Jack Bradley, Photographer for Louis Armstrong
Eighty-four year-old Jack Bradley, the world’s biggest collector of Louis Armstrong memorabilia, had a front row seat to Armstrong’s life for more than a decade. Bradley was born in Cape Cod in 1934 and eventually attended the Maritime Academy. At 25, he bought a camera, moved to New York, and within two weeks was dating Jeann Failows; a relationship that would alter the course of his life. Failows handled fan mail for Louis Armstrong, and it wasn’t long before Jack became a part of the musician’s inner circle in New York. “He became Louis’ photographer,” says Jack’s friend, Mike Persico. “Louis took him under his wing, and introduced him to people like Benny Goodman, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday. He’d be there when Louis got home to his house in Corona, Queens, or take photos of Louis loading up the tour bus with the neighborhood kids coming to help.” Jack photographed iconic moments and everyday scenes. “All sorts of people would knock at Louis’ door,” Mike says, of Jack’s memories from that time. “People like Dizzy Gillespie, who lived in the neighborhood. He’d come over and they’d eat grilled cheese sandwiches and talk. It was a jazz lover’s dream”
Jack photographed Armstrong from 1959 until his death in 1971 – capturing the jazz scene in New York, and all of its personalities; many of whom continued to visit Bradley after he moved back to the Cape with his wife Nancy in the mid-1970s. There, he continued collecting artifacts and emblems of jazz. “His home was full of everything from records to reels, to magazines, books, movies, sheet music, and negatives,” says Persico, who has spent the past year sorting through and cataloging the collection.
Bradley’s photographs of Louis have been donated to the Louis Armstrong House Museum, but a small part of his vast collection, from decades of friendship with the biggest jazz artists in the latter half of the 20th century, is now available at auction. “He documented a dying era in American culture — the jazz scene of the 1950s and 1960s, when people still went out to nightclubs,” notes Perisco. “He was the right guy at the right place at the right time.”
1950s Agfa/Ansco B2 Commander German Still Camera Signed by Jack Bradley
1924 Buescher True Tone Trumpet
Jack Bradley and Bobby Hackett Autographed Photographs
Film Reel for Betty Boop Animation with Cab Calloway, "Old Man of the Mountain"
Candid Photographs of Jazz Musicians from the 1960s, Signed by Jack Bradley
Duke Ellington Autographed Handout Flyer for "The World Famous Cotton Club"
Duke Ellington Vinyl Records including "The Duke in London"
Gelatin-Silver Photograph of the Cab Calloway Band from Jack Bradley Collection
Ex-Libris Jack Bradley 1959 "Playboy" with Jazz All Stars Feature
Vintage Duke Ellington Vinyl Records
Ex-Libris Jack Bradley 1944 Signed "Father of the Blues" by W.C. Handy
Erskine Hawkins and His Orchestra Promotional Poster
Photograph from Billie Holiday's Last Live Performance
Billie Holiday Vinyl Records including "Ain't Nobody's Business if I do"
Billie Holiday Concert Poster at the Apollo Theatre
1953 Conn Pan American Brass French Horn with Piston Valves
Ex-Libris Jack Bradley 1942 "The Real Jazz" by Hugues Panassié
Vintage Film Equipment from Jack Bradley's Personal Studio
New Orleans Jazz Heritage Festival Promotional Poster
Photograph of Cat Anderson, Signed by Jack Bradley
Gelatin-Silver Photograph of Thelonius Monk Playing the Piano by Jack Bradley
Kodak Vigilant Six-16 Folding Camera
Delta Airlines Promotional Poster "New Orleans"
Gene Krupa and Zutty Singleton Autographed Photographs
Ex-Libris Jack Bradley 1955 "The First Book of Jazz" by Langston Hughes
Pee Wee Russell 1966 Oil Painting "Muskogee Schoolroom"
Reefer Madness Promotional Film Poster
Tommy Dorsey NBC Promotional Poster
1969 Metropolitan Museum of Art Promotional Poster "Harlem on my Mind"
Signed Personal Letter from Jazz Composer Leonard G. Feather to Jack Bradley
1973 Newport Jazz Festival - New York Offset Lithograph Poster
Circa 1960 Graflex Crown Graphic Field Camera
Vintage Thomas "Fats" Waller Sheet Music
Photographs featuring Billie Holiday from Jack Bradley's Collection
1973 New York Jazz Museum Poster "The Bebop Era: Bird & Diz"
Ex-Libris Jack Bradley 1943 "Jazz Record" Magazines
What did Jack say Louis Armstrong was like?
Louie was a passionate guy, Jack would say. He liked to stay positive about things, but he could also have a fierce temper. And the treatment of African Americans in the country really bothered him. But he would say things like “Music is a joy, you’re supposed to be bringing joy to people. I can’t help the way things are, but I can help the way I react to them.”
What are some special pieces in this sale?
I personally was excited about the sheet music collection. Jack has about 4,000 pieces, some dating back to 1848. He has an original Stephen Foster publication, too.
How would you describe Jack’s role in the history of this era?
He’s like the Library of Alexandria. He was able to preserve so much from our American culture. Once he moved back to the cape, he was a fisherman and sailor, but he also went around the country and to Europe lecturing and showing footage and photographs.
Does Jack still listen to jazz?
Oh, every day! We listen to a lot of Louis Armstrong. We still hear something new every time we listen to the same recording of the same song.