“The Greatest Photo Taker”: Remembering Jack Bradley Part 21–Iona College Concert and Farewell Billy Kyle

After an action-packed week in New York City, filming A Man Called Adam and being celebrated at Carnegie Hall, Louis Armstrong and His All Stars traveled to Reno, where they spent much of December and the first part of January at Harold’s Club. Pianist Billy Kyle sent the following postcard to Jack Bradley and Jeann “Roni” Failows from the engagement:

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Here’s Kyle’s note, inscribed to “Joyce and Matt,” clearly an inside joke that has been lost to time:

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As soon as Armstrong arrived back in New York, he was called into action to film a Schaefer’s Beer commercial on January 5, 1966. Unfortunately, Bradley wasn’t present but he did file a report about it in Coda that will be interesting for the discographers in the crowd:

“On Jan. 5 Louis A. flew into town for the day to cut a commercial for Schaefer Beer. Among those in the band were Cutty Cutshall (tb), Peanuts Hucko (reeds), Art Ryerson (gtr and bjo); Kenny Burrell (gtr), John Pitoka (pno), Milt Hinton (bs), Dave Bailey (dm). Louis sang and played. Peanuts Hucko told me his introduction was like ‘West End Blues’!”

For the sake of completeness, here’s video of that commercial:

In late January, the All Stars performed in Trenton, New Jersey. Bradley and Failows attended but for whatever reason, Bradley doesn’t seem to have taken his camera as we don’t have any photos from this engagement in our Archives–except possibly one and it’s bittersweet. Before we share it, though, here’s Bradley and Failows’s recap in Coda:

“On January 28 Louis and the All Stars opened for 10 days at the First Annual Delaware Valley Boat Show in Trenton, New Jersey. However, after five days the show was cancelled. This was due in part to bad, near-blizzard, weather but mostly due to absolutely no promotion. An audience of 50 people was not uncommon that week. Since there were no advertisements in the papers how could the public know? We were lucky and caught one show – Louis was in top form. Warming up in his dressing room before going on, Louis played a beautiful something, reminiscent of the wonderful stuff on his recording of ‘Laughing Louis.’ The weather was bad so we booked a room and stayed at the hotel where the All Stars were camped. Being snowed in with Louis and the All Stars is quite something!”

Here is the one photo that most likely survives from the Trenton engagement, picturing Billy Kyle together with Jack Bradley (we know Bradley didn’t have the beard in Atlantic City the previous July but he did have it during the Man Called Adam filming in December and this looks like a hotel room so it would fit in with the Trenton stay):

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It’s a very bittersweet photo as it represents the last photo we have of Billy Kyle, who tragically passed away just a few short weeks later. Kyle was particularly close with Bradley and Failows, sending them many postcards and letters from the road over the years. They were particularly devastated by the loss and wrote a beautiful obituary for Kyle in the April-May 1966 issue of Coda. We’re going to reproduce it below interspersed with photos Bradley took of Kyle over the years:

“We lost a dear friend, Pianist Billy Kyle, aged 52, passed away the morning of Feb. 23 at Southside Hospital, Youngstown, Ohio. Causes were given as bleeding ulcers complicated by pneumonia. Billy had been in apparent good health when we say him a few weeks back in Trenton, N.J. where he was appearing with the Louis Armstrong All-Stars. After a week off in NYC the band boarded a bus for a one-nighter in Youngstown, Ohio. During the performance Billy complained of pain but he finished the show and retired to his hotel. A short time later he was stricken and rushed to the hospital, where he remained for a week, part of the time in a coma. (The next day the band proceeded to Buffalo where they picked up a local pianist for the one nighter there. Then they went on to Detroit where Marty Napoleon joined them.)

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1141

“William Osborne Kyle was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and began playing professionally in 1930. He joined the Mills Blue Rhythm Band under direction of Lucky Millinder. From 1937 to 1943 he was with the John Kirby band. Then he was drafted into the Army and released in 1945 when he rejoined Kirby for a year. For the next 7 or 8 years he did studio work in NYC, mainly with Sy Oliver. In 1954 he replaced Marty Napoleon with the Louis Armstrong All Stars. Billy soon became Louis’ right-hand man, doing the arrangements, writing tunes, and setting tempos. Perhaps his most famous composition is ‘Pretty Little Missy’ which Louis recorded on Decca. Billy also wrote ‘Throw It Out Of Your Mind’ for the recent film ‘Where the Boys Meet The Girls.’ He recorded extensively during his career. Starting in 1936 he made sides with Lucky Millinder, Red Allen, Jimmy Mundy, Lionel Hampton, O’Neil Spencer, Timme Rosenkrantz, John Kirby, the Ramblers, Leonard Feather, Nat Gonella, Mildred Bailey, Rex Stewart, Jack Teagarden, Billie Holiday, Dusty Fletcher, Russell Procope, Buck Clayton and many under his own name.”

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1139b

“Billy was one of those rare guys who never seemed to be in humor. His wonderful smile was just always there. He loved to tease and he loved to hear and tell good jokes. As a piano player he was one of the best – his style often compared to that of Earl Hines. Unfortunately he never recorded an album of his own, although Decca had been trying to arrange this just before his death. His schedule with the All-Stars interfered with plans for his recording and it was always postponed.”

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1140

“I recently came across a review of Lucky Millinder’s band in a Dec. 1936 copy of Metronome: ‘By the way, within the rhythm unit, note the pianistics of newly discovered Billy Kyle Jr., a lad who has some fine ideas along Teddy Wilson lines, plus a really excellent technique.'”

Photo not taken by Jack Bradley but collected by him. Billy Kyle and Velma Middleton both tragically passed away on the road. LAHM 2006_1_69

“Funeral services were held on March 1 at Terry’s Funeral Home in Philadelphia and he was buried at the Mt. Long Cemetery there. Needless to say, Billy had many many friends and they all turned out for the services. Louis and the All-Stars traveled 1,000 miles from their last engagement to make the funeral and they stayed over in Philadelphia for the burial which was the next day. Also present was Louis’ wife, Lucille, manger Joe Glaser, fellow Philadelphian Cat Anderson, Russell Procope, drummers Gene Krupa and Coatesville Harris, Joe Wilder, Doc Pugh (Doc is Louis’ former valet), Mrs. Charlie Shavers, and Viola Jefferson who used to sing with Horace Henderson, came all the way in from Milwaukee.”

On March 8, Bradley wrote to two friends he addressed as “Big Daddy and Lisa,” who remain a mystery but one that should be able to be solved; they lived “across the pond,” they came to the USA occasionally and made the scene with Bradley, were friends with Hugues Panassie, who is referenced multiple times, and “Big Daddy” was addressed by Bradley as “our No. 1 jazz brother.” Any guesses? Anyway, in this letter, Bradley was a little more open about Kyle’s passing, getting in some digs about how the All Stars still traveled by bus and that the heat didn’t always work in the dead of winter:

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The loss of Billy Kyle was a hard one and perhaps opened the eyes of Joe Glaser, who must have feared that the golden goose was slowing down, too. Glaser started building more time off and more extended engagements in one place in Armstrong’s schedule, instead of the endless one-nighters. According to Bradley, Armstrong had a week off after the Trenton engagement, went back on the road for three, then had three weeks off in March, something that would have been unfathomable in past years.

In April, Life magazine finally published its cover story on Louis by Richard Meryman and photos by John Loengard. Here’s one of Bradley’s many copies, sent to him by Jeann Failows’s brother Irwin; cover photo by Philippe Halsman:

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Bradley and Failows publicly apologized for not having a column ready for the June-July issue of Coda, the magazine stating, “Pressure of other business prevented its completion. They do, however, urge jazz fans to get the April 15 issue of Life Magazine with its cover story on Louis Armstrong.” In a March 1967 letter to the same mysterious European friends referenced above, Bradley did admit, “We agree with you when you say that you felt Pops’ Life mag. article had bits of bitterness in it. Unfortunately, for the past year or more Pops has developed this attitude and undoubtedly for very good reasons–we know he has been having painful and bad trouble with teeth and chops – and Glaser still cracks that whip – not allowing Louis time to get dental work properly – with Louis still doing one-nighters although, thank God, not as many as he has done all his life. Still not enough time to mend body and soul.”

It’s true that 1966 remains a “down” year in the Armstrong discography; every surviving studio recording, live performance, and TV appearance finds his chops in a diminished state. However, that didn’t stop Armstrong from always giving his all to ensure his audiences were entertained. On May 21, 1966, Bradley attended Armstrong’s performance at Iona College, where he performed on the steps of Spellman Hall with Tyree Glenn on trombone, Buster Bailey on clarinet, Buddy Catlett on bass, Danny Barcelona on drums, Jewel Brown on vocals, and Billy Kyle’s replacement (though ironically, Kyle originally replaced him in 1954) Marty Napoleon on piano.

Here’s a selection of Bradley’s photos that evening illustrating that whatever was ailing him internally sure did not diminish the joy he exuded once he hit the footlights:

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As referenced before, the microphone work leads me to think this is “Hello, Dolly!”:

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Louis introducing one of Tyree Glenn’s trombone features:

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Louis digging Tyree in the background:

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The aftermath of Glenn’s feature:

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Glenn was also featured on vibraphone in the second set:

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Continuing with the features, here’s Marty Napoleon in the spotlight:

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A feature for bassist Buddy Catlett:

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Buster Bailey’s turn:

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I wish I knew what was happening here but both Glenn and Buster Bailey were natural showmen so it was a natural for them to engage in some onstage fooling around:

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To give himself a break, Danny Barcelona’s “Stompin’ at the Savoy” solo began getting longer and longer in the mid-60s:

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Louis would eventually come back onstage when he was ready, helping to cheer Barcelona on:

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Jewel Brown:

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In the second set, Brown changed dresses:

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The finale, with Brown joining the rest of the band onstage:

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We don’t know if these were taken during before or after the show, but here’s Louis with Dan Morgenstern and Morgenstern’s wife:

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A charming photo of Louis signing autographs for two officers:

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Iona even had a cake made to help welcome Louis:

Photo by Jack Bradley. LAHM 2006_1_1590b-08

That concludes the All Stars’s evening in New Rochelle but then it was time to go back on the road. Here’s Bradley’s Coda summary of this period:

“During May Louis played one-nighters in Anderson and Indianapolis, Terre Haute, Indiana; Charlottesville, Virginia, Schenectady and Oswego N.Y., Washington DC, at a private party at the N.Y. Hilton marking a merger between ABC and ITA. Then he played a concert in New Rochelle NY before appearing in Atlanta, Ga. on May 27 and Vineland, N.J. the following day. June found him on the West Coast where he spent a week at the Carousel Theatre in West Covina (suburb of Los Angeles). On June 23 he played a concert at McCormick Place, Chicago. 27 July 3 was the eve of his birthday and he played a one nighter in Warrensville, Ohio. There the producers of the show presented Louis with a mammoth birthday cake which must have been six feet tall and at the conclusion of the show the entire audience was invited onstage by Pops for the cake cutting ceremonies and waitresses served everyone a piece of this special delicacy – telegrams of birthday wishes were in abundance – some of those read were from Carol Channing, Bobby Kennedy, Senator Javits and former President Eisenhower. The latter message is of interest since in 1957, during the Little Rock crisis Louis spoke out and called Ike ‘two-faced’ also announcing that he ‘had no guts.’ On July 4 Pops celebrated his birthday, playing a concert at the Lambertville Music Tent, N.J. The following two days were spent at Jones Beach Marine theatre rehearsing for ‘Mardi-Gras.'”

What is “Mardi Gras,” you ask? That is the revue that starred Guy Lombardo and Louis and ran at Jones Beach from July through September 1966. Yes, Armstrong got to spend that entire summer at home in Queens, commuting to his nightly gig in Long Island, and Bradley spent a ton of time–and took a ton of photos–of Armstrong at home, in rehearsal, during the actual “Mardi Gras” show, and performing for dancers afterwards. Those photos will make up the next installments of this series (Bradley took almost 300 photos so we’ll have to break it up) so come back soon for those.

Published by Ricky Riccardi

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

2 thoughts on ““The Greatest Photo Taker”: Remembering Jack Bradley Part 21–Iona College Concert and Farewell Billy Kyle

  1. It’s a shame there was no photos of Louis Armstrong in Trenton NJ. That’s my hometown and I love Satchmo.

  2. Billy Kyle was my favorite All Stars Pianist. Marty was a great replacement having been with Pops from ’52-3 .

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