At 86, Herman Leonard has seen and photographed a lot. Born in Pennsylvania in 1923, he moved to New York City after serving in the army during World War II. He was young, photography was evolving and jazz was in its heyday. Packed, smoky nightclubs became Leonard's regular haunts. But he also had special access to jazz events and festivals. In light of the upcoming 55th Newport Jazz Festival (check out NPR Music's special coverage), Leonard looks back at some of his earliest festival photographs of the jazz greats — taken nearly 55 years ago.
Courtesy Herman Leonard Photography, LLC
Louis Armstrong, Newport Jazz Festival, 1955
Louis Armstrong, Newport Jazz Festival, 1955 Courtesy Herman Leonard Photography, LLC
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Herman Leonard in Studio City, Calif.
The inaugural Newport Jazz Festival, established by jazz impresario George Wein, was held in 1954. The following year, Wein hosted the festival at his home, where these images were taken. Through the years, Leonard has photographed Einstein, Brando and Sartre — but it's his images of jazz musicians that have the most soul.
Having seen nearly nine decades of both musical and photographic evolution, Leonard shared his stories with reporter Corey Takahashi. Hear the veteran reflect on the digitization of his vocation: