It’s been a while since we last checked in with Louis Armstrong and Jack Bradley. To refresh your memory, we last posted a three-part series on Louis’s Jones Beach run with Guy Lombardo in the summer of 1966, which allowed him to remain at his Corona, Queens home and just commute to nearby Long Island every night for over two months. Jack Bradley and Jeann Failows’s October-November 1966 Coda magazine column picks up the story:
“After working 7 nights a week for the entire summer Louis Armstrong and the All Stars closed at Jones Beach Marine Theatre on Sept. 4. The following night they played a private party in Conn. Then, after a few days off, on Sept. 8, they played a one-nighter in New Jersey and on Sept. 10 were in Fairfield, Conn. sharing the bill with Sarah Vaughan. Now it’s like old times again – back on the road, doing a long series of those endless one-nighters.”
Bradley and Failows could only observe Armstrong from afar for the rest of 1966, watching him on TV on The Dean Martin Show and The Danny Kaye Show but not getting any opportunities to hang with him. “Ever since this summer Louis Armstrong and the All Stars have been on the road,” is how they led off their December 1966 column.
Armstrong did get a brief vacation in January 1967, Bradley and Failows’s column telling us that he and Lucille took in the middleweight championship fight between Emile Griffith and Joey Archer at Madison Square Garden on January 23. Sure enough, the television broadcast survives on YouTube and though the quality isn’t great, in between rounds 7 and 8, television cameras caught the Armstrongs at ringside, excitedly announced by the great Don Dunphy; if you’d like to see it, click here and go to 7 minutes and 52 seconds in!
But then it was back on the road until tragedy struck with the passing of All Stars clarinetist Buster Bailey on April 12, 1967. Five days later, Armstrong’s old friend trumpeter Henry “Red” Allen also passed away. Bradley wrote in Coda, “Early in April Pops and the All Stars had a few days off. On April 17 we saw him at Buster Bailey’s funeral and three days later at red Allen’s wake. Their passing naturally upset him very much. They’ve all been friends for many years.”
I don’t have proof that the following photos were taken at one of the above funerals, but the images definitely give off that kind of vibe (the first word in the sign above the awning in the back appears to say “Funeral”) and it looks like 1967 Louis so we’re including them here. In the first photo, Louis is with three great trumpeters, Charlie Shavers, Carl Warwick, and Joe Thomas; on the back of the print, in separate ink, Bradley wrote “Tom Lord” but the jazz discographer of the same name would have been about 26 and that looks like an older man in between Armstrong and Shavers. Any ideas?
In the following photo, Lucille Armstrong warmly greets Joe Thomas’s wife. The man on the right in the hat is music publisher, promoter and one-time manager of Jelly Roll Morton, Harrison Smith:
With a number of gigs on the horizon, including a segment on the GRAMMY Awards telecast, the All Stars quickly hired Johnny Mince, a veteran of Tommy Dorsey’s Orchestra, to replace Bailey on clarinet. Mince joined the otherwise stable All Stars personnel of Armstrong, Tyree Glenn on trombone, Marty Napoleon on piano, Buddy Catlett on bass, Danny Barcelona on drums, and Jewel Brown.
It was this iteration of the band that performed at the Island Garden Arena at West Hempstead, Long Island on April 23. Bradley was finally able to photograph Armstrong in concert for the first time since the summer of 1966. Here’s some of those photos, opening with a beautiful shot of Armstrong looking effervescent:
Here’s Louis and the new clarinet man, Johnny Mince:
And here’s a shot of Armstrong and Tyree Glenn that became somewhat well-known, published many times over the years:
In just about all the West Hempstead photos of Armstrong at the microphone, he looks like he’s having the time of his life. Here’s a few more:
It’s only when the other All Stars were featured and Armstrong got a chance to sit down that he looked exhausted. As will be revealed momentarily, there was a good reason for that:
Still, once backstage, Armstrong managed to keep the smile going for his visitors, including Jeann Failows’s nephew Dave and Jack Bradley’s protégé Jay Andersen in this next photo:
Armstrong’s adopted son Clarence Hatfield Armstrong was also in attendance, along with his wife Evelyn Allen and her son, Sonny Armstrong. They took two charming photos with Louis and an unidentified man and woman of the left:
Those are the photos from West Hempstead, but now for the promised reveal. As Bradley wrote in Coda of the show, “Pops had pneumonia at that time but didn’t know.” With that in mind, we urge our readers to read Michael Steinman’s poignant essay “Looking For Louis, Then and Now,” Steinman’s reflections about being there that night at Hempstead and his understandable disappointment when a “drained” Armstrong didn’t offer any interaction when signing an autograph. It’s truly a beautiful read.
According to Bradley, the very next day Armstrong, suffering from pneumonia, woke up early to rehearse and tape his segment at the GRAMMY Awards, where he performed “Mame.” For completeness, here’s the video, which includes a little trumpet work, something rare for this particular song:
The very next day, Louis and Lucille were up and out of the house early again, this time for a press conference at Central Park to announce the summer 1967 Rheingold Central Park Music Festival lineup. Armstrong was scheduled to open the festival on June 23 so he was in attendance, as was singer-songwriter Judy Collins, slated to perform in July and riding the wave of her eventual GRAMMY-winning recording of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides, Now,” her first international hit. Bradley was also there with his camera, photographing Armstrong–still smoking–chatting with an unidentified man, seated next to Jeann Failows; Lucille can be glimpsed in the background:
As the press conference began, Bradley caught Armstrong putting out his cigarette!
That’s New York City Parks Commissioner August Heckscher speaking, as Armstrong’s attention wanders:
Bradley spotted an American flag and framed a tired-looking Armstrong in front of it:
Armstrong looks a little warmer in this next image:
I checked Newspapers.com and for a press conference, it didn’t seem to get any press coverage, but at least we know Armstrong spoke:
Bradley then took some photos of Armstrong with Collins and Heckscher, the ailing trumpeter again turning it on as he had to do onstage the previous two nights:
We’re not sure who these other folks are in the following photos–one is clearly a reporter–but Bradley kept snapping away so we’ll keep sharing:
With some film left in his camera, Bradley discreetly snapped the Armstrongs leaving the press conference through Central Park; that appears to be road manager Ira Mangel holding Louis’s trumpet case:
Unfortunately, Armstrong would have to cancel that proposed June 23 show at Central Park. “A day or two later [after the press conference] Louis fell ill and had to cancel engagements for over a month in advance, including his three weeks at the Rainbow Grill in NYC,” Bradley and Failows wrote in Coda. “By mid-June Pops was well enough to pick up his horn again. He took a few days rest at Peg Leg Bates’ Country Club in the Catskills, plus a few more as guest of Gloria and Tyree Glenn at the Englewood, N.J., home.”
Yes, Armstrong was felled by the pneumonia he had been suffering from for who knows how long, and had to cancel some major New York City appearances, including what would have been his first engagement at the Rainbow Grill. The Central Park date was pushed back to August and Armstrong was allowed to rest–though, of course, not for long.
“On June 23 it all started again – the rehearsals, the bus rides, plane trips, one-nighters, taping TV shows,” Bradley wrote. And he’d be there for all of it with his camera, a story we will continue in our next installment of this series.