It has been entirely too long since we posted an entry in our ongoing Jack Bradley series, but that’s about to change as this represents the first in a three-part examination of a Louis Armstrong engagement that took place at Caesar’s Monticello in Framingham, Massachusetts in August 1967.
First, a little recap. In April 1967, Armstrong was felled by pneumonia, causing him to cancel his engagements in May and the first part of June. Feeling healthy and reenergized, Armstrong threw himself into the rehearsals and filming of an episode of the Kraft Music Hall hosted by Herb Alpert. Jack Bradley was there for all of that and his photos were the focus of a four-part series we published earlier this year (here are links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4). Recordings of Louis live in concert and on television in that period find him in excellent form.
However, the grind soon caught up with him and Armstrong seemed to break down again as July went on. The bottom fell out with a European tour that was the most grueling of his career according to longtime road doctor Alexander Schiff. Lots of recordings, audio and video, have been released from Armstrong’s two-days at the Antibes Jazz Festival in Juan-Les-Pins, France, and he’s in surprisingly good shape throughout but it took everything out of him. A photo taken of him in near-collapse after one of the France shows was published in multiple newspapers across the United States:
Armstrong, his band, and his entourage somehow survived the grueling European tour and made it back to the United States just in time to open an engagement in Framingham, Massachusetts. It might not have been as glamourous as France or Copenhagen, but it would be nice to be in one place for a ten full days. Here’s an advertisement that ran in the Boston Globe on August 2, 1967:
Armstrong was no stranger to Caesar’s Monticello, having performed there in January 1965, an engagement also attended by Jack Bradley, whose photos can be seen in this post. Between 1965 and 1967, Armstrong had grown even closer to Bradley and his longtime girlfriend Jeann “Roni” Failows. Where Bradley and Failows were always invited backstage and to Armstrong’s home, this time they would get a room at the same Monticello motel Armstrong and the All Stars were staying at and spend as much time with them there and at Caesar’s.
(Note that an earlier version of this post identified the location as a Howard Johnson’s because of a note Jeann Failows left behind; closer inspection of the note shows that Failows wrote of a Howard Johnson’s “near” where they were staying. Cid Tamagno wrote in to say, “I’m pretty sure this was the Monticello Motel that was adjacent to the night club. Caesar Tamagno was my father and I recognize the location and the architecture. I spent a lot of my childhood there seeing the shows and meeting the entertainers at the Sunday matinees including Louis Armstrong!!!…There was a Howard Johnson’s motel squeezed in on the other side of the property (it might still be there) but the views would have been different. My father always liked the California pink stucco as the exterior of the nightclub and motel. This is so amazing that you’ve discovered these photos and they are so personal to myself and many in Framingham and the memory of Caesar’s Monticello!!!” Thank you, Cid!)
Thus, this first post will be devoted to that Monticello Motel and the photos Jack snapped while staying there. It was in Louis’s room that Jack took two of his most affecting images of the trumpeter during one of the most emotional moments the two friends ever shared together. First, here’s Jack himself from a 2012 interview conducted by Michele Cinque, telling the story of this moment:
Isn’t that story beautiful? Especially the way Jack tells it, the emotion is so real even 45 years after it took place. And here are the two photos Jack took at the time of that conversation, scanned from the negatives:
Jack made multiple prints of each, which have a different feel from the negatives:
With those photos and that story out of the way, we’ll go back to the beginning with some photos of what appears to be Louis’s arrival. The man on the left is Bob Sherman, Louis’s valet after Doc Pugh retired in 1965. Jack has his camera around his neck, so I’m assuming Jeann Failows took this photo, which is a bit on the blurry side:
But the second attempt is in focus:
Once properly cropped (sorry Bob Sherman), it became one of Jack’s favorite images of him and Louis:
Louis was equally pleased to see Failows, greeting her in front of Jack’s vintage Cadillac:
Louis and Jeann then turned to Jack’s camera and Louis turned on the show biz charm:
To introduce some of the other characters, here’s a great photo of Dr. Alexander Schiff, bassist Buddy Catlett, drummer Danny Barcelona, road manager Ira Mangel, trombonist Tyree Glenn, valet Bob Sherman, and, kneeling in the front, bandboy Bobby Buster:
Here’s Ira Mangel again with All Stars pianist Marty Napoleon:
Jack spotted clarinetist Joe Muranyi on the second floor and snapped this photo (if it was 2023, it would appear that Muranyi is checking his phone but that clearly was not the case in 1967):
The debonair Bob Sherman still dressed to the nines in the August heat:
Jeann Failows and Bob Sherman:
Bassist Buddy Catlett enjoying an outdoor seat:
Bandboy Bobby Buster by the band bus:
From above, it’s Pops!
As Louis looked over the scene, Jack continued snapping away:
Eventually a mystery woman appeared with two children–the one on the left couldn’t help but uncorking a funny face:
No longer making a funny face, the kid now looks bored but it’s still a great photo of Louis:
Okay, so who are these people? If anyone knows, please write! (Very possible they were just motel guests, but in case someone out there recognizes themselves, let us know.)
We’re now going to enter Louis’s motel room for a hang with Jack and Jeann and a boy who I originally thought was one of the ones pictured above, but I now have a new theory, explained below. We’re blessed that Jack always seemed to have a camera with him during the times he was around Louis, but he didn’t think to bring a tape recorder until 1967 run in Framingham, recording several motel room moments, as well as some of the performances at Monticello.
In this excerpt, Louis opens on the phone with his wife Lucille, who chose to go back to their Corona, Queens home after the grueling European tour. Louis hands the phone over to Jack, who talks to Lucille while Louis deals with a “radio man” visiting his room to record some promos for “Dixieland at Disneyland” in September. The other voice telling Louis to “take a rest” between spots is Ira Mangel, the road manager and obviously someone who was concerned with Louis overworking himself even by just reading radio promos.
Then a supremely strange moment occurs at 4:15: a needle drops and a record plays of a song that seems to be titled “Everybody Likes the Likes of Twiggy.” The model known as “Twiggy” took the world by storm in 1966 so it’s a topical song but at first listen, it sounds like Louis Armstrong singing! A deeper listen makes me think it’s an impersonator, perhaps a demo record sent to Louis–but then there’s a trumpet solo and it kind of sounds like Louis’s 1967 chops! On top of that, Jeann Failows, Jack Bradley and a young boy keep singing along with it and over it, making it hard to tell what is really going on (that’s Jack responding, “Oh, Twiggy” after the trumpet solo). Oh, how I wish I asked Jack about this before he passed away because it’s obviously something they all shared and laughed about but I have no other details about what in the world it really is.
After the record ends (at 6:55), we’re still in Louis’s room as he talks with the boy about going back to school, humorously referring to him as “George Washington” at one point because of his apparent resemblance to Louis’s old trombonist of the same name. Louis mentions that the boy and his family are coming to his show that night at 5:30 and leaving afterwards. Jack says he wants to take some pictures of them the next day, which might be the photos already shared above if it’s same boy on tape.
But wait (sorry readers, you’re watching me do this in real time)–there’s a mention of the boy’s mother’s birthday coming up. All Stars vocalist Jewel Brown was born August 30. Jeann Failows left before a notebook of random jottings from this trip to Framingham (more on that later) and on one page, she wrote, “YMIAH is correct spelling of of name of son of Jewel Brown (she spelled it for me).” At 11:45, Louis asks the kid to hand him a tin of lip salve, calling him “Georgie,” then “Washy,” which prompts to ask about trombonist George Washington. Jeann then asks him to sing something and he says he can sing “Twiggy” and “Georgie Girl”; the following excerpt ends there but later on the same tape, the kid mentions he was born in 1956. To tie it all in, Jewel Brown’s first husband was bandleader Eddie Curtis and their son was Eddie Ymiah Curtis, born in 1956 and still living in Texas. This makes me think we’re hearing Jewel’s son on the tape, but perhaps I was mistaken in assuming that’s him in the above photos because the woman pictured there is not Jewel. More mysteries to solve at a future date…
In between, Louis happily recalls some scenes of a production of Funny Girl he caught while in Framingham–we’ll have an entire post about that soon–and talks with Jeann about something Dan Morgenstern’s then-wife sent as a gift from Chicago, causing Louis to call her a “cute little ol’ gal” and Failows to note, “She loves you”; she’ll appear in some late 1967 photos. But for now, here’s 14 minutes of hanging out with Louis Armstrong in his motel room:
Since we just mentioned it, here are some of Jeann Failows’s handwritten notes from the week, with short descriptions of running into Louis and some quotes from their conversations (as well as notes on the foods she was eating; she was obviously on a diet)–note, “Jaxon” equals Jack Bradley:
Back to the photos! We have no idea who the people are in this next image besides Louis and Jeann–I’m assuming they’re motel staff but they could also just be guests–but they must have taken a liking to both Louis and Jack as Jack snapped a few photos of them with and without Pops:
And there’s trombonist Tyree Glenn on the second floor, with his son Tyree Jr. in the background. In preparing for this piece, I reached out to Tyree Jr., who told me, “I had a Gig in Mass, and after the gig, I went to visit Dad and Louie and rode back home with them in the Band Bus!”
Tyree looks a bit serious in the above photo but after hours and after work was over, that’s when the party began! Here’s Tyree in his robe dancing with Jeann Failows:
We don’t know who this is, but he was invited to the afterparty, too!
Tyree, enjoying a little libation:
Jack and Jeann also got to hang out with Tyree during the daytime; it’s a little blurry but here’s Jeann and Tyree on the balcony:
And Tyree smoking a cigarette in his robe in his room:
Fortunately, Jack Bradley brought his tape recorder during one of these hangs and recorded a chunk of a conversation with Tyree. Unfortunately, Tyree spotted the recorder and clammed up a bit at first, nervous to talk in his usual “down home” manner. Jack must have tried moving the recorder without success because the whole second part of it is inaudible. But for about four minutes in between, we get to hear a relaxed Tyree reminisce about taking lessons with Wayne Lewis, the first trombonist in the Edwin Franko Goldman military band, who apparently also taught Dickie Wells. Lewis asked Tyree how he got his sound and he said it was from listening to Louis Armstrong records–Tyree’s description, comparing Louis’s sound to smoke rings, is very evocative. Towards the end of the clip, Tyree talks about how some musicians like trombonist J. C. Higginbotham only played one way, but Tyree stresses you have to play a certain way with white musicians and a certain way with Black musicians. “You’ve got to know both sides,” Tyree says, before explaining how “the ofay has got this thing down to a scientific thing.” It’s all pretty deep–here’s the audio:
Perhaps the very next morning, Jack looked up and spotted Tyree, Joe Muranyi, Jeann, and Louis on the balcony, the All Stars still wearing what they slept in. Jack asked for an “Oh yeah!” and snapped the following photo:
This became another one of Jack’s favorites, which he also cropped and turned into a print:
More fun with Tyree, looking ready for a swim–I wonder if there was a pool at the motel?
And a dramatic shot of Pops, with that tuft of hair sticking straight up in the air:
With that striking image, we’re going to leave the Monticello Motel motel and head to Caesar’s Monticello for the gig. Next time, we’ll have a ton of rare photos of Louis onstage and off at Caesar’s and even some rare, never-before-heard audio. Til then!