“The Greatest Photo Taker”: Remembering Jack Bradley Part 13–Yale Concert and Mercury Session

In the last post in this series, Louis Armstrong and His All Stars performed for four days on Labor Day weekend at the Bronx amusement park Freedomland and Jack Bradley was there to shoot dozens of wonderful photos of Louis and friends offstage and on. Louis then had some rare time off in September 1964, when he was visited by Bradley who, alas, did not bring his camera, but did pen a vivid description of what he witnessed for the October-November 1964 issue of Coda:

“The following week I visited him at his home. A day I’ll never forget – he played a concert for me consisting of the music played with Erskine Tate’s band at the Vendome Theatre in Chicago – it was jazz – it was classical – it was Louis. His memory is fantastic. He warmed up for this concert by playing the introduction to West End Blues. He followed this with Cavalliera Rusticana which he played in 1925 with Tate. ‘Rhythm Jaws’ is almost beyond comprehension.”

Bradley also noted that Armstrong recorded his first single for Mercury on September 3 (Bradley wasn’t present at the date), “So Long Dearie” (from the score of Hello, Dolly!) and “Pretty Little Missy,” and gave a glimpse at Armstrong’s schedule: “He’ll be on the Ed Sullivan Show on Oct. 5th. He’ll be at the Latin Casino, Cherry Hill, N.J. (near Camden) from Oct. 12 to 28th. On the 29th he’s off to Buffalo, N.Y. and the 30th in Pittsburgh, Pa., Nov 1 – New Haven, Conn., Nov. 2 to 14 Basin St. East in NYC.” (The Basin Street engagement fell through as Louis would spend much of that stretch traveling through Ann Arbor, Michigan, Elgin, Illinois, Kansas City, Missouri, Topeka, Kansas, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Fargo, North Dakota.)

A few years ago, Jack Bradley’s close friend and personal archivist Mike Persico discovered a bunch of Bradley negatives of Armstrong photos and donated them to the Armstrong Archives with Jack’s blessing. One roll of film was split between photos of an afternoon All Stars concert with the late 1964 edition of the All Stars and a drum show without any recognizable faces, just rows of booths (Precision, Jenco, etc.) with folks selling sticks, cymbals and other equipment. This stymied me for the longest time until I stumbled across a mention in the Bradley Collection of a drum show on November 2, 1964. Checking the itinerary, Armstrong was in New Haven on November 1 and a search of Newspapers.com found mention of the All Stars playing at 2:30 p.m.–an afternoon show!–at Woolsey Hall at Yale University.

Thus, properly identified for the first time, here’s some previously unpublished Jack Bradley photos of Louis at Yale:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1982-03

Here’s vocalist Jewel Brown, the last surviving All Star as of this 2022 writing:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1982-21

Visible in the next photo are Danny Barcelona, drums, Eddie Shu, clarinet, Arvell Shaw, bass, Russell “Big Chief” Moore, trombone, and Louis:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1982-24

This next photo is interesting as the band is clearly marching around the stage. Video exists of the All Stars doing “When the Saints Go Marching In” in this period and the band remained in their places for that one; perhaps “New Orleans Function” was still in the All Stars repertoire? The last surviving live recorded version is from 1962 so it’s possible this was during the “Didn’t He Ramble” segment of that New Orleans funeral recreation (the audience members seem to be smiling so it’s probably not the dirge portion but this is all speculation):

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1982-25

The afternoon sun from that giant window affected some of Bradley’s photos but at some point, he switched to the opposite side and took these beautiful shots from the wings (Louis seems to spot his friend and his camera in the first):

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1982-31
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1982-32

That was November 1, 1964 and as already mentioned, Bradley spent November 2 at a drum equipment show. But on November 3, Armstrong was back in the recording studio for Mercury and this time, Bradley would be present with his camera.

Also present was another undisputed legend, 31-year-old Quincy Jones:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1625-06

After “Hello, Dolly!” turned into a gigantic hit for Louis and for Kapp Records, Joe Glaser spent the summer of 1964 negotiating and finally landed a deal with Mercury Records President Irving B. Green. Armstrong would immediately begin recording singles for the label, with an album to follow. Mercury was an attractive place for Armstrong to wind up. His sessions would be overseen by budding superstar Jones, a great admirer of the trumpeter. The label made great out-and-out jazz albums, such as that season’s Oscar Peterson Trio + One featuring Armstrong favorite Clark Terry, but they also had a respectable pop line featuring Lesley Gore, Brook Benton and Johnny Mathis.

With this background and especially with Jones’s vision, one might have been tempted to imagine the exciting possibilities of an Armstrong marriage with Jones and Mercury. (The thought of an all-star big band album with arrangements by Jones is the stuff daydreams are made of.) But instead, Mercury played it safe and decided to ape the Kapp formula to a tee, recording “So Long Dearie” at the aforementioned September 3 session, rushing it into release on September 19, entering the Billboard “Hot 100” charts. on October 3. The following night, Armstrong performed it on The Ed Sullivan Show, now available on YouTube:

For this November 3 date, Jones decided to stage “Hello Dolly – The Sequel to the Sequel.” Once again, a showtune was selected and once again, a banjo would added to the All Stars (now played by Walter Raim), but this time Jones went “the full Dolly” by selecting a song from a Broadway production that hadn’t even opened yet. The song was Stan Freeman and Jack Lawrence’s “Faith” and the musical was I Had a Ball, starring the comedian Buddy Hackett. I Had a Ball was getting positive reviews in Detroit and Philadelphia and was slated to open on Broadway on December 15. Having Armstrong record “Faith” in advance of the show’s official open wasn’t just a page out of the “Dolly” playbook, it was the “Dolly” playbook.

In fact, “Faith” was published by Edwin H. Morris, who also issued sheet music for “Hello, Dolly!” and “A Lot of Livin’ to Do.” If you recall our piece on “Hello, Dolly!” it was Morris’s songplugger Jack Lee who first brought “Dolly” to Glaser. That post included a Bradley session photo with Mickey Kapp and a mystery man who I guessed was Jack Lee….well, that mystery man appears at the November 1964 Mercury session, photographed by Bradley in between Jones and Armstrong:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1625-23

Until proven otherwise, I’ll continue to assume that is Jack Lee looking over the sheet music with the two giants. Jones was already a star at 31 but clearly his biggest successes were still ahead of him. Still, Bradley must have known this was a summit meeting and took multiple shots of the two men responsible for so much of the 20th century’s most enduring music:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.728
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1625-04
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1625-03

In the above photo, as Pops strikes a light, the two men are joined by pianist Billy Kyle, who usually played a key role in shaping the ad hoc arrangements that came together at Armstrong’s recording sessions. Here’s a few more Bradley photos of Armstrong going over the melody on his trumpet with Kyle accompanying him in the background:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1625c-01
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1625-02
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1625-01

Bradley also went around the room and got individual shots of the musicians present, starting with Kyle:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1625-16

Big Chief Moore:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1625-27

Eddie Shu:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1625-28

Arvell Shaw:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1625-19

Danny Barcelona:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1625-19

And the ringer on the session, Walter Raim on banjo (almost all of Armstrong’s post-“Dolly” sessions up until about 1967 featured a banjo to try to replicate that hit record sign):

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1625-15

Here’s a Bradley photo of the entire assemblage with Jones in the center directing traffic:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1625-09

In January 2017, the Verve Music Group issued an “expanded edition” of Armstrong’s lone Mercury LP, Louis. In full disclosure, I served as a co-producer on the project with Harry Weinger and we made the mutual decision, since this was going to be a digital-only release, to issue every surviving take of every selection on the original album. This included eight alternate takes of “Faith” as it took Armstrong some time to get used to the somewhat awkward, wordy lyrics and to warm up the chops. (Listen to the expanded edition on Apple Music, Spotify, or Amazon.) Here’s the third attempt with Jones’s unmistakable voice calling the take and Armstrong, sufficiently warmed up and realizing there wasn’t much point sticking to the so-so melody, playing a strong, completely improvised solo:

The trumpet is great but there’s still some awkwardness with the vocal on that take (Jones added a tambourine after another take, too). With that in mind, here’s a series of Bradley photos of Armstrong making notes on his part for “Faith” (alas, though we have dozens of Armstrong’s recording arrangements, “Faith” has not survived in our Archives so we don’t know exactly what he wrote):

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1625-34
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1625-33
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1625-32
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1625-25

With everything straight, here’s some photos of Armstrong recording the vocal:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1625-24
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1625-08
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1625-07

As mentioned above, it took a few takes for Armstrong to get his trumpet solo together but 1964 was one of the last vintage years for Pops’s chops so he came through in the end with a strong outing; here’s some Bradley photos of Armstrong working it out on trumpet:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1625-30
Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.1625-21

Now, after all of those photos, is a good time to listen to the master take of “Faith”:

Here’s a photo Bradley only had a print of, the cigarette dangling and the jacket off; making records could be pretty taxing (though after eight takes of “Faith,” the All Stars knocked out “Bye ‘n’ Bye” in one complete take):

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006.1.728

At some point, British pop singer Julie Rogers stopped by the session, then with her Mercury single of “The Wedding” climbing the charts. Bradley didn’t get any photos but he did save this clipping about Rogers and Armstrong:

LAHM 2008_5_33-29

The text blurb refers to “Faith” as “the hit-bound tune from the Broadway musical, ‘I Had A Ball.” Mercury put all of its efforts into not just the song, but also recorded the official Broadway Cast Recording, as well as an album of jazz versions of the musical’s score on its Limelight Records subsidiary label. The issued Armstrong’s single on 45 with a special sleeve showing the trumpeter at work (albeit flipped):

LAHM 2005.43.691

On December 5, Billboard reviewed “Faith” in the newly renamed “Middle Road Spotlights” column. “Show-stopper from Broadway’s ‘I Had a Ball’ is given an added shot-in-the-arm via this fine Armstrong style,” wrote the publication. “Much in the vein of his ‘Hello, Dolly!’”

Mercury’s gamble didn’t pay off. I Had a Ball received mixed reviews when it opened on Broadway, only running 199 performances, and the score didn’t provide any breakout hits. It was far from Hello, Dolly! and as a result, Armstrong’s single of “Faith” sank without a trace.

Not that Armstrong was paying attention to the charts when “Faith” disappeared. On November 15, Louis and Lucille, the All Stars and their entire entourage left the United States for a tour that encompassed New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, India, and Japan, flying to San Francisco on December 26, 1964 for a run at the Hyatt House (interrupted by a one-nighter in Corpus Christi, Texas to perform at a party for a wealthy lawyer’s daughter; Joe Glaser called it “one of the most lucrative dates Louis has ever played”).

The weary Armstrongs arrived back to their Corona, Queens home on January 4, 1965 and would stay put until January 7…but Louis still had to go to work and film a commercial for Suzy Cute dolls on January 6. Jack Bradley would be there with multiple rolls of film, the results of which will make up our next post (for those wondering, we’re 13 posts in in our Armstrong-Bradley series and we MIGHT be one-third of the way through the story–much more to come!).

Published by Ricky Riccardi

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

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