In the late 1940’s, Herman Leonard’s passion for jazz brought him to the swinging clubs of Broadway, 52nd Street and Harlem. With the camera as his free ticket, he photographed and developed friendships with some of the greats of jazz history including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington and many more.
A year’s apprenticeship with Yousuf Karsh provided invaluable experience photographing the likes of Albert Einstein, Harry S. Truman and Clark Gable. In 1956 Leonard was chosen to be Marlon Brando’s personal photographer for an extensive research trip to the Far East.
In the late 1950’s Leonard headed for Paris where he worked in fashion and advertising and served as the European photographer for Playboy Magazine. Finally, in the 1980’s, Leonard left the glitz of Paris behind and moved to the island paradise of Ibiza to raise his family. It was there, in a cardboard box stashed under his bed, that Leonard discovered his long forgotten accumulation of jazz negatives. Negatives that were destined to yield one of the world’s photographic treasures.
In 1988, his first ever jazz exhibition in London was a huge success. Since then, over 100 exhibitions have been held around the world. The Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC has honored him by housing his entire collection in the permanent archives of musical history. President Clinton presented a portfolio of Leonard’s prints as an official gift from the United States government to a fellow musician, the King of Thailand.
Leonard’s work has become a ubiquitous presence in contemporary culture. Whatever the medium, whether print, documentary or popular film, the jazz photographs of Herman Leonard appear as companion to the great musicians who created the unique sounds of America’s original art form.
Leonard has published Jazz Memories, a personal photographic diary of his early career and a sequel to The Eye of Jazz. Now settled in New Orleans, Herman is working on a collection of photographs to capture the spirit of New Orleans.