“Above all, enjoy the music.”

Dizzy Gillespie, Royal Roost, NYC, 1948, Herman Leonard

[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.

This 1948 photo released by Herman Leonard Photography, shows tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon enveloped in his cigarette smoke at the Royal Roost in New York. The photographer, Herman Leonard, said that back in those days a photographer wouldn't be able to see the smoke in a dark room, because it was only illuminated for a fraction of a second by the flash, so taking a dramatic picture like this required skill and intelligent guess work.

[New York, Royal Roost. Dextor ‘Long Tall Dextor’ Gordon. Unless otherwise stated, images via KQED Arts]

[NYC. Sarah Vaughan. 1950]
[ .Billie Holiday]
Frank Sinatra, NYC, 1956. Herman Leonard
[.Frank Sinatra, 1957. from the Edelman Gallery]
Art Tatum, Los Angeles, 1955. Herman Leonard
[. Art Tatum, 1955]
Hands at peace.
Herman Leonard
[ . Herman Leonard]

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