Armstrong had to get back to the session as now this murderer’s row of talent lined up to watch Pops in action:
Armstrong and Frank Assunto then went back to getting ready to record the next number. Here they are facing off with Sid Frey in the middle:
The two New Orleans-born trumpet greats clearly enjoyed each other’s company:
Here’s a closeup Bradley shot of Armstrong as he was seated:
During this break in the action, Bradley was able to take a photo Louis with Jeann Failows and Lucille Armstrong, the latter name-dropped during Armstrong’s impromptu vocal on “Avalon” during this date. It’s a little blurry but still worth sharing for the warmth contained within:
Eventually, recording resumed and Bradley climbed up to the second floor, giving us a good look at the setup for the four horns (Sid Frey was a pioneer of stereo recording and his his own method in how the musicians and microphones should be placed; listening to the final album, one can’t argue with the results):
Jack probably felt that being there might be a once-in-a-lifetime event (thankfully, such thinking would have been wrong), so in addition to taking photos, he also took notes on the happenings and wrote up a description at what he witnessed that day. Here they are, published for the first time, along with YouTube links to the songs discussed:
Here are the three songs mentioned above, “Wolverine Blues,” “Limehouse Blues” and Dixie.” (Note above, Max Kaminsky exclaiming, “Didja hear Pops on ‘Limehouse’?” Bradley drolly writes, “I assured him I had.”)
(Apologies for the poorer sound quality of this video of “Wolverine Blues” but all the “official” releases on the streaming platforms omit the first half of Armstrong’s trumpet solo. This one has it complete.)
Back to Jack:
Jack even addeda “Potpourri” page about some of the things discussed at the session, plus an impromptu jam on “Chinatown” with Gene Krupa that somehow wasn’t recorded!
The first session was over. Louis put his jacket on, packed his trumpet and grabbed a seat (outdoors?). Jack saw an opportunity and took one more shot of a satisfied Armstrong to punctuate a memorable evening:
One day later, Jack was back at Webster Hall for the second and final day of recording for Louie and the Dukes of Dixieland. This time, he brought along color film for the first time, capturing these beautiful images.
Jack also brought black-and-white film again, but the results on May 25 are sharper than those from the previous day. According to photographer and friend of Jack’s Alan Nahigian, it appears that professional lighting was set up to accommodate another photographer present who was probably hired by Audio Fidelity or maybe the Daily News to also shoot the session. According to Alan, “The more light lets a photographer get more of the scene in focus or shoot at a faster shutter speed.” The results speak for themselves. This photo of Louis listening to a playback while smoking a cigarette became one of Jack’s personal favorites:
And here are some more action shots of the music being made that day (and indeed, note the presence of the other photographer in some of the shots):
Jack didn’t get into stories and anecdotes from the second session but he did bring some index cards and jotted down some notes on each song performed (and even a list of songs that were discussed and not recorded):
Here are the three songs referenced above:
And here are the final index cards from the May 25 session, front and back, with some little trivia like the price of Rich Matteson’s helicon, the fact that Louis hadn’t done “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” since sitting in with the Dukes in 1953, a note that Louis had to read the lyrics to that hymn and Hoagy Carmichael’s “New Orleans” and a list of songs both performed and not performed at the date. There’s also a couple of Bradley editorializations such as “Tuba drags the ensemble” on “Washington and Lee Swing” and “One of the most moving of the 2 dates” about “Closer Walk,” which is impossible to argue upon hearing it.
And here are the final four selections:
We went out of order on the last two selections, choosing to end with the more fitting “Just a Closer Walk With Thee,” one of the most emotional performances in the entire Armstrong canon.
As laginappe, this isn’t directly related to Jack Bradley, but we’d like to share this very special video from the Dukes’s helicon player, Rich Matteson, giving his memories of the above sessions and focusing on “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” and the impact it had on all present:
One thought on ““The Greatest Photo Taker”: Remembering Jack Bradley Part 2–Webster Hall 1960”
Feel like I was at the session. Thanks for organizing this in such a loving fashion.