We closed the last installment of our ongoing Jack Bradley series by discussing Louis and Lucille Armstrong’s rare vacation in September-October 1963 and promised to tackle the story of Louis’s visit to Jack’s “Bourbon Street” nightclub in this post–except in researching this piece, I discovered that Louis’s visit to Bourbon Street actually occurred before the vacation! Thus, pardon the chronological jump backwards, but we’re still going to begin with the tale of Bradley’s ill-fated nightclub.
Jack and then-girlfriend Jeann “Roni” Failows broke the news about Bourbon Street in their September 1963 Coda column, with Failows writing, “This won’t be our ‘regular N. Y. news column for Jack is now manager of Bourbon St. (N.Y.C.’s newest jazz club) and at this point nothing is ‘regular.’ The hours are murder–6 PM to 4 AM–the rest of the time spent sleeping, racing to newspaper offices to insert ads before deadline time and the like. Jack has great plans and with a lot of crossed fingers–well, he is trying hard. A portion of the wall space is ‘The Gallery,’ devoted to Jack’s excellent photos and some historic ones from my collection; all on the same subject: you know. If good wishes mean anything, Bourbon St. is in business for our visitors in the 3 short weeks the club has been ‘open for business read like a Who’s Who in Jazz!”
Failows then spent a paragraph naming the “Who’s Who,” with is worth sharing for the snapshot of who was on the scene in 1963: “Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Danny Barker & family, J. C. Higginbotham, Joe Thomas, Johnny Letman, Wingy Carpenter (even Mingus), Buddy Tate, Emmett Berry, Vic Dickenson, Wild Bill Davison, Budd Johnson, Max Kaminsky, Shorty Baker, Wayne Wright, Clark Terry, Jack Fine, Mel Dorfman, Haywood Henry, Fess Williams, Jonah Jones, Eddie Barefield, Clyde Bernhardt, Marshall Brown, Herman Autrey, Nat Lorber, Don Costes, Norman Lester, Panama Francis, Victoria Spivey, Call Cobbs Jr., Blue Lu Barker, Ruby Braff, Baby Laurence, Dave Frishberg, Harrison Smith, Jackie Williams, Jimmy Greene, Big Nick Nicholas, Chick Foster, Lester Nichols, songwriters Terry Shand and Willard Robison, Rudy Rutherford, Dan Armstrong (gtr), vocalists: Ann Williams, Mary Ellen Bell and Junior Parker–also Joe Muranyi, Al McManus, Frank Driggs, George Hoefer, Otto Hess, Stanley Dance, Fred Norsworthy, Dan Morgenstern, Mrs. Red Allen, Bob Theile, Jeff Atterton, Pauline Rivelli, Mike Zaccagnino, Len Kunstadt, Carl Kendziora, etc……….and if I’ve omitted names I know there’ll be more room next month when things (and I) simmer down a bit for I’ve been occupied with ‘operation Bourbon St.’ where ‘The jazz fan meets the jazzman.'”
In that same Coda column, Failows wrote of Louis Armstrong, “…[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.”
Sure enough, Louis remained true to his word and showed up at some point that week as the news made Larry Lipsin’s September 10, 1963 “Broadway Merry-Go-Round” column in The Hollywood Reporter, Lipskin simply writing, “Louis Armstrong blew into Jack Bradley’s Bourbon St. on W. 48th.”
It was a night to remember; according Failows, Louis and Lucille spent 8 hours there that night! Word spread around the area and soon Bourbon Street was packed, including a visit from Henry “Red” Allen, then performing at the nearby Metropole. Bradley grabbed his camera and snapped this wonderful shot of the two New Orleans homeboys/friends/bandmates/sometimes rivals, talking with future all Star, clarinetist Joe Muranyi:
In the Jack Bradley Collection, neither a negative or a print survives of this next photo but the contact sheet does and in some ways, it’s almost more striking as it features Bradley’s crop marks, a red marker outlining a rectangle around the faces of the two iconic trumpeters:
Soon, another top trumpeter, Max Kaminsky, who often performed at Bourbon Street, joined the table. Here’s Bradley’s contact sheet again, cropping out Allen on the end:
Here’s Bradley’s final, cropped print of the above image:
Sitting across from Louis and Max were three important women, Lucille Armstrong, Virginia Kaminsky and Jeann “Roni” Failows:
Eventually, the manager of Bourbon Street had to get a photo with the guest of honor; I believe the following photo was taken by Lucille Armstrong and was used by Jack and Jeann as their holiday card one year, hence the superimposed “Cool Yule” graphic:
In later years, Bradley cropped Failows out entirely–they broke up in 1970, a story for a future post–and had one of best-known, oft-used photos of himself with Louis:
Louis’s appearance provided Bourbon Street with its most memorable evening, but it wasn’t enough to keep it in business. Without a cabaret card, Bradley wasn’t able to book proper jazz bands and with meddling from the apparent organized crime affiliates who actually owned the club, Bradley threw in the towel and Bourbon Street was finished. In a letter simply addressed to “Friends,” Failows gave more details on the Bourbon Street era:
Finally, let’s here from Jack Bradley himself. In 1989, inspired by the success of Gary Giddins’ Satchmo, Bradley became inspired to do a book of his own. He hired Richard Shaw to co-author and help him shape the story. Shaw sat with Bradley and recorded multiple conversations, eventually breaking them down into topics, putting them on notecards, listing relevant photos, etc.–but in the end, for reasons unknown and that Jack seemed unwilling to talk about, the project with Shaw never came to fruition.
However, all of that material is a part of the Jack Bradley Collection today, so we’re excited to share this never-before-published excerpt of Bradley and Shaw discussing the Bourbon Street experience as a whole (there’s mention of Charles Mingus jamming with Trummy Young one night–could you imagine?) and Louis’s visit in particular:
With the tale of Louis Armstrong’s September 1963 visit to Bourbon Street behind us, we’re free to finally let Louis and Lucille take that extended vacation as discussed last time. Upon returning, Louis called a rare rehearsal for the All Stars at Steinway Hall in late October and Bradley was present with his camera and, for him, an unusual amount of film. Come back next time for the results in what promises to be one of the most photo-heavy posts of this series!