Truth + Beauty + Jazz = Herman Leonard
At recording sessions, nightclub gigs, on stage, backstage, between cuts, or in the heat of the moment, Leonard captured the spirit, joy, and intensity of the music and its whole culture more evocatively and empathically than anyone else.
His classic work comes from the late 1940s and ‘50s, featuring the likes of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan. But his later shots are also compelling, especially the chiaroscuro portraits of Miles Davis.
Leonard, who is 86 and still very active, has said his aim is “to tell the truth but to tell it in terms of beauty,” and his photographs—which are as collectable as great paintings or other artists’ limited-edition prints—are works of stunning beauty: the warm pool of light against the silky black backdrops, the texture of a jacket, the glow of a horn, the character of these men and women caught spontaneously at the decisive moment. Imagine a letter-day Rembrandt, armed with a camera and a love for jazz, and you have some idea of Herman Leonard.