Seller Story

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.”

Seller Story: Jack Bradley, Photographer for Louis Armstrong
Seller Story: Jack Bradley, Photographer for Louis Armstrong
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Seller Story: Jack Bradley, Photographer for Louis Armstrong

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.

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