Last time out, we shared Jack Bradley’s photos of Louis Armstrong at home, taken for a Jazz magazine story about Mardi Gras, the Guy Lombardo-led musical extravaganza that took place at Jones Beach from July 8 through September 4, 1966. Bradley eventually shot one of the rehearsals, as well as the actual show itself, and those photos will make up the bulk of this post.
Rehearsals took place on July 6 and 7, 1966. Bradley was there for one of them, but we’re not sure which one. As you’ll see in a moment, it was obviously a scorcher. Checking archival newspapers at the time, July 6 hit 88 degrees at 1:40 p.m. in New York, while July 7 hit a maximum of 91 degrees at 2:30 p.m. That doesn’t really narrow it down, but is interesting for the historical record.
To set the scene, here’s the words of Jeann Failows in the aforementioned Jazz magazine piece:
“The setting is New Orleans–old and new–with songs to match. The famous band of Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians play the new compositions written by Carmen Lombardo and John Loeb. (Loeb was once a protégé of Mrs. Waller’s son, Fats.) Louis and his All-Stars play mostly standards. The book is by Sig [Herzig] with June Taylor responsible for the staging and choreography. With 200 singers and dancers, Mardi Gras flaunts eye-filling effects and color, as well as street calls, honky tonks, pirates, Carnival time and the violent overthrow of Storyville. Included, too, is a ‘jam session’ with the celebrated Marie Laveau, once the most powerful of all voodoo queens.”
We’ll begin the parade of rehearsal photos with Bradley at the top of the audience section, getting a good glimpse of the setup of the stage:
As we get a little closer, we now see Louis in the center, blowing, with a shirtless Guy Lombardo next to him. On the right side of the photo are Lombardo’s musicians and to the left of Louis are All Stars Buddy Catlett, Tyree Glenn, Marty Napoleon, and Buster Bailey, the latter two also shirtless:
Here’s a color photo of the mutual appreciation society of Armstrong and Lombardo, looking satisfied at what just transpired:
You probably didn’t come hear for topless Guy Lombardo photos (and please consider clearing your browser’s search history if you did!), but because of the longevity and popularity of Lombardo, and the fact that he was such a personal favorite of Armstrong’s, here’s a series of more rehearsal photos featuring the two men:
Switching to a black-and-white print for the next one:
Leaving Lombardo aside, the next two images feature the All Stars in talks with star David Atkinson and choreographer June Taylor:
Back to color for Armstrong taking a stroll with Marty Napoleon (who would have turned 101 yesterday, June 2; don’t miss last year’s tribute post on his centennial):
From a choreography standpoint, Armstrong had to get used to playing on an ascending ramp, as depicted in the next few photos:
It appears he’s also singing from the ramp in this next photo:
Without a piano, Marty Napoleon didn’t have much to do but he seemed to enjoy himself:
With that portion of the rehearsal over, it was time to go over the All Stars’s portion of the show, which would take place on the main set. Bradley caught the lone figure of Armstrong walking across the set:
Here it is populated by many more dancers and actors, the All Stars in the center.
Again, both bands join forces, the All Stars to the left, Lombardo’s men to the right, Armstrong and Lombardo in the center:
In between songs, Armstrong took time to take some notes:
The All Stars rehearsing their set, as Marty Napoleon now has a piano (but still no shirt):
That concludes the rehearsal photos–let’s get to the main show! Here’s a beautiful Bradley photo of what appears to be Armstrong’s entrance, the trumpeter standing in a spotlight as Lombardo and the cast look on:
Here’s what it looked like when the All Stars took over for their set during the show:
The All Stars doing some acting with David Atkinson:
Looks like Tyree Glenn got in on the act, being chased by what the New York Post referred to as “a hatchet-swinging Carrie Nation”:
The grand finale, with both bands joining forces:
If you’re wondering about the sounds that accompanied the above images, here’s Jeann Failows’s recap:
“Louis and the All-Stars make their grand entrance in Act 2, Scene 3. A floating barge pulls into front stage center with the band blowing ‘Tiger Rag.’ This is Lucky Laffity’s bar on Basin Street and our man Louis is attired in a bright blue suit, the jacket trimmed in white, topped by a blue derby. They play for about a half-hour from their usual repertoire. The scene ends with the invasion of Carrie Nation and her troupe of do-gooders, armed with hatchets, clubs and righteous indignation, and singing the rousing Down ‘With Whisky.’ They tear the joint apart and this is the supposed end of Basin Street. Louis and the band cut out for New York. In the finale, Louis sings ‘Come Along Down,’ accompanied by his All-Stars plus the Lombardo orchestra, as on their Capitol single. Then the musicians join forces for a ‘South Rampart Street Parade.'”
“Come Along Down” was one of two original songs from the show, recorded by Armstrong with Lombardo’s Orchestra for Capitol Records in mid-July. The released single sank without a trace and it appears the internet has been scrubbed of any and all versions of “Come Along Down”; however, the flip side, “Mumbo Jumbo,” does exist on YouTube:
Frances Herridge the New York Post reviewed Mardi Gras on July 11 and focused on Armstrong, writing, “the most spectacular part of the revised “Mardi Gras!” which opened Friday night, is the addition of Louis Armstrong and his band. There are only four in the group, aside from the Titan of Jazz himself, but there is more vitality in them per square inch than in the rest of the whole lavish show. They don’t come in until the second act but then they give you a generous half-hour of the Armstrong classics. The audience claps and the actors strut as he trumpets out ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ and ‘Mack the Knife,’ and when that double gravel voice of his belts out ‘St. James Infirmary’ and ‘On Blueberry Hill.'”
“The band woks itself naturally into the New Orleans setting. It stops the plot, of course, but that’s all to the good. And if the first act were cut by half an hour, that would be even better, because at the close of the show those two most durable bands – Armstrong’s and Lombardo’s – give you more than an hour’s free dancing in the adjacent pavilion and you may be eager to get to it. In a dixieland finale, incidentally, both bands come on together, but it doesn’t quite work. Lombardo uses twice the number of pieces and his sound is louder, but their two rhythms just can’t get to know each other.”
Here’s the complete review, as photocopied and given to Louis:
Bradley collected multiple programs from Mardi Gras; here’s the cover:
From the interior, the cast (Joel Grey!) and breakdown of acts 1 and 2:
In our Archives is also another program with a color cover that has many more photos of the production, though none taken by Bradley. For completeness, here it is–with a surprise on the back cover:
Yes, Schaefer was wasting no time, filming Armstrong’s television commercial in April and running print ads with his face by the summer of 1966.
After the grand finale of Armstrong and Lombardo’s bands teaming up for “South Rampart Street Parade,” Mardi Gras came to a close….but the evening wasn’t over. For no additional cost, both bands played half hour sets for dancing on the nearby Maxwell House bandstand. Jack Bradley headed over there and photographed the music, as well as Armstrong signing autographs backstage, photos that will be shared in our next installment.