Friday, January 3, 2014

Happy 80th Birthday to Jack Bradley!

Hello fellow Pops lovers and welcome to 2014. I'm sure you've done plenty of celebrating between the December holiday season and New Year's Eve but I ask you today to raise a glass and toast the 80th birthday of the world's greatest Louis Armstrong fan, Jack Bradley!

As longtime readers of this blog know, my current day job is serving as the Archivist for the Louis Armstrong House Museum. I was hired in 2009 on a two-grant from the IMLS where my main duty would be arranging, preserving and cataloging of Jack's Armstrong collection. And what a collection! Thanks to a grant from the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation, the Armstrong House was able to purchase Jack's entire life's work, bringing it back from Cape Cod in one trip at a time, starting in 2005 and finally getting it all to Queens in 2010. It took me over a year to get in shape but it's all cataloged and ready to go and entirely searchable on LAHM's Online Catalog. Thanks to my work with Jack's collection, I was held over when my grant ended and am still parked at the Armstrong Archives at the start of 2014. If you don't mind, I'd like to update Dizzy Gillespie's 1970 tribute to Louis Armstrong: I'd like to thank Jack Bradley for my livelihood...literally!

But enough about me, let's talk about the man, who was born in Massachusetts 80 years ago today. Jack's a graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy and probably would have been happy with a life at sea (he spent recent decades running a popular charter boat from Cape Cod to Nantucket). Fortunately for us, he was hit with the jazz bug in 1951. He first heard Louis live with the All Stars at the Boston Armory in 1956. Already interested in photography, Jack took his earliest photos of Louis that evening from the first row. (Note: all photos are taken from the aforementioned Online Catalog and are watermarked to prevent further use elsewhere. If you're interested in using any of these, please send me an e-mail as the Louis Armstrong House Museum administers the rights for all of Jack's Armstrong photos.)

And here's another shot of Velma after the heading back to the band bus:

Jack hung around Cape Cod for a few more years and eventually made the move to New York around 1958. Early in his stay, he attended a jam session where he met a woman named Jeann Failows, better known as "Roni." They hit it off but little did Jack know that his entire fate rested in the answer to a simple question posed by Failows: "Who's the greatest jazz musician of them all?" Bradley answered Louis Armstrong and the rest is history.

Why? Because Failows had been a trusted member of Armstrong's inner circle for a decade. Her main job was helping sort through the voluminous amounts of fan mail the trumpeter received on a daily basis. Louis liked her a lot, as evidenced by a number of letters she saved from him in the early 1950s, and she was always welcome backstage and at his home in Corona, Queens when he was in New York (she's also responsible for introducing Dan Morgenstern to Louis in his dressing room at the Roxy Theater in 1950).

Jack and Roni hit it off and eventually began dating. They never married but made such a formidable team, I've seen references to them as "Mr. and Mrs. Bradley." Failows had already been collecting letters to and from Armstrong, photos of the trumpeter, contracts, handwritten set lists and more; Bradley soon started collecting with her but he never stopped! (Failows eventually gave Bradley everything she collected before they met, a sizable chunk of the Bradley Collection at the Armstrong Archives; she seemed to live quietly in later years and died, I believe, in the early 1990s.)

Failows was already penning a column on the New York scene for the fairly new "Coda" magazine and almost immediately after they started going out, Bradley became co-author to the column, which became known for almost always including a bit of information on Armstrong. Still, he hadn't met Armstrong yet, who spent much of 1959 on tour in Europe, followed by a heart attack and more one-nighters around the country. From what I've gleaned in Jack's collection, the first fateful meeting was backstage at Carnegie Hall on December 26, 1959. Jack had his camera and took a few dressing room shots, including Louis greeting Failows with a kiss:

Louis was typically friendly to Jack but it was a dressing room mob scene so it was kind of chaotic. But soon after, Jeann and Jack were invited to the Armstrong's home in Corona, Queens. When Jack went up to Louis's den, saw him and realized they were alone, he almost started weeping and couldn't utter a word. Finally, he said, "I'm awfully sorry, I just don't know what to say." Armstrong patted him on the shoulder and said, "That's all right, Pops--everything's cool."  And it was.

I don't know when this photo was taken but judging by Jack's appearance, it must have been early in their relationship. This is Louis with Jack and Jeann, with Louis's longtime friend Slim Thompson in the background:

Louis immediately realized that Jack always had his camera with him and began giving him tips that other photographers simply didn't have: recording sessions, rehearsals, nightclub visits, etc. Jack had access and to this day, is sometimes introduced as Louis's "official photographer." I don't think the title was ever made official but it might as well have been when one considers the thousands of images of Louis that Jack took in every possible setting from 1959 to 1971.

The first record date Jack got called to was the Dukes of Dixieland dates for Audio Fidelity at Webster Hall in May 1960. Here's some of my favorites from those sessions:

One with Frank Assunto:
With the Dukes going over what to record next:
And here's Louis with some guests who dropped by to check out the session: Dizzy Gillespie, Gene Krupa and Max Kaminsky!
And finally, one of Jack and Louis together:

That same year, Jack and Dan Morgenstern went to see Louis perform during a tremendous rain storm in Tuxedo Park, NY. It was in his dressing room that Jack, his nerves officially gone, took an iconic photo of the trumpeter--completely naked from the back!

As Jack tells it, Louis heard the shutter go off and immediately responded, "Print up a thousand of 'em!" Sure enough, a film of Luis Russell's birthday party at Louis's home in 1962 shows an enlarged version of the naked photo prominently displayed in Louis's den!

In 1961, Jack was also there when Louis took on the challenge of recording Dave and Iola Brubeck's ahead-of-its-time Civil Rights work, The Real Ambassadors. Jack took copious notes on the sessions (some quotes are included in my book) and took a few dozen photos. This is a personal favorite:

In fact, Jack grabbed a ton of stuff related to The Real Ambassadors: the note cards Brubeck sent to Louis with the lyrics of every song, to help Louis learn them; some of Louis's parts from the sheet music handed out at the session; and most touchingly, a telegram sent by Dave and Iola to Louis after the one--and only--live performance of the work at the Monterey Jazz Festival in September 1962:

I could easily keep going year-by-year with the material Jack shot and collected but I'd be writing until Jack turned 90 (it's a dream of mine to compile a coffee table book of Jack's photos of Louis some day). Needless to say, Jack was there for everything. Here's some terrific backstage shots from Lambertville, NJ in 1966, capturing both Louis's gregarious side and the weary look of a man who had spent too many years on the road:

In the more weary shot, notice Jack's reflection in the mirror:
Naturally, Jack shot dozens of live All Stars performances. Here's two terrific shots from the Atlantic City Steel Pier in July 1965. I love Jack's positioning in the first shot, capturing a unique angle of the band (note Louis's water table hidden behind the piano):
And from the same gig, Jack caught Louis and Tyree clowning around from behind with a sea of smiling faces behind them:

I mentioned the kind of access Jack had and the following shots are a good example, taken during the filming of a "Suzy Cute" doll commercial in late 1964. Jack was assuredly the only photographer present and he took a few dozen gems. I love Louis's sly smile in this one:
And here's Pops clowning with the kids, obviously having a great time. (If you've never seen the commercial, click here and come back in a minute.)
Jack also attended probably every New York studio session Louis did from 1960 on. For a Mercury date in 1964, Jack shot the only known photos of Louis and Quincy Jones together:

And while on the subject of great pairings, Louis never stopped talking about his love for Guy Lombardo. Finally, in the summer of 1966, Louis and Lombardo teamed up for the show Mardi Gras, which ran at Jones Beach from June through September of that year. Jack took many great shots, not only of the show and of the post-show performances (Louis and Lombardo would each do a set when the play was over), but he also took some rehearsal shots on an obviously hot day. Here's Louis and the shirtless Lombardo:

Following Armstrong around, you never knew who you were going to run into. Fortunately, Jack usually had his camera with him so we now know who they were running into! From Chicago in 1967, here's a trio of great trumpet players: Louis, Jonah Jones and Bobby Hackett:

Backstage at the Latin Quarter in 1968, Louis was flanked by Louie Bellson and Pearl Bailey:

Another backstage visitor: Louis's longtime manager, Joe Glaser. Jack did not like Glaser, something evidenced in letters we have in his collection to friends dating back to the 1960s. Jack, however, made the mistake of once taking a dig at Glaser while having dinner at Armstrong's house. Armstrong's foul-mouthed tirade--delivered without looking up from his meal--still makes Jack tear up to this day. We don't know when this shot was taken or what they were talking about but it still effectively illustrates this very complex relationshiop:

Armstrong's attack on Jack was forgotten by the next time they saw each other, a good example of Armstrong's quick-trigger temper but ability to move on. Besides that moment, Jack and Louis were as close as can be, listening to music together, getting high, you name it. Here's a few of my favorite shots of the two friends:

That last shot was taken in 1963 at a short-lived nightclub Jack ran called Bourbon Street. No one loved the music or the musicians more than Jack, but running a nightclub presented more headaches than he bargained for. Still, when business was a little tough, he could count on Louis to make an appearance, which created quite a buzz, at least for one night. In the house band that night was Red Allen and Jack caught this picture of the two great New Orleans trumpet men sitting together with future All Star Joe Muranyi:

By the time of the Bourbon Street era, Jack and Jeann had started a fan club of sorts for Armstrong. What to call it? The Louis Armstrong Fan Club?  Nope. How about the Louis Armstrong Is God Society! They advertised it in Coda magazine but got some nasty feedback from some of the more religious readers out there who did not appreciate a black trumpeter from New Orleans being equated with the deity. The Society soon went underground but that didn't stop Jack from creating a t-shirt he proudly wore for decades:

I've alluded to Jack spending many hours at Louis's home in Corona, Queens, now the site of the Louis Armstrong House Museum. He didn't always bring his camera, but when he did, he captured some beautiful images of the King in his castle. This shot, taken before leaving for Jones Beach in 1966, has become a popular postcard at the Armstrong House:

I love this next one, capturing a down-home evening with Louis and Lucille dressed casually, kissing, while Edmond Hall's wife Winnie, looks on from behind:
Of course, probably Jack's most noteworthy trip to Armstrong house was for the famous Slivovice interview on May 22, 1965. Dan Morgenstern had been friends with Louis since 1950 but had never been to the house. He was then DownBeat's New York editor and he wanted to do a special birthday issue for Louis's 65th birthday. Jack made it happen while Louis was off for six weeks recovering from dental surgery. Dan brought along his tape recorder, Jack took some fabulous images and the whole thing was put together for a very special issue of the magazine.

Flash forward to about 1980. Dan rediscovered the original tape of the interview, sent it to Phil Schaap...and Phil played it over the air on WKCR! He played it numerous times over the years and many die-hard Armstrong fans ended up recording it off the radio. My copy comes from David Ostwald and I can't tell you how many times I've listened to it. I posted it completely here for Dan's 80th birthday back in 2010 so I guess I have to post it again for Jack's!
Here's the 50-minute first part:

Here's the 50-minute second part:

And finally, the 30 minute third part:

If you're wondering why it's called the Slivovice interview, well, all you have to do is listen to the beginning. Louis brought home a bottle of Slivovice plum brandy from Prague and the boys crack it open early in the interview. By the two hour mark, things are pretty loose! Jack took a bunch of never-before-published photos that day, but when we acquired his collection, we also got his negatives and contact sheets and included in them, was a contact sheet full of images of Louis and Dan in the den....with the Slivovice bottle on the desk!

By now, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Jack knew this was a special day and brought the bottle back home with him. Today, it's cataloged at the Armstrong Archives!

When I finally made it up to Cape Cod for the first time in 2009 to meet Jack, I almost fell over when I saw the bottle and got to hold it:

Louis was used to Jack collecting these types of things. Other gems we have from Jack's collection include a handwritten list by Louis of "Books to Get" (includes works by Timothy Leary and Ed Sullivan, as well as a biography of Eva Braun!); Louis's handwritten lyrics for the 1961 sessions with Duke Ellington; laundry receipts (one for 90 handkerchiefs!); Louis's slippers; room service receipts; a handkerchief; and much, much more.

Jack and Jeann continued helping Louis with his fan mail throughout the 1960s, asking him if they could keep the mail when he was done with it. We have some beautiful, heartfelt letters from fans around the world, telling Louis just how much he meant to them. But my favorites are from the people who had no idea where he lived and just took a shot in the dark at sending it to him. They always got delivered! These are two of my favorites, the first simply addressed "For the King of Jazz, Louis Armstrong, U.S.A." (notice the post office knew to send it to ASCAP).

And my all-time favorite, "Ole Satchmo Himself, Where ever he is"! (Again, the post office knew to get it to Joe Glaser.)

Louis got a kick out of Jack's collecting habits, maybe because Jack was never overbearing about it like some others might have been. He usually didn't even ask; Louis would just give him stuff he knew he'd like. Louis had thousands of photos and gave Jack bunches of them over the years, even autographing some. Once, Louis reached into his drawer in his den, pulled out some publicity photos and asked Jack if he'd like to take some. Jack replied he would so Louis signed it the following way:

When Jack looked at it, he saw the phrase "photo taker" and thought to himself, "Gee, poor Pops, with his lack of education, didn't know how to spell photographer." He gently thanked him but noticed Louis staring at him with a wry smile. Nothing further was said for the wasn't until years after Louis died that it all clicked: every time Louis offered a photo, Jack took it, hence "photo taker," a play on photographer! Jack kicked himself for taking so long to get it but appreciated Louis's sense of humor more than ever at that point.

It wasn't all laughs and sometimes Louis could get downright wistful. Jack traveled with the band to Framingham, Massachusetts in August 1967 and stayed with Louis at a somewhat rundown looking motel. That weekend, he took some great shots of Louis partying with the cast of a local production of "Funny Girl" (with Sylvia Syms and Carol Lawrence), playing onstage with the All Stars and unwinding at the motel. Here's Louis in his pajamas with Tyree Glenn, Joe Muranyi and Jeann Failows, giving out with a hearty "Ohhh yeah!"

But it was during the Framingham engagement, that Louis said something that really stuck with Jack. In the BBC documentary, The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong, Jack tells the emotional story, which can be seen here at the 9:52 mark. If you don't feel like clicking around, here's the story:

"One night after the gig, it was just me and him, smoking and talking about the old days and driving a coal cart in New Orleans. And he said, 'Wow, I've sure come a long way.' And he walked over to the little refrigerator, you know, that big, and opened it up and there were six eggs in it. And he said, 'Look, anytime I'm hungry, I can eat.' It brings tears to my eyes. You know, I felt like saying, 'Man, you should be having filet mignon and anything you want by picking up the phone!' But he was happy with that."

Jack took two photos of Louis having his meal in his hotel room. It's tempting to look at jazz's greatest genius and feel sorrow for the shoddy condition of the room and how serious, and lonely he looks. But when you hear a story like that, it makes him appear even more triumphant; he really did conquer the world and was perfectly happy being able to any kind of fresh food and in any kind of setting after what he experienced during his upbringing. Deep.

Any discussion of Louis and food, though, must go back to Swiss Kriss at some point and now is that point. Louis had been taking his favorite laxative since 1953 and after losing almost 100 pounds, he began printing up diet charts around 1956. The Bradley Collection has every iteration of the chart, including the final version, which Louis used as stationary in the 1960s. Here's a copy inscribed to Jack:

I think it speaks for itself! Today, almost everyone knows the famous "keyhole" photo of Louis sitting on the toilet. What they probably don't know is Jack helped design and print them! The original photo of Louis on the toilet holding a box of Swiss Kriss seems to have been taken by Lonnie Chi and was used as the Armstrong's Christmas card sometime in the 1950s. Jack took the photo, made it into a wallet sized card, superimposed a keyhole over Louis and added the words "Swiss Krissly" on the top and "Satchmo-Slogan (Leave It All Behind You)" on the bottom! Here's the finished work of art:

Well, not only does the Bradley Collection have a few different versions of the card, but it also contains notes from Louis himself. Here's Louis's inscription on the back of an early version of one such card:

 To translate: "Jack, make all of the new pictures just like this one with the word 'Swiss Krissly' on top. It gives out the name on a 'Q.T.' of Swiss Kriss. (Dig?)." And I love this telegram from 1968 where Louis urges Jack to send more cards immediately because of the tremendous demand!

But by 1968, Louis was losing weight and his health was starting to fail. Jack was there for that, too. I love this photo from shortly before heart and kidney trouble forced Louis to stop performing for two years in the fall of 1968 (it's the first picture in my book). Louis's body language is that of a tired man, but he sees Jack and still flashes that smile, exuding joy as he continued to push himself every night.
When Louis started recovering in 1969, his return appearances mostly consisted of interviews. Jack accompanied Louis on one such occasion, a filmed interview in Manhattan (I know some clips are buried somewhere on YouTube) and took this lovely pic of Louis stopping to smell the roses:
By May 1970, Louis was allowed to record again, though he was only permitted to sing on the album Louis Armstrong and His Friends. Jack snapped this picture, then ran over to join the chorus on "We Shall Overcome" and "Give Peace a Chance."
In July 1970, Louis celebrated what he believed was his 70th birthday at the Newport Jazz Festival. Jack was there from start to finish (and can be seen in the documentary footage released of the event). Here Louis holds court with a crowd including Tyree Glenn, Bobby Hackett, Dizzy Gillespie, Larry Ridley and Joe Newman:
And then it was showtime, Louis looking resplendent in his suit, opening with "Sleepy Time Down South," backed by Jack Lesberg and Bobby Hackett:
Louis was then allowed to perform on the trumpet again and took a few gigs with the All Stars in Vegas at the end of 1970. It was around that time (I believe) that Joe Muranyi took this photo of Louis and Jack.
In August 1970, Louis recorded his final album, Louis 'Country and Western' Armstrong. Jack was there in Central Park to take dozens of shots of Louis in both country.....

...and western garb.

But to me, this photo of Louis, taken while changing, represents the Louis Armstrong that Jack Bradley knew so well:
But all of this activity was too much and after two grueling weeks at the Waldorf in March 1971, Louis landed in the hospital with a major heart attack. However, he still made it back home in May and by the end of June, he was playing the trumpet again. Jack was invited over and took these, some of the last known photos of Louis Armstrong:

Louis died shortly after on July 6, 1971, a traumatic day for Jack. By that time, he had been running the New York Jazz Museum, mostly with his own memorabilia (especially his Armstrong collection). But like the Bourbon Street nightclub, Jack got involved with some shady business associates and the New York Jazz Museum ended on a sour note in the mid-1970s. Jack, embittered by the whole thing, left NY and returned to his Cape Cod home in Harwich, MA, where he married the love of his life, Nancy, a high school Spanish teacher (and yes, she managed to include Louis on some of her exams and yes, we have those exams at the Armstrong Archives!).

That's when Jack began running his charter boat but he remained in demand in the world of Armstrong, selling his photos and delivering lectures and film screenings on Louis around the world. When I came on the scene in the mid-2000s, prepping my book, Dan Morgenstern and Joe Muranyi put the good word in for me and I was able to have a beautiful conversation with Jack one afternoon in 2006. I would have been happy with that but fortunately, I've gotten to know him so much better through working with his collection and working with the Armstrong House and I can attest that he is a king of kings.

My second (!) day on the job in 2009 was spent driving to Cape Cod with my boss, Michael Cogswell, to pick up a shipment of Jack's stuff. Here we all are at dinner that evening:

And here's Jack, now using a disposable Kodak camera (to be on the receiving end of a Jack Bradley photo is quite a thrill!):

Once the van was packed up, it was time to head back to NY. Jack got to say good-bye to his Armstrong possessions one last time:

I threw myself into working on Jack's collection but the following year, he contacted me to tell me he had more stuff to give us. Michael and I planned a return trip in October 2010 but were joined by a very special visitor: an ailing Joe Muranyi, who wanted to see his Cape Cod home one more time before he eventually passed away in April 2012. It was really something else being there with them for two days; they were the real deal. They were there and had plenty of stories to tell. I was at least happy to get the chance to pull out a laptop and show some examples of the work I had been doing with Jack's collection:

Michael also took this photo, which is one of my favorites. It's as if by sitting in between them, I was trying to absorb all of their Louis knowledge and experiences....impossible!
And here's a few more shots of Jack around the house during that Cape Cod trip in 2010. As I've said, it took six years for us to acquire Jack's entire collection and it took me over a year to catalog it but if you go to Jack's house tonight, it looks like we took nothing away! It's still a veritable jazz museum in there and I really hope another institution can make room for the rest of Jack's jazz collection.

And here's Jack in his favorite chair with his best friend, Bo. (The record shelves to the right have a sign on top: "Vinyl Resting Place.")

Sadly for me, I haven't been back to the Cape since 2010. And because of hip problems, Jack hasn't been able to make it to Queens to see what we've done with his Collection. We hope to rectify that in 2014!  The Collection has already been accessed by many researchers, including myself, as it provided some great bits of info for my book (I turned in my final manuscript in August 2009 because the book was supposed to be released in 2010; it got pushed to 2011, which gave me 15 more months to add to it. Once Jack's collection was cataloged, I went to work with it--off the clock--and added a bunch of new information and quotes. I sometimes get wistful and think that perhaps Louis said, "Hold the phone on that book there until you see what Brother Jackson has accumulated!")

I've done a million other things in the two-and-a-half years since I finished the Jack Bradley Collection--including cataloging the entire collection of his friend, the late Gosta Hagglof--but I've never ignored. One exciting thing I spearheaded in 2013 was the scanning of the majority of Jack's negatives, an epic project that was handled like a pro by my top Archival Assistant, Brynn White. Brynn legitimately scanned thousands of images that have never been seen before ( table book!). We did an entire exhibit on Louis's 1961 and 1964 performances at Freedomland that used many of these wonderful rare images, such as this one (I love how Louis smiles, looking at Jack):

And here's Louis backstage signing autographs in 1966, making the day of this  young fan:

And we're working with Jack right now to start selling more products at the Armstrong House with these beautiful images: postcards, coffee mugs, tote bags, etc. I'll alert the world when they become available for purchase online. Until then, take a minute today to think of someone who truly devoted his life to Louis Armstrong and for that, we're forever grateful. Happy birthday, Jack!


Roberto Severino said...

Wow! What an amazing man. We should be very fortunate that he was able to capture so much history like he did. There's so much great information in this post that I'm probably going to have to reread again tonight and also listen to the interviews that you posted. Thank you so much!

RICHIE said...

A very happy birthday to Jack and thank you Ricky for introducing him to us through the years. A book of pictures with Jack's comments and your insight would be a treasure. How about Jack at Satchmofest for a seminar?

Ricky Riccardi said...

Thanks Roberto and Richie! Roberto, do listen to the entire (long) interview when you get a'll feel like you've been hanging out with Louis for the afternoon.

And Richie, strangely enough, I actually was hired as Jack's replacement at Satchmo Summerfest! He was the film guy from year one but after 2007, health issues made it difficult for him to travel. The films were always a hit so needing a replacement, Jon Pult of the Summerfest found me through my blog and I went in 2008 for the first time and haven't looked back. I wish Jack could make it back some day!

Either way, we'll have a ball down there in August, my friend. Margaret and I had such a good time with you at the Gala....wait until we're surrounded by Pops nuts for four days! Happy New Year, my friends!


RICHIE said...

We are really thrilled to take part in Summerfest and vist the Holy Land of New Orleans again. Your Jack Bradley post had so much great inside stuff it may make a good presentation topic for you in August. A very Happy New Year to you and the family.

L. Jackson said...

Hello, I stumbled on this great story while looking for information about Jack Bradley. I worked with the wonderful Bassist Gene Ramey in the early 80's, when he returned to his home town of Austin, and we had a nice jazz resurgence of several years with Gene a strong force. He and Jack were friends, and I have a letter to Gene, with a few Flyers and programs for Louis Armstrong events and appearances, as well as a typed and printed catalogue of the films that Jack had. Not quite sure what to do with these items, and wondering if you are still involved with the Museum and if you would like them? Send a message and we can correspond in regular ways if you do. Best regards. layne