It’s been several months since we posted an entry in our ongoing series on the friendship between Louis Armstrong and Jack Bradley (catch up on the first TWENTY-FIVE parts here!) but after finishing off our other series on Louis’s tapes, we are ready to resume our tribute to Jack.
I do admit that one of the reasons why I hit the brakes on the Bradley series is I had reached the summer of 1967, which was really maybe the prime period for Jack and Louis’s friendship. Jack was around Louis regularly for the rest of the year and took a ton of photos–so many, it was actually kind of daunting. But today, we’re embracing it head-on with the first of what will probably be a multiple-part series on multiple rehearsals and even a television taping that took place in late June 1967.
To refresh your memory, way back in our last post, we ended with a bit of a cliffhanger. A tired Louis had made it through an All Stars concert in Hempstead, Long Island and a press conference in Central Park, but was then diagnosed with pneumonia and told to take the next six weeks off. Armstrong had taken a similar break in 1965 for dental issues and he had taken a month off for exhaustion after a grueling tour of Africa and Europe in 1960-61, but he hadn’t had any real health scares since his heart attack in Spoleto, Italy in June 1959 (which ironically was passed off as pneumonia at the time). The iron man was starting to break down.
Armstrong rested into late June but then it was time to go back to work. The All Stars hadn’t performed in nearly two months and now there was a new member on clarinet: Joe Muranyi. After the death of Buster Bailey in March 1967, Johnny Mince was hired to replace him, appearing at the aforementioned Hempstead and on the GRAMMY Awards telecast. Perhaps Mince got spooked by Armstrong’s illness following on the heels of the passing of Bailey and several months earlier, pianist Billy Kyle; he decided to put in his notice and remain in New York instead of potentially succumbing to the grind of being an All Star.
But for the 39-year-old Muranyi, this was a dream opportunity. Muranyi was a mainstay on New York’s traditional jazz scene since the 1950s, but more importantly, he was a historian of the music, who was a bit in awe of Armstrong and all he accomplished. Muranyi told me that he knew the younger musicians in the band like Buddy Catlett, Marty Napoleon, Danny Barcelona, and Jewel Brown admired Armstrong, but they didn’t exactly study his trailblazing recordings from the 1920s. Muranyi would be at home listening to records of Armstrong playing with Sidney Bechet in 1925 and think to himself, “I’m going to ride the bus with that guy later today.” Because of that, Muranyi became an astute observer, relishing every moment he spent in Armstrong’s presence and often creating audio diaries from the road to capture his experiences. It’s a shame he never did finish the book he promised to write before he passed away in 2012, but many of his stories thankfully live on.
In his Coda magazine column on this period, Bradley “On June 23 it all started again – the rehearsals, the bus rides, plane trips, one-nighters, taping TV shows. He began by rehearsing his band with his new clarinet player – Joe Muranyi. Joe was formerly with the Red Onion Jazz Band and the Village Stompers and has been a strong Louis cat for years – with many records to prove it. He fits very well with the All Stars and is, naturally, very familiar with their repertoire. Pops played like he had never put his horn down.”
Thus, the majority of the photos that follow come from June 23, but there is a change in Armstrong’s shirt so it’s possible they assembled for a bit more on June 24 before they flew to Sandusky, Ohio for a one-nighter that evening. After sleeping in Sandusky, Louis and the All Stars flew back to New York on June 25 and went straight from the airport back to rehearsal, this time for a Kraft Music Hall television special with Herb Alpert–that will be the subject of our next post.
But for today, we have dozens of rare Jack Bradley photos to share from these late June 1967 rehearsals. We don’t know which group came first–in the majority, Louis is wearing a striped shirt but there’s also a bunch where he’s wearing a white shirt with circles on the sleeves–but we’ll start with the striped shirt photos. All of the following images took place at what appears to be one of the rehearsal rooms in the famed Nola Studios at Steinway Hall in New York City, which is where Armstrong usually rehearsed for his 1960s record dates and TV appearances.
Bradley went to work snapping photos from afar of Armstrong, Muranyi, and trombonist Tyree Glenn in action:
On the back of the print of the next photo, Bradley wrote, “Louis, Tyree Glenn, and Joe Muranyi rehearse after Louis’ 2 month illness – N.Y.C. June 1967”:
As Armstrong put on his glasses, Bradley got closer for some charming photos of Louis, looking happy to be making music again:
Armstrong grew more serious when consulting with Dr. Alexander Schiff and valet Robert Sherman about sheet music to rehearse:
Here’s a photo of road manager Ira Mangel, band boy Bobby Buster, and Bob Sherman sorting through a case of sheet music:
Eventually, a song was chosen, though unless my eyes deceive me, it’s a pretty strange choice: “Step Down, Brother, Next Case,” a tune written by jazz pianist Frank Owens and Joe Glaser’s friend, song plugger Jack Lee. Here’s a photo from the rehearsal:
Jack Lee was the man who brought “Hello, Dolly!” to Joe Glaser and he was also photographed at one of Armstrong’s Mercury sessions supervised by Quincy Jones. Perhaps this was Lee’s attempt to get a piece of the Armstrong cash cow, but the result was a dud, issued on a Brunswick 45 without a trace of publicity and never reissued in the digital era. Fortunately, it’s on YouTube:
“Step Down, Brother, Next Case,” was recorded in March so it’s possible it was on the slate to be issued in the summer of 1967. Armstrong could never tell when he had a hit record on his hands so perhaps it was decided that he should re-familiarize himself should he need to add it to his live shows. Suffice to say, he needn’t have worried.
Armstrong liked to call offbeat numbers during his rehearsals; Muranyi recalled the first song Louis chose at this first rehearsal was “So Long Dearie,” which he originally recorded in 1964. The song has a unique form and a minor-verse right in the middle and Muranyi had to fly by the seat of his pants to make it through it. Once the All Stars went back on the road, he recalled that they never played it again!
Thus, perhaps this is “Step Down Brother, Next Case,” perhaps it is “So Long Dearie,” or perhaps something else but here are some more Bradley photos of the front line working things out; in the background of the first photo is Bradley’s longtime girlfriend, Jeann “Roni” Failows:
A little blurry, but it’s nice to see Tyree Glenn and Joe Muranyi sharing a chuckle:
Bradley began exploring the space a bit, taking photos from some different angles:
The reflection in the mirror gives us our first glimpse of drummer Danny Barcelona:
Bassist Buddy Catlett joins the front line:
And pulling back a little further, Marty Napoleon can finally be glimpsed on the piano:
A break in the action finds everyone walking about the space–perhaps this was taken at the very start or very end of the session:
Being the new man in the band, Muranyi would be able to select the songs he’d like to be featured on during the All Stars’s live shows. Perhaps he is working over some routines with the rhythm section in the following photo:
Armstrong and Glenn took some time off while Muranyi rehearsed:
Bradley caught Armstrong and Glenn’s reflection through the mirrored doors:
Bradley also caught a candid photo of Louis smoking a cigarette:
Here’s a couple of nice photos of Louis looking a little tired:
Bradley also captured the various stages of Armstrong’s trumpet routine. Here he is from behind, starting to blow:
Now seated, looking like he might be adjusting a valve:
Blowing some air through the horn:
And finally, blowing! (From a few different angles.)
Bradley also captured Armstrong in some quiet moments–no human could beam 24 hours a day and that went for Armstrong, too, especially after two months of being sick:
Armstrong, in serious conversation with Muranyi:
We don’t know who this old man is with the white hair but he looks important–and Armstrong doesn’t look too thrilled to see him:
We’re grouping those photos to tell a story, but looking through the negatives, nearly all the “serious” photos are bookended by others that exude joy–here’s a few more:
Bradley also captured some close-ups of the other members of the band. Here’s Tyree Glenn, wearing sunglasses inside:
And a close-up of Glenn’s trombone, held by his left arm with a pack of Kool cigarettes tucked in there:
Pianist Marty Napoleon:
And here’s our first glimpse of vocalist Jewel Brown, probably there to work on some new features (she added a bunch in 1967, including “What the World Needs Now,” “That’s Life,” “This Could Be the Start of Something Big,” and more):
By the way, we should mention that Ms. Brown, the last surviving member of the All Stars, just released a new album and launched a new website–check it out here!
The photo of Jewel might have been taken at the other All Stars rehearsal from this period; here she is in the exact same outfit, sitting down alongside other onlookers including Ira Mangel, Bob Sherman and guests Ruby Braff (wearing sunglasses) and again, Jeann “Roni” Failows:
Here’s Braff greeting the band:
Braff was not the only guest at the session: Armstrong’s longtime manager Joe Glaser was also there, most likely to check on the health of his prized client. Here are two photos with Glaser looking on:
As can be seen, Louis is officially wearing the white shirt with the circles on the arms so we’re now firmly into the other rehearsal. We’ve already introduced the major players and the different scenarios, so here’s a run of Bradley’s best images from this occasion:
At some point, the spirit hit Armstrong and he finally stood up and started playing and singing as if on stage. Bradley had a front row seat to capture Armstrong’s various expressions in all their glory!
We get a glimpse of Jack Bradley in the next photo, reflected in the mirror:
These final two photos are a bit blurry but still with sharing because they convery the spirit of the occasion:
And with that, the All Stars boarded a plane and headed to Upper Sandusky, Ohio for a one-nighter (one that was actually broadcast; a version of “St. James Infirmary” was issued in the LP era but hasn’t made it to the internet). But 24 hours later, they’d be back in New York and back to rehearsal, this time with Herb Alpert and His Tijuana Brass. And Jack Bradley would be back, too–his photos will be shared in our next post!