We’ve reached the conclusion of what has been a very well-received miniseries on Jack Bradley’s photos of Louis Armstrong rehearsing in June 1967 for a Kraft Music Hall television show appearance with Herb Alpert. In part one, we covered the initial meetings and rehearsals with Armstrong, Alpert, their respective bands–the All Stars and the Tijuana Brass–and all the behind-the-scenes crew from the Kraft Music Hall. In part two, we began in a recording studio as Armstrong and Alpert laid down some backing tracks for the show, and then followed everyone to the NBC television studio off Avenue M in Brooklyn (thanks to reader Tim Faracy for identifying to location, right down to the Cooky’s Coffee cups everyone was drinking). In that post, we stuck to photos of Louis and crew sitting in the audience, waiting for their time to be called on stage for the final rehearsal.
Today’s post deals with the onstage moments from that rehearsal. The cameras are in place, the cue cards are written, and everyone is going through the routines one last time before the final taping. It’s not a dress rehearsal as Louis isn’t in his tuxedo–but it’s close.
Armstrong would have two segments in the final, aired show, which was titled “And All That Brass.” In the first, he did “Cabaret” with the All Stars and then did a medley with Alpert of “Mack the Knife,” “Tijuana Taxi,” “Let’s Sing Like a Dixieland Band,” “Muskrat Ramble,” and “South Rampart Street Parade.” In the second, Louis and Herb had a charming five minute conversation before singing a duet on “Mame.”
Our photos begin with the latter, with Armstrong and Alpert going over their conversation with who we believe is one of the show’s producers, Gary Smith:
In the background of this photo is the man we’ve identified as the show’s Music Director, Peter Matz–but both men wore glasses so the identification could be reversed!
Bradley switched positions and took a few head-on shots of Alpert and Armstrong in conversation:
All of a sudden, the cue cards for “Mame” appear; Pops takes a gander:
The following sequence of photographs is simply charming as the two work on their “Mame” duet–you can really sense the affection Armstrong and Alpert had for each other:
Bradley switched his vantage point again to get this nice shot with the light hitting the two stars as All Stars pianist Marty Napoleon watches in the background:
A few more lovely photos of the duet:
In out previous post, we also shared a lot of photos of Armstrong, Alpert, Tyree Glenn, and others looking tired because of the amount of waiting around they had to do. Bradley didn’t shoot any of the Tijuana Brass’s rehearsals, but he did get a photo of them on set obviously waiting to get started:
Bradley also didn’t get any of the shots of the All Stars in action, but he did snap one of Tyree Glenn playing, also a part of the pretty elaborate set:
When I write these pieces, I know there’s a lot of conjecture because Bradley didn’t leave specific notes behind on which songs were being performed every time he snapped a photo. But on the broadcast, Armstrong and Alpert sang “Mame” while seated and “Lets Sing Like a Dixieland Band” while standing, which is why I’m assuming the above photos depict the “Mame” rehearsal and these next ones are of the two principals working out the “Dixieland Band” vocal:
We also don’t know the exact order the photos were taken, so the above could have been first or last, but we’re closing this post with Louis’s solo rehearsal. Here he is waiting to get started:
If you look in the background, you can start to spot members of the Tijuana Brass watching the master in action:
Herb Alpert is visible in this one:
But notice Armstrong’s eyes, looking down:
What’s he looking at?
(Keep scrolling for the answer.)
Jack Bradley realized what was going on and stood back a bit to capture the scene: Louis was singing “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South”–and using the cue cards!
This was something that still tickled the late Joe Muranyi when I first interviewed him in 2006. He recalled that his initial thought was how silly it was for Armstrong to be using cue cards to sing a song he had been doing every night for 36 years at this point. But then Muranyi realized something deeper was going on: this was the cue card guy’s job and if Armstrong said, “Nah, I don’t need cue cards,” the guy would have had nothing to do and might have been sent home. Thus, Muranyi read this as Armstrong making the cue card guy feel special and like he was doing an important job. (Muranyi also told me that he got such a kick out if it, he stole the card with “SCATS” and brought it home with him!) Here’s “Sleepy Time” in sequence:
With that out of the way, it was time for Armstrong to rehearse “Cabaret,” which he initially recorded with the All Stars in September 1966 but had grown to really love performing by the summer of 1967. This would feature his most demanding blowing of the day, so he turned his back to warm up:
Perhaps not satisfied, Bradley took this chilling photo of a deadly serious Armstrong staring at the instrument he had been blowing for 54 years at this point:
The negative has those specs on it as seen above, but Bradley was so proud of this photo, he turned it into a print, which appeared in Hugues Panassie’s biography of Armstrong:
But eventually, the chops started percolating and Bradley took a number of photos in succession of Armstrong blowing:
And again, conjecture, but “Cabaret” ended with some very similar visual choreography so that’s my gut as to what is being performed in this sequence:
And with that, the rehearsals were over and Bradley’s job was finished. Sadly, he was not at the final taping, but NBC hired David Redfern to shoot it and Redfern’s images have been classics. In fact, this first one was used as the basis for the Louis Armstrong postage stamp that was issued in the United States in 1995:
Here are some more Redfern images, some of which have appeared in the Gary Giddins book Satchmo among other places; note that these are all from Getty Images and are not part of the collections of the Louis Armstrong House Museum:
That last photo of a serious, pained Armstrong is worth commenting on. Trumpeter Joe Wilder was in the studio orchestra and he had his camera with him during the taping. He told Ed Berger that during the show, Alpert asked Armstrong some questions about racism and his upbringing and Armstrong grew deadly serious. Wilder grabbed his camera and took a photo similar to one Redfern took above.
Alas, when the one-hour special finally aired in September 1967, there was no discussion on race (and there were some clear edits in the conversation between Armstrong and Alpert). “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South” was also cut entirely–I hope the cue card guy wasn’t upset.
50 years later, Alpert talked about the taping in an interview with Offbeat magazine, saying of Armstrong, “He influenced anybody who played an instrument. Louis’ music and his personality were totally in sync. His personality came right through the horn, and it was beautiful.” About working with him, Alpert said, “I was anxious about doing it because of his reputation. But it was fun. An experience I’ll never forget. Because he was such a stellar person. No pretense. He was real.”
One year later, in 2018, the Louis Armstrong House Museum honored Herb Alpert at our Gala. The video of “And All That Brass” had never turned up and was not online or part of our collections–but one quick ask of Alpert’s team, and we had a beautiful color, digital copy for our Archives. Again, like the Getty images, we don’t own the rights to this footage but after this extensive three-part series, we feel the only way to properly close is with watermarked videos of the two Armstrong segments!
Here’s the first, opening with “Cabaret” and then into the aforementioned medley–worth the price of admission alone to hear Armstrong play “Tijuana Taxi”!
And finally, Armstrong and Alpert’s conversation (Louis’s joke about friends calling him “Irving” and his look directly into the camera never fail to crack me up), which goes into “Mame”:
And that’s that! Armstrong went back on tour, playing Highland Park, Illinois, Washington D. C., and Atlantic City, before embarking on what might have been the most arduous overseas tour of his career–and that’s saying a lot (the 1960-61 tour of Africa that resulting in the passing of Velma Middleton might be the only one that was more grueling). But back in the States in August, Armstrong performed in Central Park, went into the recording studio to record a little thing called “What a Wonderful World,” then headed up for an extended engagement at Caesar’s Monticello in Framingham, Massachusetts–Bradly would be present for every show, plus backstage hangs, motel room meals, a trip to see Funny Girl, and more. Those photos will take up the next little mini-series as part of this much larger series on the late, great Jack Bradley–but first, come back next week for a special 100th anniversary celebration of Armstrong’s first recordings with King Oliver!