At a time when we are facing one natural disaster after another, music is a healing force. Where jazz is concerned that feels especially so and it is not surprising as the music arose out out of the miseries of slavery and transcended that abomination. While the depths of sadness may have informed early jazz, it was in the end a joyful and healing music. This power to surprise and to give pleasure also applies to the arts surrounding jazz. I recently purchased the large coffee table book ‘Jazz’ by Herman Leonard. Herman Leonard is arguably the greatest of jazz photographers and that is no small claim in a field already crowded with photographic genius. Anyone possessing a reasonably sized jazz CD or LP collection will have sighted Leonard’s work even if they did not know it was him. His powerful images of jazz musicians have appeared on many an album cover and and no book about jazz is complete without a few Herman Leonard photographs.
Late one night in 1949 Leonard, a skinny jewish kid, son of migrants, turned up at the Royal Roost club and the pictures he took pleased the performing artists. The artists were Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. Quincy Jones said “I used to tell cats that Herman Leonard did with his camera what we did with our instruments”. Even before success came, the musicians loved having him around as he made them look good.
Herman Leonard was in his eighties when hurricane Katrina destroyed his home in New Orleans and along with it his vast archives (including 10,000 prints). Without hesitation he continued his important work which he described as ‘creating an image of what he was hearing’. His record of the Jazz life is beyond compare. Herman Leonard died in 2010.
After Katrina the Jazz musicians of New Orleans organised a number of concerts to lift peoples spirits and above all to convince them that the old ‘Latin Quarter’ had life in it yet. Being able to swing so mightily in the face of terrible adversity is what jazz is about. A profound music that reaches beyond the moment.
Google Herman Leonard for more images;