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By Antoine du Rocher

NEW YORK, 15 MAY 2008-Jazz Giants, the fine art music photography of Herman Leonard , is a photographic journey through the golden years of the Jazz, Blues and Bebop eras that documents the larger-than-life legends who comprise the pantheon of America's most original art form - unquestionably the country's most important contribution to the history of music.

On view until 1 June at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in Manhattan's Soho district, the show focuses on the lives and times of famed artists such as Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Lester Young and Thelonious Monk among countless others, and features a selection from Leonard's extensive photographic catalogue. Using a unique lighting approach, Leonard's signature "backlighting" style and use of elements like smoke and strobe lighting give his portraits a dramatic quality that is highly humanistic, capturing the luminous personalities behind the music.

Herman Leonard: Dexter Gordon
Photo courtesy of Morrison Hotel Gallery

Born in Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1923, Leonard discovered the camera at the age of 11 and has not stopped shooting since. While stationed in Burma in the Army Medical Corps during World War II, he developed film late at night in his combat helmet. Leonard studied under famed Canadian portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh and later had the invaluable opportunity to shoot portraits of Albert Einstein, Harry S. Truman, Clark Gable and others. In the 1950s, he became the personal photographer to Marlon Brando. Leonard's fashion and advertising images have run in magazines like Life, Time and Playboy.

Hurricane Katrina not only destroyed his home, studio and darkroom, but over 6,000 of Leonard's original photographs and many of his exposure records were lost in the hurricane.

Leonard, now 85 and living in Los Angeles, continues to shoot, develop and exhibit his comprehensive archive. Most recently, the Smithsonian Institution honored Leonard by housing his entire collection in the permanent archives of musical history. He is also the recipient of a GRAMMY grant to archive and preserve his collection of over 65,000 negatives, and later this year he'll receive the 2008 Lucie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Portraiture.

One can only hope that this exhibition, and others like it, will not only contribute to America's acknowledgement of the genius of jazz and its impact on European and American Modernism, but also stimulate interest in a little-studied phenomenon: as with classical musicians, a significant number of American jazz musicians were musical prodigies at an early age. More astonishing is that such rare musical gifts managed to blossom and survive (although some would be prematurely silenced by drink and drugs) economic deprivation, limited formal training, racism, commercial exploitation and decades of cultural denigration by their peers in America's classical performing arts.

Antoine du Rocher is the managing editor of

Herman Leonard's "Jazz Giants"
10 May - 1 June 2008
Morrison Hotel Gallery
124 Prince Street
New York, NY 10012
Tel: (1) 212 941 8770

Herman Leonard's Official Website


All titles are chosen by the editors as being of interest to Culturekiosque readers.

Piano Starts Here: Live at the Shrine / Zenph Re-Performance
Audio CD
Sony BMG and Zenph Studios
Release Date: June 3, 2008
Format: Hybrid SACD, Live
Catalog No.: 722218


Giants of Jazz
By Studs Terkel

Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: New Press; Rev Upd edition (September 2006)
ISBN-10: 156584999X
ISBN-13: 978-1565849990

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Sons of Miles: 41-week series and interviews with great jazz musicians in America featuring the photographs of Christian Rose.

Essential Jazz Recordings of the 20th Century

New Orleans: Backwards to the Future

Hurricane Katrina: Charities for New Orleans Jazz Musicians

Interview with Ken Burns: Jazz - Marketing Music, Race and American History for Television

Katrina's Environmental Damage

External Links

Chicago Tribune: 12 September 2005
Jazz Heritage: Thousands of famed photos ruined

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