“The Greatest Photo Taker”: Remembering Jack Bradley Part 3–MSG and Newport 1960

In Part 1 of our series of tributes to the late Jack Bradley, who passed away on March 21 at the age of 87, we told the story of how Jack ended up in Louis Armstrong’s orbit, courtesy of his then-girlfriend Jeann “Roni” Failows, and shared the first photos he shot of Louis at venues such as Brooklyn College and Carnegie Hall in late 1959 and early 1960. In Part 2, we took you into Webster Hall as Jack spent two days in May 1960 photographing and taking notes on the recording sessions for the Audio Fidelity album Louie and the Dukes of Dixieland.

We can admit that those posts were created with love, but they were also done with great speed and with a focus on Bradley’s photographs. After taking a breath last week, we have hurled ourselves into the world of the ephemera, letters, scrapbooks, concert programs and other artifacts in the Bradley Collection to help tell his story. An essential source is the long-running series of columns Bradley and Failows teamed up to write in Coda magazine, all of which are filled with precious information on the New York jazz scene of the 1960s.

Coda was a Canadian-based jazz periodical founded by John Norris in 1958. Norris was an Armstrong fan and quickly hired Failows to write a column on what was happening in New York, but also what was happening with Louis (her first column was about a spur-of-the-moment invitation to join Armstrong and the All Stars on a 3 a.m. road trip from Corona, Queens to the Newport Jazz Festival in July 1958).

Failows began dating Bradley at some point in 1959 and added his name to the by-line of Coda’s New York column in the December 1959 issue. Right off the bat, it was filled with little nuggets on the travels of the All Stars, such as, “Louis Armstrong & the All-Stars played a dance and then out again, allowing Pops two days at home in Corona, Long Island previous to Bridgeport. Following Bridgeport a tour of New England. They will be in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for ten days (November 26th to December 5th).” The previous year, Armstrong sent out his famed “Swiss Krissly” Christmas cards, inspiring this note in Bradley and Failows’ column: “His Xmas cards  promise to be ‘specials.’ Those he sent last year and knocked out all recipients, except Dorothy Kilgallen (syndicated Hearst) who denounced them as being in the worst taste (they are undoubtedly ‘collectors’ items). “

When the February 1960 column was due, Bradley got the byline all to himself to contribute a short review of the December 26, 1959 Carnegie Hall concert covered in part one of our tribute:

LAHM 2005.3.209

Though we covered it in part one, here is a bonus Bradley photo from backstage at Carnegie Hall:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1971-05

On March 26, 1959, Armstrong and the All Stars performed at Brooklyn College and Bradley and Failows were there to cover it for their Coda column, but also for Failows’ long-running column in the Bulletin du Hot Club de France. In the latter, which was longer, Failows expressed surprise that Barney Bigard joined the band two months earlier, writing, “We can’t understand how this could have happened without any word of it leaking out to Louis fans.” She concluded, “At this concert, Louis sounded and played even better than at the one at Carnegie last December 26th (though this seems impossible, but always seems to be the case) but we must admit we feel this way each time we hear him. The strangest part of all is that it is true–he surpasses himself.” And again, a bonus photo of Louis taking the time to sign autographs for two fans backstage at Brooklyn College (Slim Thompson appears in the mirror):

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1975-06

After that concert, Bradley next encountered Armstrong at the Webster Hall session on May 24 and 25, 1960. If you recall, part of the first date was spent taking photos of Louis with Gene Krupa and Dizzy Gillespie so the New York Daily News could promote its “World Series of Jazz on June 3.” Bradley would be there but also started his habit of saving anything he could find related to the concert, such as previews in the Daily News:

LAHM 2008.2.3-042

Bradley even saved a letter with ticket information for the event:

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On June 3, 1960, Jack Bradley and Jeann Failows attended the second day of the Daily News’s “World Series of Jazz.” Unfortunately, in a venue filled with nearly 15,000 people, Bradley couldn’t get up close with his camera, but he still took a bunch of photos that convey the drama and enormity of the event, opening with a set by Gene Krupa’s Quartet with Dave McKenna on piano and future All Star Eddie Shu on reeds:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1554-14

Bradley’s distance actually created a striking image when the Garden turned out all lights except for one spotlight on “Drum Boogie:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1554-15

Krupa was followed by the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet, Bradley catching Diz in mid-vocal in this shot:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1553-11.

Woody Herman’s “New Swingin’ Herman Herd” (as identified on an LP recorded a few months earlier) followed:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1553-18

Then it was time for “The Hottest New Group in Jazz,” Lambert, Hendricks and Ross:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1554-01

And finally, it was time for the main event: Louis! Here’s a photo taken during “High Society Calypso,” judging by Trummy Young’s percussion:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1553-06

And here’s Velma Middleton at the microphone, less than a year before she died:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1553-08

Because of the distance, many of Jack’s shots of Louis ended up blurred, but this one of Louis and Trummy celebrating after a number came out a little sharper:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1553-05

What a night! Jack made sure to clip the Daily News recap, which captures some of the excitement created that evening:

LAHM 2008.2.3-042

And now for a bonus: Jack Bradley didn’t record Armstrong’s set at Newport but someone present did and donated a copy to our Archives several years ago. Thus, as a soundtrack for these photos, here’s the All Stars’ closer, a hot “Bill Bailey” featuring Louis, Trummy, an energized Barney Bigard on clarinet, pianist Billy Kyle, bassist Mort Herbert and drummer Danny Barcelona:

LAHM 2013.48.1

Jack and Jeann eventually did get backstage but Jack only had enough film left for one blurred shot:

Bradley and Failows didn’t cover the Madison Square Garden event in their Coda column, but the magazine had big plans to celebrate the trumpet’s 60th birthday by putting a drawing of him on the cover of the July 1960 issue. Failows helped get the image to editor John Norris, who responded with a letter on June 1 addressed to “Jeann Roni Failows, President – I Love Louis Club, Coda’s All Time New York Girl of the Year.” The reference to the “I Love Louis Club” seems to be a reference to something that Failows and Bradley must have suggested. In his letter, Norris wrote, “They would have started an I LIKE LOUIS club long ago but as everyone that is someone and who knows the TRUTH has always belong to it anyway, there was little point for even the Empire State Building couldn’t hold all the work if the I LIKE LOUIS (or rather I LOVE LOUIS) club was organised.” The club wasn’t organized yet but the wheels were turning–stay tuned in future installments to see what it eventually morphed into.

Sure enough, the image of Armstrong graced the cover of the July 1960 issue:

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On July 1, 1960, Armstrong celebrated his 60th birthday a few days early with a performance at the Newport Jazz Festival. Jack and Jeann were present, hanging with Louis in the band bus and backstage before his set.

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1976-12

Before showtime, Failows pretended she had a camera, while Bradley wielded his actual camera, and the two were able to push their way to the press area near front of the stage. Though the angle was slightly awkward, the proximity to the All Stars produced more striking images than those from Madison Square Garden. It apparently rained the entire time, but that didn’t stop Bradley, Failows and the 10,000 people in attendance from having a great time (and serenading Louis with “Happy Birthay” at the end). Here’s a sample of Bradley’s photos from Newport:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1976-07
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1976- 08
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1976-17
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1976- 18
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1976- 10

We’re fortunate to have a soundtrack to these photos as Armstrong’s set was beautifully recorded and released on the posthumous album Happy Birthday, Louis, currently streaming everywhere. Here it is on Spotify:

Jack and Jeann then needed to write up their feelings about 1960 for Coda and the Bulletin of du Hot Club de France. Here is the original copy of Jeann’s column for the Bulletin, complete with handwritten edits:

LAHM 2008.2.3-47

We close this post with a correction. In part one, I mentioned Jack and Jeann going to see Louis in Tuxedo, NY and Jack snapping the infamous photo of Louis naked from behind. A quick search online didn’t turn up any dates so I placed it in early 1960. But after digging through one of Jack’s scrapbooks for this post, I discovered that he actually saved the program for what was a three-night appearance, August 5-7, 1960:

LAHM 2008.2.3-55

Thus, we’ll close with a photo that’s an alternate take from one we shared the first time around, a great look at the heroes of this post, Jack Bradley, Jeann Failows and of course, Louis Armstrong:

LAHM 2006.1.2015-01

Shortly after the Tuxedo, NY gig, Armstrong went back on a tour of one-nighters before embarking on his epic six-month tour of Africa and portions of Europe. When he returned, he had almost a solid month to recoup before going back to work. On his very first gig back in Scarsdale, New York, Jack Bradley was there, as he was at Freedomland in September 1961 and at the sessions for The Real Ambassadors that same month. Those three settings–and more–will be the subject in Part 4 of our ongoing tribute to the late, great Jack Bradley.

Published by Ricky Riccardi

I am Director of Research Collections for the Louis Armstrong House Museum.

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