World-renowned jazz photographer Herman Leonard passed away on Saturday, August 15, at the age of 87.
Tiny stages, filled with over-contrasted musicians, often illuminated by a single blinding light, one that cut through the otherwise dark, crowded, cigarette and sweat filled room—these were the iconic images that made Leonard famous—although not until more than 30 years after they were taken.
While most of his now-famous candids of jazz greats like Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, Mike Davis and Frank Sinatra, were taken in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, it wasn’t until the mid 1980’s that his work was recognized—when a book titled “The Eye of Jazz,” was finally published.
Leonard had a passion for jazz music even as a child, but loved photography just as much—so naturally once World War II ended, Leonard took it upon himself to document the popular New York City jazz scene. A commercial photographer by day, Leonard was able to talk his way into many of New York’s hippest clubs by night.
It’s hard to imagine what our perceptions of this fascinating period in American music and culture would be like without Leonard’s photography. Thankfully, a project is currently underway to digitize Leonard’s massive collection of negatives, so that they may be kept for posterity.
For more information about Herman Leonard, check out his famous book, “The Eye of Jazz,” at your local library, or surf on over to: http://www.hermanleonard.com/