[Chicago. Dizzy Gillespie, by Herman Leonard]
Herman Leonard, the great jazz photographer, passed away on 14 August. I don’t know much about jazz music, but his photographs must be like the visual soundtrack to what jazz is about, or at least the major heartbeats of jazz.
Probably little surprise, since his images have captured virtually every great in the genre and graced the covers of over 200 albums, including the first one below by Dextor Gordon.
The exciting thing about his work is getting another look into the entertainment and music of the 40s and 50s, away from the skewed perspective of Hollywood entertainment. Forget the white bombshells and heroes of the big screen. In the smokey clubrooms of New York, Paris, London, and San Francisco, were these souls- not all of them white, not all of them coiffed and rich, but every one of them making soul music.
And soul was in Leonard’s pictures as well. Suave, but heart-breakingly human.
Quincy Jones once said:
I used to tell cats that Herman Leonard did with his camera what we did with our instruments. Looking back across his career, I’m even more certain of the comparison: Herman’s camera tells the truth, and makes it swing. Musicians loved to see him around. No surprise; he made us look good.
[New York, Royal Roost. Dextor ‘Long Tall Dextor’ Gordon. Unless otherwise stated, images via KQED Arts]