Last week, we shared several dozen offstage photos Jack Bradley took during Louis Armstrong’s weeklong run at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City in July 1965. This week, it’s time to share numerous photos Bradley took of Armstrong in performance–in addition to introducing a different voice in this series in the form of 81-year-old Australian drummer Richard Gillespie.
Bradley caught numerous shows that week–Louis did three sets a day–and often from different vantage points so we’ve tried grouping Jack’s photos together by his location for cohesiveness. As a refresher, Armstrong’s All Stars featured Buster Bailey on clarinet (making his debut with the band), Tyree Glenn on trombone (one of his first American appearances since joining in February), Buddy Catlett on bass (who joined in late May), and three stalwarts, pianist Billy Kyle, drummer Danny Barcelona, and vocalist Jewel Brown.
As will be seen, Bradley took a lot of photos during various performances of “Hello, Dolly!,” when Armstrong was particularly animated. We don’t have any set lists and even though a CBS banner is clearly visible in some photos, no broadcasts have seen the light of day (that we know of). However, Bradley made some notes on what was played and it seems like a fascinating run of gigs with Armstrong still performing “That’s My Home” at this late date, in addition to introducing “St. James Infirmary” into the act, which would remain until at least late 1967.
Bradley also took notes that Buster Bailey’s first feature was “Memphis Blues,” Jewel Brown was doing “St. Louis Blues” and “Georgia On My Mind,” Billy Kyle played ‘Pennies From Heaven,” and Tyree Glenn was featured on “Don’t Take Your Love From Me” and “Avalon,” the latter on vibes. Bradley also noted that Armstrong warmed up backstage on “La Paloma”!
With those notes in mind, let’s get to the images. For one performance, Bradley was able to take this striking close-up photos of Pops in action:
Also from the front of the stage, Louis having a word with new man Buster Bailey–new to the All Stars, but someone who started playing with Armstrong back in the King Oliver and Fletcher Henderson days of the mid-20s!
Armstrong and Tyree Glenn in action:
Jewel Brown takes flight with Danny Barcelona digging in behind her:
The above photos were most likely taken during the show when Bradley and Jeann “Roni” Failows sat in the first row, immortalized in John Loengard’s photo, as shared in the last post. Because it’s so good, here it is again–note Bradley’s ever-present camera at the foot of the stage:
For other shows that week, Bradley was a little farther back in the crowd, but still was able to take some atmospheric shots, such as these:
From the other side of the hall–you can feel the joy jumping out of this image!
Judging by the brightness from the sunlight peaking through the windows, these are most likely photos of one of the afternoon 3:30 sets, opening with some “Hello, Dolly!” choreography:
Armstrong usually indulged in similar work with the microphone stand as seen above during “Hello, Dolly!” One evening, Bradley, seemingly perched in the wings on the right side of the stage, really captured Armstrong’s choreography and mannerisms in full flight:
In the back right corner, one can spot Jeann Failows on the other side of the wings:
In the next photo, Tyree Glenn is pointing; videos from this period show this is something he used to do when Armstrong went for high notes on “Royal Garden Blues” or “Indiana”:
Another photo of the front line breaking into their dance at the start of “Hello, Dolly!”:
But now, notice the figure with a camera behind Billy Kyle–that’s John Loengard shooting for Life magazine. You can spy him in the background of this photo, too:
In the last installment, we included audio of Bradley marveling about how Loengard was shooting roll after roll of film, something Bradley never quite had the luxary to do himself (though admittedly, for this Steel Pier engagement, he did take around 200 photos). Loengard’s eventual Life spread (as seen in the April 15, 1966 issue) contains a number of memorable images, but perhaps the most striking was taken at the Steel Pier. We don’t own the rights to this image (though you can learn more at LIFE’s Gallery of Photography), but would still like to a share a scan of it from a print Loengard personally gave to Louis Armstrong:
Isn’t that remarkable? It’s definitely worth studying the faces of the audience members–nearly every single person is smiling! I know the focus of this post is on Bradley but for the photographers in the house, it’s worth noting that Bradley saved a copy of the April 1987 issue of American Photographer, featuring a column, “Lessons From Loengard,” with a reproduction of the above photo. Here’s Loengard’s reflections on taking it:
“It is difficult to get the performer and the audience in a single picture. He’s in the spotlight, they’re in the dark. He faces one way, they face another. I had spent a week in Europe with Louis Armstrong trying (among other things) to solve that problem, but it was not until we got to Atlantic City that I did. The audience stood right up to the edge of the stage, as close to Armstrong as an audience could be. I put two or three flashlights up in the rear of the room to light patches of the audience and one over the stage to light the performers and those in front. Knowing Armstrong’s routine well. I sat beside the drummer and waited for Armstrong to sing ‘Hello Dolly!’ In that number I expected he’d joke and spin around, which would solve my problem, but just as important, by then the audience would be happy, beaming, clapping, proof of Armstrong’s genius as an entertainer.”
Bradley managed to shoot from backstage, too, and though he didn’t have the benefit of Loengard’s setup, he still took striking shots that also capture both Armstrong and the audience having the time of their lives:
For another series of photos, Bradley seems to have climbed up to the rafters backstage to take these shots from above:
Here’s even more photos from Bradley’s backstage vantage point, this time capturing an evening show:
In the above photo, you might notice a tall man with a long beard staring admiringly at Armstrong. That is Australian drummer Richard Gillespie, who is still with us at the age of 81 and who was kind enough to share his memories of getting to know not just Louis but also Jack Bradley and Jeann Failows during that memorable engagement in Atlantic CIty. Here’s Richard, interspersed with more of Bradley’s photos:
“I first met Jack in 1965 at Preservation Hall in New Orleans, LA, listening to a band with George Lewis on clarinet. Back in Sydney, Australia, I had been on drums with Geoff Bull’s Olympia Jazz Band playing that style of music, and I put off starting a chemistry degree for a year so I could go to the USA and hear George along with other well-known NOLA musicians who were then still playing there.”
“Because of an indisposition by the drummer Dave Oxley one night, Alan Jaffe who ran Preservation Hall (and knew I played drums) pushed me on stage to play with the George Lewis band, which became the first of two major events in my musical life that year. Jack saw me playing, and after the set came up and talked to me. We got on really well; he invited me to come to NYC where he was living with Jeann ‘Roni’ Failows. Many weekends I took the bus from Philadelphia where my job was, slept on their couch, and the three of us went to many great jazz venues: including Jimmy Ryan’s on 42nd Street to see Zutty Singleton playing behind the bar, and to deepest Harlem where we heard Buddy Tate at the Celebrity Club.”
“One venue was not made known to me until we got there, and on the way Jack got pulled over for speeding – but sweet-talked his way out of a ticket! In the ballroom on the end of Steel Pier, Atlantic City, Louis Armstrong and the All-Stars were playing three 1-hour sets each day. “
“Jack took me backstage, introduced me to Pops and took photos of me with him: that was the second major musical event in my life.”
“Louis in person was just as I expected, a warm and welcoming guy, he gave me a publicity photo signed ‘To Dick the Drummer.'”
“Jack also cleverly took a photo showing me in the audience looking up in awe at Pops playing, and later gave me several prints he had made from that Steel Pier event (originals among the thousands of Jack Bradley photos at LAH). Jack and Roni were really good to me, and the times I spent with them at famous NY and NJ jazz spots remain fresh in my 81-year-old memory.”
Thanks again to Richard Gillespie for sharing those precious memories. As we did in our last post, we’ll give the last word to Jack Bradley with another excerpt from his tape recorded conversation with Richard Shaw in 1989 for a book project that sadly did not come to fruition. In this portion, Bradley mostly sticks to discussing his memories of Armstrong’s performances in Atlantic City:
Armstrong seemed to enjoy himself at the Steel Pier but sadly, the happy times would not last. Armstrong soon went on the road and didn’t get a break for many, many months. While on the road, Armstrong alluded to both Patrick Scott in Toronto and to Richard Meryman of Life that he was getting tired of the grind and was happier in New Orleans and didn’t want to continue doing this for the rest of his life. One of the factors causing these stressful thoughts was Armstrong quickly coming to the realization that he could no longer execute his demanding trumpet solos as he had in the days before his major dental surgery in 1965. That plus the never-ending one-nighters was enough to put Armstrong in a funk, but he still found ways to give his all to his audiences each and every night. Jack Bradley would be in many of those audiences for years to come so we’ll have many, many more stories to tell and photos to share as this series continues in the weeks and months to come.