“The Greatest Photo Taker”: Remembering Jack Bradley Part 4–Ellington Session, Scarsdale, and More!

We concluded Part 3 of our tribute to the late Jack Bradley by mentioning that Jack didn’t see Louis for several months because of the trumpeter’s overseas tour to Africa and Europe that lasted from the beginning of October 1960 to the end of February 1961. It was on this tour that vocalist Velma Middleton suffered a stroke in January and eventually passed away in February. Jack and then-girlfriend Jeann “Roni” Failows learned the news via a postcard from Louis’s longtime valet Hazes “Doc” Pugh, a postcard sent during the band’s visit to Egypt in late January. Here’s the front of the postcard, along with a clipping Jack saved from the New York Daily News:

LAHM 2008.2.3-87

And here’s Pugh’s message on the back:

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Upon returning home, Armstrong got a rare full month off to recuperate. He made a few tapes during that time off (the last ones he would make for quite some time after a decade straight of making hundreds of them), but seems to have mostly rested. Towards the end of month, Doc Pugh celebrated his birthday and invited Bradley and Failows to his party on March 31:

LAHM 2008.2.3-95

It’s not known if Armstrong attended the party, but just a few days later, the trumpeter reemerged from his hibernation to go right into the studio on April 3 and 4 to record his two seminal albums with Duke Ellington. It’s seems unlikely that Bradley attended the sessions as no photos survive in his collection and even in his Coda column with Failows, they reported the facts that it took 13 hours to record 17 songs, but didn’t offer any opinions or stories. Having said that, Bradley did end up with quite a souvenir from the dates. Because of the slapdash nature of sessions, no sheet music was provided for Ellington’s songs and Armstrong had to jot down the lyrics to many of the songs he sang by hand. Either someone copped them from the sessions and gave them to Jack or Louis brought them back home and gifted them to Jack during one of his visits, but either way, we’re thankful they survived!

It’s clear that Louis started the process at home as Jack has a copy of one page that begins with Louis’s unique italicized ribbon but it quickly ran out of ink. Louis then grabbed a pen–which also seems to have run out of ink while writing the lyrics to “Duke’s Place”:

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Louis started all over again with a fresh pen and a fresh piece of paper, squeezing in “Duke’s Place” and “I’m Just a Lucky So and So” on one side:

“I’m Just a Lucky So and So” continues on the backside, along with “Mood Indigo,” “Cotton Tail” and “Do Nothin’ Til You Hear From Me.” If you ever wondered why Louis only sang a couple of lines of “Mood Indigo” and scatted the rest, the answer appears to be those were the only lines he wrote down!

LAHM 2008.3.469

Finally, one more, Louis’s special lyrics to “Drop Me Off in Harlem,” which session attendee Dan Morgenstern remembered Louis bringing to the date to surprise Ellington:

LAHM 2008.3.469

And here’s the way Louis sang on it the record:

As mentioned, Dan Morgenstern was at the April 4 date (and has written beautifully of the experience, especially watching Louis record “Azalea”) and must have gotten the tip-off that the next day, the Armstrong All Stars would be making their first public appearance in a month with an engagement at the Fort Hill restaurant in Scarsdale, New York. Morgenstern, Bradley, Failows and Nancy Miller Elliot were invited to ride the bus with the All Stars to attend the gig on April 5. A shot of the banner that hung over the stage:

Photo by Jack Bradley 2006.1.1978-08

Jack even got a shot of the audience:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1977-01

Jack might have been close to the stage but didn’t have the best angle to shoot the band (pianist Nicholas “Rod” Rodriguez was subbing for Billy Kyle but alas, Bradley didn’t get any shots of him; Rodriguez was recommended by Luis Russell, who was first offered the spot to rejoin his own boss, but his traveling days were over). He did get a couple of nice ones of Louis at the microphone, serious and smiling:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1977-11
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1977-14

In between the sets, Bradley’s crew was invited backstage. Of course, he couldn’t resist another shot of Louis’s Selmer trumpet in its case:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1977-08

For anyone curious, the photo in Louis’s trumpet case was taken by Milan Schijatschky at the Chez Paree in Chicago in 1955. It was arguably his favorite photo; he had Schijatschky make up dozens (possibly hundreds) of wallet-sized versions, which he sent to fans and used for collages. Here’s one of many in our Archives:

Photo by Milan Schijatschky. LAHM 1987.14.3453a

Bradley caught Armstrong in a quiet moment, reading something, his ever-present “spectacles” (as he sometimes called them) on:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1977-17

Armstrong took a second to autograph a dollar bill, possibly for the restaurant owners:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1978-13

Armstrong and Failows, with villainous road manager Pierre “Frenchy” Tallerie lurking in the background:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1978.14

Bradly caught Lucille Armstrong relaxing backstage:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1978-11

And finally, Louis with Dan Morgenstern and Nancy Miller Elliot, the latter becoming well-known for her own marvelous jazz photographs and for being the companion of Buck Clayton for many years (she collaborated with him on his book, Buck Clayton’s Jazz World):

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1978-06

Morgenstern was covering the Fort Hill performance for Metronome and the above photo appeared in the finished article with the caption, “The author and two of his favorite people.” Dan wrote beautifully about the evening in Fort Hill and like everything he has ever written about Armstrong (or anything!), it’s worth reading in full. Here’s the first page:

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And the conclusion:

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Back to the gig: for the second show, Bradley got a different table with a better vantage point for taking photos:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1978-01.

In the above article, Dan wrote about Louis doing “I Can’t Get Started” for possibly the only time (he usually turned down respects in respect to Bunny Berigan). This even made Bradley and Failows’s May 1961 Coda column. “Louis & the All-Stars up here at Fort Hill restaurant, Scarsdale, New York on April 5th,” they wrote. “Pops was his usual beautiful self and we were especially delighted to hear him play ‘I Can’t Get Started,’ in which he offered some special Armstrong lyrics.”

Unfortunately a recording device was not present but it’s possible that Bradley captured the moment in one of his photos. This is purely speculation but look in the background of this photo to see Lucille Armstrong standing in the wings with a smile on her face; she always seemed to smile when watching her husband but perhaps it was hearing “I Can’t Get Started” that made her get up to get a better look?

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1978-03

One more from the sequence, Lucille blurred this time, but still present for the magic:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1978-04

After Scarsdale, the All Stars continued a tour of one-nighters that got them as far as Texas before they started heading back to New York for an engagement at Basin Street East that started on May 22. Armstrong would be sharing the bill with two other headliners, Julie Wilson and LaVern Baker. Bradley and Failows attended one performance but Bradley did not bring his camera, perhaps not feeling it would be appropriate for the the more upscale venue (the club had Popsie Randolph already taking photos). Bradley did save some news clippings and wrote about it in Coda, admitting that he and Failows were “unprepared for the shock” of hearing Baker perform Velma Middleton’s old numbers with Armstrong. Here is a page Bradley made in one of his scrapbooks with news clippings and the Coda review:

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We’re closing today’s post with a bit of a mystery. A handful of photos turned up in Bradley’s negatives without any identification. In the photos, Barney Bigard is still on clarinet but Irv Manning is now on bass. Mort Herbert left in 1961 to finish his law studies and Bigard was replaced by Joe Darensbourg on July 17 so the photos were taken sometime in between mid-June and mid-July. Armstrong’s June 30 performance in Newport was my first thought but it appears Bradley and Failows didn’t attend. This would be unusual as they almost never missed Newport, but they didn’t write about it in their Coda column and Bradley’s collection doesn’t have any photos of the festival that year (he does have one photo of Armstrong but it’s stamped on the back from a New England newspaper so he didn’t take it).

In fact, Bradley and Failow’s column runs cold in the summer of 1961 and by the time they resumed in the fall, they were writing about Armstrong’s engagement at Freedomland in late August and the sessions for The Real Ambassadors in September (subjects of our next installment). Looking at the itinerary, there was an appearance in Lambertville, NJ on July 31, but Bigard was gone by then.

Finally, this advertisement was discovered in one of Jack’s scrapbooks:

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June 28, “under the stars”–it all matched up! If anyone out there vehemently disagrees, please write in, but for now, we’re assuming these wonderful photos were taken by Jack at Randall’s Island:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1979-01
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1979-02
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1979-03
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1979-04

We have shared a lot of photos but not enough audio in this post so we’ll close with a unissued recording of the All Stars at Newport two days later. It appears that Jack wasn’t there but this is the band featured in the above photos (and 5/6 of the band appearing in the Scarsdale), doing a song Dan Morgenstern mentioned them doing at the Fort Hill Restaurant: “That’s My Home.” Armstrong’s studio recordings of that number in 1932 and 1956 are other worldly but in the opinion of this writer, this is the finest live version (and depending on my mood, might sometimes be my favorite of all versions):

It doesn’t get much better than that, folks (and a perfect theme song for this Virtual Exhibit site). Louis and the All Stars left Newport for New Bedford and continued touring for the summer before returning to New York for a week at the lavish new amusement park Freedomland in the Bronx in late August. Bradley made himself a fixture at the venue and shot dozens of photos onstage and off over the course of the engagement–we’ll share the best of those and other surprises in our next installment of our tribute to Jack Bradley!

Published by Ricky Riccardi

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

One thought on ““The Greatest Photo Taker”: Remembering Jack Bradley Part 4–Ellington Session, Scarsdale, and More!

  1. Great job with this series Ricky. I only knew Jack Bradley as an anonymous name credit. Thanks for paying tribute to him and telling his stories!

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