Think of jazz. Does your mind's eye conjure a smoky scene of a monochrome, midcentury nightclub, a black man playing an instrument, a woman at a microphone? As much as jazz has a sound, it has a look — and today we take that for granted. One of the most influential creators of that image, photographer Herman Leonard, died Saturday at the age of 87.
Herman Leonard/Courtesy Herman Leonard Photography, LLC
Louis Armstrong, Newport Jazz Festival, 1955
GALLERY: Leonard discusses his photos in 2009 >>
Photography was Leonard's first love, and the marriage lasted a lifetime. He studied it at Ohio University, the only university at the time to offer a degree in photography. And in the late '40s he found himself in New York's nightclubs, photographing the thriving jazz scene. In his words, he wanted "to create a visual diary of what I heard, to make people see the way the music sounded."
Herman Leonard in Studio City, Calif., 2009
In Leonard's archives are the faces of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzerald, Dizzie Gillespie, etc., ad infinitum. He had a long, successful career, culminating with book deals and a 2008 Lucie Award for "Outstanding Achievement in Portraiture," among other acknowledgments for lifetime achievement.
In The Jazz Image, a new book by K. Heather Pinson, Leonard's photography is described as "the standard by which the music style of jazz was, and continues to be, visually represented." Thanks to Leonard, it will be impossible to forget Duke and Dizzy and Ella; but it will also be hard to forget the photographer who turned their voices to visuals.