It was nearly dawn after a round — several rounds — of music and conviviality during the 1969 New Orleans Jazz Festival. A few of us were sitting on the balcony of Bobby Hackett’s hotel room on Bourbon Street swapping stories and thinking it might be about time to call it a night. Hackett’s guests, in alphabetical order, were Count Basie, Jack Bradley, Willis Conover, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Paul Desmond and I. Dropping those names is a bit disturbing because all of their owners but Jack and I are memories. There was a good deal of laughter and — to use a phrase I wish hadn’t fallen out of fashion — shuckin’ and jivin’. We decided to extend the party and order breakfast from room service. Before we adjourned, we toasted the sun rising over the rooftops of the French Quarter. That was a good night.
Rifftides readers no doubt recognize all of those names except, perhaps, Bradley’s. Jack is a photographer, quite a good one. He used to do a fair amount of writing for jazz publications. I’ve never been entirely sure how he supported himself; probably not by writing about jazz and shooting pictures of musicians. I used to see him occasionally in New Orleans and, later, fairly often in New York. Here, Louis Armstrong and Jack are pictured together in 1963. I knew that this garrulous and engaging man was close to Armstrong and collected Armstrong memorabilia. Until Niko Koppel’s story in the Sunday New York Times, I didn’t know the extent of that closeness or his collecting obsession.
Mr. Bradley archived just about anything from Armstrong that he could save — discarded letters, eyeglasses, handkerchiefs, even clothes that did not fit properly after Armstrong lost weight. In addition, he paid Armstrong’s valet and housekeeper for goods and ephemera that the musician gave to them. “It was important to preserve everything that he spoke and he did,” Mr. Bradley said. “He was the genius of the 20th century.”
Now, Jack is passing his extensive Armstrong collection to an institution that will preserve it and show it to the public. To read the whole story, go here.
If you need a reminder of why it is easy to be obsessed with Louis, watch this video. It’s also a nice way to remember Paul Newman.