“The Greatest Photo Taker”: Remembering Jack Bradley Part 8–New Jersey Gigs , Madison Square Garden and the “Louis Armstrong Is God Society”

Our series on Louis Armstrong’s friendship with Jack Bradley continues today; be sure to catch-up on the rest of the series here. We’re picking up the story in 1963, a year that began with a nice achievement for Jack: one of his photos from the 1960 Louie and the Dukes of Dixieland session was on the cover of the January 1963 issue of Coda:

LAHM 2005.3.239

Inside, Bradley and Jeann Failows sent “The warmest of good wishes for a happy and healthy New Year to all of you – with  special good wishes to Mr. & Mrs. King Louis Armstrong.”

Two months later, Bradley and Failows were present for an All Stars one nighter at the Central Theater in Passaic on March 1. Trummy Young was still on trombone, Billy Kyle was still on piano, Danny Barcelona was still on drums and Joe Darensbourg was still on clarinet but an old, familiar face was back on bass: Arvell Shaw. Passaic was hit by a brutal snowstorm, leading to a diminished crowd and a headline in the March 2 Herald-News, “1,000 Brave Weather to Hear Satchmo Perform in Passaic.” Bradley had decent seats but couldn’t get a good photo, only taking two during the first half of the concert; here’s one:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1557-02

Bradley made his way backstage during intermission with a gift: a copy of the November-December issue of Jazz magazine, featuring one of Bradley’s photos from The Real Ambassadors on the cover:

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Jazz was edited by Dan Morgenstern, who contributed a long review of The Real Ambassadors inside. For completeness–and because we love Dan, who turns 92 on October 24!–here’s his review:

LAHM 2005.3.51~001
LAHM 2005.3.51~003

Back to Passaic, Jack first took this over-the-shoulder shot of Louis receiving his copy of Jazz magazine:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1557-03

Jack then spun around and caught this beautiful shot of a beaming Pops checking out the issue:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1557-04

Bradley brought along other issues of Jazz; Billy Kyle checked one out featuring John Coltrane on the cover:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1557-08

Back to the concert, Bradley got to a better a seat but still couldn’t get a decent shot of Armstrong; here’s one photo of the full band with vocalist Jewel Brown onstage, most likely during the finale:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1557-17

Bradley did get a nice shot of Louis taking his final bows, coming back out through the curtain for one more thank you to those who braved the storm to be there:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1557-18

Bradley didn’t include any photos, but he did mention the Passaic gig in his recap of Armstrong activities in his March 1963 Coda column: “In the March issue of Coda, Bradley and Failows wrote, “After a lengthy road tour KING LOUIS ARMSTRONG returned to home base, N.Y.C. , for a few days. On March 6  Louis  & the All Stars departed for Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Korea and Japan. It is good to see the powerful bassist, Arvell  Shaw back with the All Stars. Before leaving, they played a one-nighter in Passaic, N.J. on March 1.”

Back home in May, Armstrong performed for President John F. Kennedy at the Waldorf-Astoria on May 22. Bradley and Failows were invited to a rehearsal and for some reason, Bradley didn’t have his camera. Still, they contributed a vivid description in their June 1963 Coda column:

“Satch entertained J.F.K. at the Waldorf Astoria on May 22nd. It was at a $1000.00 (that’s right) a plate dinner where the President was guest of honor. We were fortunate to catch an afternoon rehearsal on this date which had Pops leading a chorus line consisting of the following, all dancing: Ed Sullivan,  Eddie Fisher, Mel Ferrar, Donald O’Connor, Henry Fonda, Van Johnson, David Suskind. After the Mitch Miller singers and the above Stars sing a chorus of ‘Side By Side,’ Louis, Trummy & Joe Darensbourg led the parade with ‘Saints.’ Also on this wild scene were Jimmy Durante, Leslie Uggams &  Audrey Hepburn (who is Mrs. Mel Ferrar). Sorry not to have gotten a photo of Durante embracing Pops.”

Bradley didn’t take this photo but he must have contacted another photographer present and shot a photo of a print, allowing him to at least collect a small memento of a memorable occasion:

LAHM 2006_1_1724a-02

Less than a month later, Armstrong and the All Stars were on a bill at Madison Square Garden that included Herbie Mann and Anita O’Day. Bradley was once again present for the rehearsal and this time had his camera to document it:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1980-35

Bradley also got some excellent shots of the All Stars rehearsing; here’s a selection:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1980-21
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1980-30
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1980-23
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1980-22
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1980-14
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1980-13
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1980-05

Here’s a photo of Lucille Armstrong catching up with Anita O’Day:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1980-27

Anyone know who this kid could be?

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1980-03
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1980-01

As a reminder of the two folks most responsible for these treasures, this roll of film also included outdoor images Jack Bradley and Jeann Failows took of each other:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1980-34
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1980-33

And just for completeness and a reminder that Bradley’s life was more than Louis Armstrong, the same roll of film also included photos Bradley took at Sonny Stitt’s June 10, 1963 session for the Impulse! album Now! Here’s a few images from the session, starting with Stitt:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1980-32

Hank Jones:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1980-18

Al Lucas:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1980-19

Osie Johnson:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1980-06

A week in the life of Jack Bradley!

The All Stars then went off to Providence, Rhode Island but returned to the area for a one-nighter in Lambertville, NJ on June 24, 1963. Bradley doesn’t seem to have brought a camera, but perhaps he didn’t shoot anything because he and Failows had such bad seats. This bit of information comes from a letter sent by pianist Billy Kyle to “Mrs. Roni Bradley” (Failows and Bradley never married but most folks assumed they had):

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Kyle refers to a “pineapple-flavored photo” he enclosed, which is part of the Bradley Collection:

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On July 2, the All Stars played as part of the summer concert season at the Gladiators Music Arena on Route 46 in Totowa, NJ. Failows later wrote a chatty, detailed description of the night, which also included appearances by friends Dan Morgenstern and Slim Thompson:

“At the end of July we drove out to New Jersey to hear the mighty Louis Armstrong. Dan Morgenstern, who was with us, assured us it couldn’t rain and astounded us with his knowledge of weather conditions as he went into a technical explanation of why not. By the time the rains came we were seated comfortably in Pops’ dressing room saddened as he told us how much he’d like to go to the beach or to a ball game (he’s a great sports fan)–but that whenever he tried, fans, armed with pens and books, mobbed him. Someone suggested dark glasses, which brought a howl – for, can you imagine not recognizing Pops’ walk, gestures, etc. A beard, we decided was the only way out and Pops is not likely to grow one. The concert was under a tent at a place called Totowa, New Jersey – and everything went smoothly until and overzealous member of the audience was overcome; he stood and yelled ‘West End Blues, Louis!’ Pops obliged–a rendition to end all renditions. Then Pops announced, ‘For my friend Slim Thompson – I’ll play Sunnyside of the Street.’ What a night.”

Too bad Bradley didn’t bring a tape recorder to capture a 1963 rendition of “West End Blues” but we do have some excellent photos of the All Stars playing in front of an “in-the-round” audience on what appears to be a rotating stage:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1559-04
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1559-16
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1559-15
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1559-12
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1559-06
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1559-05
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1559-03

Here’s a couple of great photos of Louis and Trummy Young singing a duet, most likely on “Now You Has Jazz” or “Rockin’ Chair”:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1559-08
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1559-10
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1559-09

After a jaunt to Canada, the All Stars settled in for a residency at the Riviera in Las Vegas. While there, Billy Kyle once again checked in with a rollicking letter sent on August 13:

LAHM 2008_1_230~005

 It’s really a fun, atmospheric letter so if you can’t read it, here’s a transcription:

“Hi there Roni,
Thank you for the wonderful picture. It’s one of the very taken with me in it. The angle had a tendency to make me appear stout (har!). I gave your regards to Louie, Doc and Trummy and they were pleased and send theirs back. Guess you heard Louie is taking 2 months off after this engagement. I saw the editor of ‘Coda’ in Canada and we talked of you and Jack. Charlie Shavers is here with the Dorsey orchestra. He’s staying next door to me. I’m going over and see what’s cooking. He can wail in the kitchen you know. Ray Charles gave a concert here last night. The chit’lin brigade was out in full force and I would have been too if I could have. Jane Russell and two girls have an act on the bill with us. They put up a helluva front–the ‘breast of everything.’ Tell Jack I’m going to take their pictures soon as I get a wide-angle lens.
Wishing you both the best,
B. Kyle”

Kyle referenced John Norris, editor of Coda, for whom Bradley and Failows still contributed a column. Back in 1960, Norris wrote to them, “They [Coda] would have started an I LIKE LOUIS club long ago but as everyone that is someone and who knows the TRUTH has always belonged 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.”

Three years later, Bradley and Failows were ready to start such a club but “I Like Louis” or “I Love Louis” would not suffice. They broke the news in their August 1963 column:

“Do you want to join the ‘Louis Armstrong is God Society’? If you realize Louis is the greatest and if you truly love Pops – you have the requisites for membership – just write to us, care of Coda, for details – Long live Louis, the King. Jack Bradley and Jeann Failows”

This would become a recurring part of their column. In September, they opened, “‘Louis Armstrong is God Society’ record of the month: ‘Swing That Music’ with Luis Russell Band. Recorded in 1936. Play it three times in succession if you’re a member of L.A.I.G. Society.”

Bradley went as far as making a t-shirt, which is also a treasured part of the Bradley Collection:

LAHM 2007.2.1

Failows also wrote in September 1963, “One of the highlights of this summer for Jack and I was a visit to Chez Armstrong, Corona, Long Island, N.Y. where we spent a wonderful relaxing day with the King Armstrong and his lovely Lucille (he calls her Brown Sugar, too). Lots of reminiscences and always – lots of belly laughs. Since then a phone call from ‘our leader’ assures us not to close the doors at Bourbon St. as he will be in N.Y. the week of Sept. 5 – we’ve got our fingers crossed. Pops And Lucille may get a well earned rest after all. They plan a six-week cruise in the very near future. More power to them.”

The reference to Bourbon Street is to a Manhattan nightclub and restaurant that Bradley managed for a short time in this period, something that we’ll revisit next time. But this is now the second reference to a extended getaway for Lucille and Louis, something that finally happened as they set off on a two-month Caribbean cruise in September. Leaving the Bradley Collection for a moment, here’s a photo in one of Louis and Lucille’s scrapbooks from this trip, perhaps the longest vacation Armstrong had up to this point of his career:


Lucille did check in, writing a postcard “To The Great Team of Failows & Bradley” from Trinidad, postmarked September 28, 1963:

LAHM 2008.1.4~002

Here’s a transcription: “Hi: This is all we needed. The good ole ship Simon. We’re having a good rest. Ships crew, passengers, & officers are tops. See you all of a sudden. Love, Lucille and Satchmo.”

But as clarinetist Joe Darensbourg remembered, Louis began getting the itch to perform again and cut the trip short in October to come back to New York. Once back, he made time to visit Bradley’s Bourbon Street Nightclub and then invited Bradley to a rare All Stars rehearsal, both of which will be the subjects of our next installment in our series on Louis Armstrong and Jack Bradley.

Published by Ricky Riccardi

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

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