Truth + Beauty + Jazz = Herman Leonard

Gracing the 5th floor lobby of Jazz At Lincoln Center for another few months is an exhibition of the great photographer Herman Leonard, whose images of jazz musicians at work deserve the overused term “iconic.”

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.

Steve Goff's picture

Herman Leonard is my wife's second cousin. Her mother and Mr. Leonard were close growing up. It was a thrill to meet him and hear him speak about his photos at his last New York show in May 2008. He was delighted to see his cousin for the first time in many years. These are images I've loved since I started to listen to jazz long ago. The prints are stunning, and more so in person. The stories behind them are often as interesting as the pictures. I'd love to see this exhibit. I think Lincoln Center also has a video of Mr. Leonard. If so, watch it.

Steve Goff's picture

I've been corrected. My wife is a first cousin once removed.

Michael Glass's picture

I've always wondered, what does "once removed" mean?

Nancy Mehagian's picture

If I lived in NY I would run not walk to catch this exhibit. I'm one of the fortunate ones whose walls are graced by Herman's exquisite photos and not only the jazz photos. All his work is astounding.

Terry's picture

I just had the pleasure of viewing a show of Herman's work in Montreal, at the Jazz Festival's new headquarters/gallery/club downtown. Beautiful photos, informed by a video of Herman discussing many of the photos on display. He's an inspiration to me!

parca dakika TL kontor's picture

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