Jack Bradley, photographer and Louis Armstrong enthusiast, dies at 87

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Jack Bradley, an ecstatic Louis Armstrong fan who became his personal photographer, creating an indelible and intimate record of the jazz giant’s last twelve years, died March 21 in Brewster, Mass., Cape Cod. He was 87 years old.

The cause was complications from Parkinson’s disease, said his wife, Nancy (Eckel) Bradley.

Mr. Bradley first attended an Armstrong and his band concert on Cape Cod in the mid-1950s. “I never heard a thing. As that, ”he said in an interview in 2012 for a documentary on Armstrong, “Mr. Jazz,” directed by Michèle Cinque. “My life has never been the same.”

Using a brownie, Mr Bradley took his first photo of Armstrong in another performance – the first of thousands he would take, first as a devotee, then as a member of his inner circle. He took pictures of Armstrong at his home in Corona, Queens; behind the scenes quiet moments; rehearsals and concerts; during recording sessions; and in the changing rooms.

“With that face and beautiful smile,” Mr Bradley said in a family-approved obituary, “how could anyone take a bad shot?”

Mr. Bradley did more than take pictures. He has become a voracious collector of everything relating to Armstrong’s life and career: 16-millimeter films, tapes of recordings and conversations, 78rpm and vinyl records, magazines, manuscripts, sheet music, telegrams, letters from fans, action figures … even Armstrong’s slippers and costumes, and a hotel laundry receipt that included “90 handkerchiefs,” which he used to wipe sweat during performances.

“One day Jack walked into Louis’ office and Louis was tearing up photos and letters into small pieces,” Ms. Bradley said over the phone. “Jack said, ‘No you can’t do that!’ and Louis said, ‘You have to simplify.’ For Jack, this was ancient history and shouldn’t be thrown out.

Mr Bradley’s refusal to simplify earned him Armstrong maven fame and led to an agreement in 2005 in which the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation awarded Queens College a Grant of $ 480,000 to acquire his collection for the Louis Armstrong House Museum, where Armstrong and his wife Lucille had lived.

“Our cornerstone is Louis’ business,” says Ricky Riccardi, the museum’s director of research collections, referring to the vast treasure trove of material Armstrong left behind when he died in 1971. “It will always stand on its own. But Jack’s is the perfect complement. Louis was obsessed with documenting his life, and Jack was obsessed with documenting Louis’ life.

The museum’s collections, now housed at Queens College, will move to a nearing completion education center opposite the museum, which was closed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr. Bradley was not a salaried employee of Armstrong but was paid for each photograph he took by Armstrong’s manager, Joe Glaser. To earn extra money, Mr. Bradley also took commercial photography jobs.

“I don’t think he ever won more than $ 10,000 in a year,” said his friend Mike Persico.

Dan Morgenstern, the jazz critic and historian, wrote in a Facebook tribute to Mr Bradley that he called it “One Shot” because “he would only take it once, in part to save the film. but also because he trusted his eye and his timing. “

Mr Bradley once photographed Armstrong naked from behind, in a dressing room. According to Mr. Morgenstern, Armstrong, when he heard Mr. Bradley’s camera click, said, “I want one! An enlarged copy of the photo hanging in Armstrong’s lair.

John Bradley III was born January 3, 1934 on Cape Cod, Cotuit. Her mother, Kathryn (Beatty) Bradley, had many jobs, including hairdressing. His father left the family when Jack was 10 years old.

A love of the sea inspired Mr. Bradley to attend Massachusetts Maritime Academy, from which he graduated in 1958. He then moved to Manhattan, where he immersed himself in jazz clubs and met Jeann Failows, who worked for Mr. Glaser helping answer Armstrong’s Mail. She and Mr. Bradley started dating, and Armstrong, seeing him with her, became convinced that Mr. Bradley was someone he could trust.

“What we had in common,” Mr. Bradley told JazzTimes in 2011, using one of Armstrong’s nicknames, “was this endless love for music. The pops never sought the glory for glory He just wanted to play the horn Louis had a message – a message about excellence.

“I have never met a man who has more genius for music,” he continued. “He could hear something once, and it was locked in his brain forever.”

Mr. Bradley was often next to my Armstrong from 1959 to 1971, sometimes leading him to engagements and spending hours at Armstrong’s. In all, the self-taught Mr. Bradley took approximately 6,000 photos of Armstrong.

A sequence of photos, taken in December 1959, shows Armstrong warming up before a concert at Carnegie Hall and performing with his band before taking the stage, then performing, greeting friends afterwards and signing autographs for fans outside the door of the scene.

Mr. Bradley’s attention was not entirely on Armstrong. He has photographed many other jazz artists and is said to have taken one of the last photos of Billie Vacation in performance – at the Phoenix Theater in Greenwich Village in May 1959. (She died in July.)

In the 1960s, he was in the Merchant Navy and ran a jazz club, Bourbon Street, in Manhattan for a year. In the 1970s, he was a partner of the New York Jazz Museum in Midtown Manhattan. He also worked as a road manager for pianist Erroll Garner and trumpeter Bobby Hackett.

Mr. Bradley returned to live on Cape Cod after the Jazz Museum closed in 1977. He became a charter boat captain, lectured on jazz locally and hosted a local radio show during which he interviewed jazz musicians. His wife was teaching Spanish in high school.

Mr Bradley has piled his huge collection of jazz memorabilia – of which the Armstrongiana was only a part – into his modest Cape Cod home in Harwich.

“He had it in the cupboards, the attic, the shoe boxes, the sea chests, the basement, the attic, everything except in oil barrels,” said Mr. Persico, who helped organize. archives.

Mr. Bradley died in a nursing home in Brewster. Besides his wife, he is survived by his sisters, Emmy Shanley and Bonnie Jordan, and his brother, Bob.

Ms Bradley said she didn’t mind that her marriage was, in fact, shared with Armstrong.

“It was OK,” she said. “The third guy was a lot of fun.”

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