Our last two posts in our Jack Bradley series (catch up on everything here) both ended by referencing Louis and Lucille Armstrong’s rare vacation in September-October 1963, a proposed eight-week cruise that, according to clarinetist Joe Darensbourg, was cut short when Louis got the itch to go back to work. Back in New York in October, Louis called a rare rehearsal of the All Stars at Steinway Hall to prepare for an October 21 concert at Constitution Hall in Washington D. C., “under the patronage of the President of the United States and Mrs. Kennedy,” according to Ralph J. Gleason.
Fortunately for us, Jack Bradley was in attendance with his camera. Not only that, but a journalist named Betty Taylor was also there to cover the rehearsal for the weekly New York Call Bulletin newspaper, eventually published in the November 3-9, 1963 issue issue. A quick Google search for “New York Call Bulletin” strangely only brings up three results, one being a footnote in a book referencing a December 1963 issue–could this have been a short-lived newspaper since it barely left a trace on the internet?
Then there’s “Betty Taylor,” a name that I cannot find anywhere else in the newspaper world of the early 1960s. But in the Jack Bradley Collection, she appears one more time–in another New York Call Bulletin article from the November 17-23 issue profiling trumpeter Max Kaminsky, with an interview conducted at Bradley’s W. 48th Street club “Bourbon Street” and including a plug for Bradley. Perhaps Taylor was someone Bradley and then-girlfriend Jeann “Roni” Failows befriended and convinced to do a few stories on their jazz friends–or knowing her public relations savvy, perhaps Taylor was actually a pseudonym for Failows herself, as the Bradley Collection also contains the original typewritten manuscript for what became Taylor’s article on Louis.
Regardless of these mysteries, we should be thankful that Bradley was being bankrolled by the Call Bulletin for these rehearsals as it allowed him to take many more photos than he normally did. We also have Taylor/Failows’ article, which does a good job in conveying the atmosphere of the rehearsal. Here is the first page of how that article appeared in the New York Call Bulletin:
Now we will share the text of the entire article and will pepper it with some of Bradley’s photos. Note that there were two days of rehearsals; on both days, Louis wore a custom “Satchmo” sports shirt, but one was in black and the other white (interestingly, the rest of the band, and even the onlookers, wore ties and/or dress shirts). Bradley also had several color slides from the dates and though the color isn’t of a very high quality, we’ve included a few within the story, too. Here’s the full article and we’ll have more photos, commentary, and a bonus article below!
“‘Jazz music is like bananas, it’s consumed on the spot.’ And listening to a rehearsal session of the Louis Armstrong group is like eating a whole stalk of the sweetest, ripest bananas to be found.
“Pops Armstrong and his group were rehearsing at Steinway Hall the other night for their October 21 session for President Kennedy. There was a very select audience of four invited listeners–Jack Bradley, photo editor of Jazz Magazine; his wife, Jeann Failows Bradley, a jazz writer; Lem Davis a fine alto saxophonist-composer; and your reporter. [Note: Bradley and Failows never married but were together so long, many did call her “Jeann Bradley” after a while.]
“Rehearsals for the old master are mainly a matter of polishing an already near-perfect group to an almost perfection. And from the first note to the last, even when ‘Pops’ is quietly pointing out a new way to play an old phrase, every sound is touched with feeling and warmth, great enough to leave a jazz fan breathless.
“Billy Kyle, Louie’s pixie-grinning pianist, was a little late, so the fellows just sat around and batted ideas back and forth about the tunes they’d play.
“‘Pops’ was sipping on honey and dragging on an ever present cigarette.
“Danny Barcelona, the young Filipino drummer he’d found in Hawaii was working out a few patterns, and Arvell Shaw, the gentle big man on the big bass was telling about a movie they had made in Italy that he saw in Switzerland.
“‘Man [Shaw said], I tell you that scene where we were clowning around just broke me up. And I kept remembering how ‘Cactus’ (an unknown friend) drove that truck on the set and almost tore the whole set up, when he was so lit. Wild!’ Big laugh from the guys, and a grin from Pops.
“Billy arrived, and into the music Louie led them into a sweet and moving ‘Sleepy Time Down South’ and followed with ‘Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans.’ Pops’ warm and rough edged voice, softer and lower than you’d expect without a mike, sang a song of melancholy beauty about his own home town, and his small group of listeners walked the streets of the French Quarter with him in a bittersweet memory.
“Then into a classic blues number, full of lyric sadness and despair, ‘Black and Blue.'”
“And next ‘Mahogany Hall Stomp,’ an old New Orleans classic dedicated to the ‘Queen of Basin Street,’ Lulu White, who ran a wicked bordello there in there in the early 1900’s.
“The intro didn’t quite suit the master, and Billy Kyle, who does most of the arrangements, said, ‘I’ll work something out for the group and bring it in tomorrow.’
“‘No,’ said Louis, ‘let’s play around with it a little, and we’ll come up with something. How about ba-ba-de-bo-ba-de-ba.’ And he sang a new phrase in his gravely voice.
“Joe Darensbourg on clarinet and ‘Trummy’ Young on trombone played around with it for about five minutes, and Danny didn’t quite get the pattern.
“‘How about trying that part again, Pops,’ he said. ‘I don’t think I’ve quite got it yet.’
“‘Sure, boy,’ said the old master kindly. ‘It’s a hard piece.’ Louis, of course, has been playing it for forty or fifty years. But the understanding and infinite patience of Satchmo with young musicians is one of the things that makes his men love him.
“Then the whole group tried it. ‘Okay,’ said Pops. ‘Let’s go, a-one, a-two….’ Satchmo led the way, with his powerful attack, the ample vibrato, and the easy and supple emotional playing that channels his artistry.
“Joe’s clarinet embroidered ornaments and arabesques of sound against a background of wild counterpoint by the foggy, sly, smooth trombone of the great ‘Trummy’ Young.
“Arvell Shaw filled in masterfully–almost as if the big bass fiddle were a little guitar.
“Billy Kyle’s keyboard work was warm and rich, and young Danny Barcelona smacked the cymbals, snares, and bass drum for full color.
“Jack Bradley had brought along some old collectors’ items on 78’s. Louie had him play a 1935 Blue Label Decca version of ‘Old Man Mose Is Dead.’
“There was a lot of background vocal harmony on the record, so the fellows listened four or five times, and then they worked on it.
“‘I believe, I do believe, that Old Man Mose is dead,’ sang Jazz’s Greatest, while the boys backed him up. His voice is as strong and listenable as ever, but the years have deepened the tone, so they dropped the whole thing into a little lower key.
“They played a few others, including ‘That’s a Plenty,’ ‘Basin Street,’ and closed with the classic, ‘Saints,’ with rich vibrato from Pops, followed by the wail of Joe’s clarinet and ‘Trummy’s’ swoooping tailgating on the trombone.
“‘That’s it, fellows. See you tomorrow.’ And Satchmo lit another cigarette, closed his horn case, and wandered out with his wife, Lucille. We wandered out, too–richer and content after a session with the ageless great man of jazz.”
That concludes the full New York Call Bulletin by Betty Taylor, but as alluded to above, that’s only scratching the surface of the photos. There’s a few that Jack turned into prints that we no longer have the negatives for, namely three shots taken from what appears to be a doorway:
Here’s a few more Jack cropped and turned into prints:
Then there are the color slides, which take a minute for the eye to adjust to as it’s not exactly glorious technicolor but they provide more intimate glimpses of the scene at Steinway Hall, opening with two shots that seem to have been taken just before or after the one above:
We’re going to conclude with some more rare images from the rehearsals–a bonus article. Ralph J. Gleason previewed Armstrong’s Constitution Hall concert in the San Francisco Chronicle so we’d like to share the text from Gleason’s article with a handful of Bradley photos peppered in. Here’s Gleason’s “The Case for ‘Ambassador Satch'” from September 10, 1963:
“Well, Uncle Sam is finally getting around to doing something for Louis Armstrong, known all over the world as Ambassador Satch.
“On Monday, October 21, in Constitution Hall, Washington, D.C., under the patronage of the President of the United States and Mrs. Kennedy, Louis will headline a concert which will present ‘artists who have captivated overseas audiences’ under the Department of State Cultural Exchange Program. The occasion is the 18th anniversary of the United Nations and the concert is being presented as a benefit for the U.S. Committee for the United Nations.
“Appearing with Louis and his All-Stars will be the Martha Graham dancers, the Howard University Choir, Byron Janis, the Juilliard School Orchestra, Eleanor Steber and Richard Tucker. In case you’d like to attend, the tickets are available from the Hayes Concert Bureau in Washington, D.C. Orchestra seats are priced from $7.50 to $15, and balcony seats from $3.50 to $7.50.
“I think it’s just dandy and I bet you Louis steals the show.
“But it is no substitute for giving Louis some real recognition for his remarkable role as a cultural ambassador on the one hand and a genuine, original, major American artist on the other.
“The President released a list of names early this summer that included everybody but Harry Truman as recipients of his Civilian Award for culture and the arts. Louis — as well as Duke Ellington and other great musicians — was conspicuous by his absence.
“The campaign conducted in this corner for a medal for Louis got a lot of support from such people as Senators Kuchel and Javits, but it drew a lot of double talk from various members of the President’s Cabinet and from the members of the Civilian Award Committee.
“Very frankly, the United States Government owes it to Armstrong as well as to other jazz musicians, to make some sort of special gesture for what they have done.
Louis in particular personifies the music, which the Negro has given to the world, whether or not he may be the latest innovator in its various styles. Without him, there would have been precious little.
“As has been pointed out before, Franklin D. Roosevelt got Congress to give a special medal to George M. Cohan for his World War I song, ‘Over There.’ If you think about it soberly for a moment, it ought to be obvious that what Louis has done so greatly outranks the contribution of George M. Cohan that there is no contest. Period. And no offense to the song-and-dance man. Just the truth about Louis.
“If Congress 20 years ago could make that noble gesture, why is it that today, with our supposedly culturally enlightened Administration, it can’t get off the dime and do something worthwhile for Louis instead of merely tapping him for a command performance with a group of others from the cultural exchange program?
“I begin to get the feeling that the Administration doesn’t really think jazz is respectable. The State Department becomes critical of ‘modern’ jazz and refused to send ‘far out’ groups to Poland. Although Khrushchev went to Goodman’s concert in Moscow, President Kennedy bypassed the first International Jazz Festival in Washington D.C. last year.
“Perhaps it is too much to ask because it is too sensible. But I really believe Louis would deserve a medal for his work even if he had never gone on a cultural exchange tour. And I think it’s about time he got it.”
Bravo, Ralph J. Gleason. That medal never came for Louis Armstrong, but a bigger surprise was awaiting Louis Armstrong the next time he’d step into a recording studio: he was about to record the biggest hit of his lifetime–and Jack Bradley was there. That’s where we’ll begin the next installment of our loving tribute to the friendship of Jack and Louis.