Jack Bradley, Louis Armstrong Photographer and Devotee, Dies at 87

Jack Bradley, an avid fan of Louis Armstrong who became his personal photographer and created an indelible and intimate record of the jazz giant’s last twelve years, died on March 21st in Brewster, Massachusetts, 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 a concert by Armstrong and his band on Cape Cod in the mid-1950s. “I’ve never heard anything like it,” he said in a 2012 interview for a documentary about Armstrong. Jazz ”by Michele Cinque. “My life has never been the same.”

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

“With that face and beautiful smile,” Bradley was quoted as saying in a family-approved obituary, “how could anyone get a bad shot?”

Mr. Bradley did more than just take pictures. He became an insatiable collector of everything to do with Armstrong’s life and career: 16-millimeter films, tapes of recordings and conversations, 78-rpm discs and LPs, magazines, manuscripts, sheet music, telegrams, fan letters, Figures – Even Armstrong’s slippers and suits, as well as a hotel clothesline with “90 handkerchiefs” he used to wipe away sweat during performances.

“One day Jack walked into Louis’ study and Louis was tearing pictures and letters into tiny pieces,” Ms. Bradley said over the phone. “Jack said, ‘No, you can’t!’ and Louis said, “You have to simplify.” For Jack it was history and shouldn’t be thrown away. “

Mr. Bradley’s refusal to oversimplify made him known as Armstrong-Maven and resulted in a 2005 deal in which the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation awarded Queens College a $ 480,000 grant to donate its collection to the Louis Armstrong House Museum where Armstrong and his wife Lucille had lived.

“Our cornerstone is Louis’ stuff,” said Ricky Riccardi, director of the museum’s research collections, referring to the vast treasure trove of materials Armstrong left behind when he died in 1971. But Jack’s is the perfect match. Louis was obsessed with documenting his life and Jack was obsessed with documenting Louis’ life. “

The museum’s collections, now housed at Queens College, are moving to an education center that is nearing completion across from the museum that was closed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr. Bradley was not an Armstrong employee but was compensated for every photo he took of Armstrong’s manager Joe Glaser. To make extra money, Mr. Bradley also took on a few commercial photography jobs.

“I don’t think he’s ever made 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 had called him “One Shot” because “it would snap only once, partly to save films, but also because it was his eye and Timing trusted. “

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

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

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

“What we had in common,” Bradley told JazzTimes in 2011, using a nickname from Armstrong, “was this infinite love of music.” Pops never sought fame for the sake of fame. He just wanted to play his horn. Louis had a message – a message about excellence.

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

Mr. Bradley was by my side often from 1959 to 1971, sometimes driving him to engagements and spending hours at Armstrong’s house. In total, the self-taught Bradley took an estimated 6,000 photos of Armstrong.

A series of photos taken in December 1959 shows Armstrong warming up before a concert at Carnegie Hall and jamming with his band before taking the stage. Then he appears, greets friends and signs autographs for fans in front of the stage door.

Mr. Bradley’s focus wasn’t entirely on Armstrong. He photographed many other jazz artists and is believed to have taken one of the last pictures of Billie Holiday in the show – in May 1959 at the Phoenix Theater in Greenwich Village. (She died in July.)

In the 1960s he was a merchant marine and headed the Bourbon Street jazz club in Manhattan for a year. In the 1970s he was a partner at the New York Jazz Museum in Midtown Manhattan. He also spent time as a road manager for the pianist Erroll Garner and the trumpeter Bobby Hackett.

Mr. Bradley returned to Cape Cod after the Jazz Museum closed in 1977. He became the captain of a charter boat, gave lectures on jazz on site and hosted a local radio program in which he interviewed jazz musicians. His wife taught Spanish in high school.

Mr. Bradley packed his vast collection of jazz memorabilia – of which the Armstrongiana was only a part – into his humble Cape Cod home in Harwich.

“He had it in cupboards, in the attic, in shoe boxes, in sea chests, in the basement, in the attic, anything but oil drums,” said Mr Persico, who helped organize the archive.

Mr Bradley died in a nursing home in Brewster. In addition to his wife, his sisters Emmy Shanley and Bonnie Jordan and his brother Bob survive.

Ms. Bradley said she didn’t mind that her marriage was actually split with Armstrong.

“That was fine,” she said. “The third guy was a lot of fun.”