“The Greatest Photo Taker”: Remembering Jack Bradley Part 6–Fan Mail, Queens, Goodyear Film and Newport

The first five parts of our series on the late Jack Bradley–all of which can be read here–have mostly dealt with single events Jack attended with his camera in hand: recording sessions for Louie and the Dukes of Dixieland and The Real Ambassadors, All Stars performances in Scarsdale, NY and at Freedomland, etc. But today’s post will be slightly different because the period between September 1961 and January 1963 represents the quietest period of Jack and Louis Armstrong’s friendship, at least in terms of tangible evidence.

The reason for this is because of Armstrong’s seemingly non-stop traveling schedule, plus the fact that he didn’t step foot in a recording studio between September 1961 and December 1963. Armstrong’s schedule kept him mostly out of New York except for a week in April 1962 when Armstrong and the All Stars filmed a handful of performances for Goodyear and when Jack finally got to bring his camera to a hang at Louis’s Queens home with Charles Graham.

We’ll have photographic evidence of all of the above but first, a quick recap of Armstrong’s career from where we last left off, with the recording of The Real Ambassadors in September 1961. Armstrong headed to California soon after those sessions, filming his piece in Disneyland After Dark with Kid Ory and Johnny St. Cyr on September 30, before traveling to Berlin in October, where he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. After returning to North America and touring Canada in the fall of 1961, the All Stars ended the year at Basin Street East in New York City. Bradley saved a news clipping and a postcard advertisement, but apparently didn’t attend any of the performances as we have no photos from the engagement. Here’s the ad:

LAHM2008_02_03_145

Bradley and girlfriend Jeann Failows also didn’t contribute their regular “New York” column in Coda magazine between November 1961 and May 1962 so it’s possible they were traveling or occupied with non-jazz-related activities in this period.

Wherever Jack and Jeann were, they did have an important job: helping Louis with his fan mail, something Failows had been doing for over a decade. When Louis was on tour, Jeann would pick up mail sent to him at home and arrange into categories: autograph requests, personal, advertisements, etc. When Louis returned home, Jeann would go through everything with him. Previous boyfriend Paul Studer took photos of the process in the late 1950s:

Photo by Paul Studer. LAHM 2006.1.1697f-03

When Louis was satisfied, he often let Jeann keep any correspondence he no longer needed. The practice continued when Jack came on the scene and his collection contains some absolute gems, especially from fans who had no idea where Armstrong lived but took a chance and sent their letters into the great unknown. Like writing to Santa Claus, the post office always managed to find Armstrong and the letters delivered! Here’s a few choice examples Jack and Jeann saved from when Armstrong was out-of-town in late 1961:

Fan letter from Torrad Fagerheim of Norway, requesting a trumpet, some records and an autographed photo, December 18, 1961. LAHM 2008.1.188
Envelope addressed to Louis Armstrong from Finland Inscription is only: “Mr. Louis Armstrong,” U.S.A. LAHM 2008.1.156
Handwritten letter from Jaroslav Kalfus of Czechoslovakia, May 19, 1961, a 15-year-old locksmith wishing to correspond with Louis. The envelope reads: “United States of American USA, New Orleans, King of Jazz, Daniel Louis Armstrong.” LAHM 2008.1.137
Typed questionnaire for “Vecernji List,” a periodical from Yugoslavia, sent by Editor-in-chief Mirke Bilic. LAHM 2008.1.81

Jack and Jeann also saved a few letters from some important folks in Louis’s life, such as a telegram from Louis’s second wife, Lil Hardin Armstrong. According to Lil herself, she hadn’t been on speaking terms with Louis since 1955, but apparently Louis still helped her out, which she clearly appreciated:

LAHM2008_02_03_127

Armstrong opened 1962 on the west coast, splitting his time between San Francisco, Palm Springs and the Riviera in Las Vegas before returning to New York at the end of March for a week. Armstrong brought back a stack of mail from the west coast and “donated” some of it to Bradley’s burgeoning collection. We already shared an appreciative telegram from Lil Hardin Armstrong; here’s one sent to Louis in San Francisco from the then-Mrs. Armstrong, Lucille, also thanking him for sending money and telling him when she was due to arrive:

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And here’s some of the telegrams Louis received at the Riviera in Vegas from Lionel Hampton, Dick Gregory and Joe Glaser:

LAHM 2008.1.128
LAHM 2008.1.124
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It was during Armstrong’s week off in New York that Bradley got to spend some time with him, shooting an entire roll of film between visits at Armstrong’s home and at the filming of the Goodyear performances. Also present during Queens hang was Armstrong’s friend Charles Graham, whom many jazz fans might know as author of The Great Jazz Day. Graham had profiled Armstrong’s reel-to-reel tape recording habit in an article, “He Tapes It All,” for the March 1958 issue of Hi-Fi Music at Home, and was now back in Corona to check our Armstrong’s state-of-the-art headphones. Here’s some of the photos Bradley shot that day, opening with Armstrong and Graham together:

Photo by Jack Bradley. 2006_1_1693b-14
Photo by Jack Bradley. 2006_1_1693b-19
Photo by Jack Bradley. 2006_1_1693b-21
Photo by Jack Bradley. 2006_1_1693b-22

And finally, a beautiful shot (assuming taken by Graham) of Armstrong and Bradley together:

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Armstrong filmed his songs for Goodyear on April 2 with Bradley in attendance. It’s difficult to read a photographer’s mind just by looking at their photos, but Bradley seems to have been a bit nervous (Joe Glaser was present and Bradley was admittedly scared of him) as he tended to stay on the sidelines and his usually efficient one-snap style resulted in a high number of completely blurry photos that aren’t worth sharing here as they wouldn’t do Jack or anyone else present justice.

However, some of them did come out nicely are worth including here. If you’d like to see a finished video from the session, here’s a swinging “Someday You’ll Be Sorry” with Louis, Trummy Young on trombone, Joe Darensbourg on clarinet, Billy Kyle on piano, Billy Cronk on bass and Danny Barcelona on drums:

And now some of Bradley’s better photos from the filming, including a few in color:

Photo by Jack Bradley. 2006_1_1693b-30
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1693b-31
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1693b-32
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1823
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1826
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1828

Those are the best shots Bradley took on set, but he also was present in Louis’s dressing room to get this striking shot:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1693b-29

Armstrong also received a special present while on a set: a brand-new, custom-made trumpet by LeBlanc. Here Armstrong is posing with the trumpet and I’m assuming, a representative from LeBlanc (if anyone can identify him, please let us know!):

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1693b-24

Naturally, Armstrong had to immediately try it and Bradley was there to capture it:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1693b-25

Bradley’s collection also contains a letter from LeBlanc President Vito Pascucci to Louis about how the trumpet was “specially made for you”:

LAHM 2008.1.167

For those who want a better glimpse of the trumpet, it’s still part of our Archives today–here’s the engraving:

Just days after the Goodyear filming, Armstrong was overseas for another European tour, eventually heading to South America and back to the United States, with long engagements in Chicago and California. Bradley and Failows caught up with him in Newport and included a review in their August 1962 Coda column: “Our hero, the great Louis Armstrong, was next. He and the All-Stars were joined by Yank Lawson on some beautiful recreations of CANAL STREET BLUES and DIPPERMOUTH BLUES with Lawson playing Joe Oliver’s lead trumpet parts. Yank’s trumpet work was inspiring. Pops, as always, was beyond adjectives. The All Stars were next joined by J. C. Higginbotham who was featured on ‘Dear Old Southland’ which started out slow and then the tempo was doubled. Trummy & Higgie provided some excellent riff accompaniment for Louis vocalist Jewel Brown.”

Bradley shot a few photos from the audience of the All Stars joined by trombonist J. C. Higginbotham for the finally. The negatives were recently discovered after Bradley passed away by his close friend Mike Persico, who donated them to our Archives. Here’s a few, recently scanned for the first time:

Photo by Jack Bradley
Photo by Jack Bradley
Photo by Jack Bradley

Bradley and Failows’s October 1962 Coda column mentioned Armstrong returning to Europe at the end of August, adding, “We saw the Great One a few days before he left. He looked great and sounded wonderful.” Alas, there are no photos from that hang, nor are there any other documents for the rest of 1962–except for more fan mail.

Thus, we’ll close today’s tribute to Jack with some of the best fan letters he saved from the year 1962, again all from fans who didn’t know Louis’s address but magically still found him:

Envelope (with letter inside) from Margo Bayer of Germany. The envelope is addressed to “Mr. Louis Armstrong, King of the Jazz, U. S. A.” and was delivered to him. LAHM 2008.1.72
Envelope postmarked January 12, 1962 reading “For The King of Jazz Louis Armstrong U. S. A.” LAHM 2008.1.113
Autograph request from Milan Malina of Czechoslovakia. Envelope addressed to ”Mr. Louis Armstrong, jazz musician, United States of Amerika.” LAHM 2008.1.147
Letter from Alexander K. Muller, of Dresden, East Germany, who wanted to let Louis know that his portrait was featured on a wafer. “As an admirer of yours, I send to you a refresh-wafer with your likeness. I think you’ll have a lot of portraits of yourself, but you won’t have one at an East German wafer!” Envelope is addressed to “Mr. Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong, King of Trumpet, U. S. A.”  LAHM 2008.1.156b
Envelope from Richard Thun-Hohenstein of Austria addressed to: “An Mister Lois Armstrong Trompetenvirtuoso in U.S.A.” LAHM 2008.1.191

Almost all of the above came from overseas but perhaps our favorite came from Brookline, Massachusetts, addressed to “Ole Satchmo Himself, Wherever he is”! It looks like the post office had some trouble settling where it should go but it eventually made it to Joe Glaser….and to Louis…..and to Jack Bradley…..and finally to our Archives:

Envelope addressed to ”’Ole Satchmo’ Himself Where ever he is.” Includes letter from Krin Whitney and an accompanying book, “What About Ski Boots?” inscribed by Whitney and Neil W. Robinson. LAHM 2008.1.163

That concludes our look at Jack Bradley’s relationship–and collection–between September 1961 and December 1962 but we’ll be back with an action-packed look at 1963, a year that found Bradley shooting dozens of photos of Louis on and offstage, as well as the formation of the “Louis Armstrong Is God Society”!

Published by Ricky Riccardi

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

2 thoughts on ““The Greatest Photo Taker”: Remembering Jack Bradley Part 6–Fan Mail, Queens, Goodyear Film and Newport

  1. Just beautiful – the narrative, the life-like photos, and of course the musical video! I’ve loved Louis Armstrong since the afternoon I saw and heard him and the All-Stars at a JATP concert when I was but 14. Any day is destined to be a better one when it starts with Louis and his great band. If it were up to me to pick the someone who woukld live forever, it would be this wonderful man and his music, such joy he still brings to this world!

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