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Remembering Jack Bradley Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

30 March 2021

Jazz photographer Jack Bradley III, noted for his images of Louis Armstrong, passed away Sunday, March 21, in Brewster, Mass., from complications of Parkinson’s disease. He was 87.

Photographer was just one of the many hats he wore. He was also a road manager, manager, writer, booking agent, charter boat captain, nightclub manager, disc jockey, lecturer, concert producer, and founder of both the New York Jazz Museum and the Cape Cod Jazz Society.

He was born on Jan.3, 1934 on Cape Cod to a mother who also worked many jobs. His father left the when he was 10.

Bradley graduated from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in 1958 but immediately moved to New York to pursue photography and soak in the jazz clubs. There he met Jeann Failows who had a job answering Armstrong's mail. If Jeann liked Bradley, he must be OK, Armstrong decided.

"The first time I visited his home in Corona, Queens," Bradley recalled, "I was so nervous that I was shaking. Louis, though, had a way of putting you at ease. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, 'Everything's cool, man. We're just two guys hanging out.' Instantly my nerves vanished."

The two hit it off.

What Bradley and Armstrong had in common, Bradley later said, "was this unending love for the music." Of course, Armstrong's love embraced performing. "He could hear something once and it was locked in his brain forever," Bradley marveled.

From 1959 to 1971, when Armstrong died, Bradley and Armstrong were inseparable with Bradley taking some 6,000 photos of the musician at home and at work. And he did that while limiting himself to one shot at a time to save film. Which, gifted as he was, was no risk.

He also managed to persuade Armstrong to stop throwing away his memorabilia, saving it himself in every nook and cranny he could find.

His collection included over 25,000 recordings (with 10,000 78s), over 200 hours of 16mm Jazz films, over 10,000 pieces of sheet music and thousands of photographs, books, magazines, and paintings. In 2005 he sold the Armstrong related items to the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens, nearly doubling the museum's holdings.

He was paid by the photo but it wasn't much. He took on commercial assignments and photographed other jazz artists, including one of the last photos of Billie Holiday in performance two months before her death.

In 1977 he returned to Cape Cod and became a charter boat captain and hosting a radio program on WFCC during which he interviewed jazz musicians while his wife Nancy, who survives him, taught high school Spanish.

A celebration of Bradley's life will be held later in the spring. He is also the subject of a soon-to-be-released documentary, Through My Lens: Classic Jazz Visions with Jack Bradley.

What a wonderful life.

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