Jazz photographer Herman Leonard dies at 87

Music and photography lovers are remembering the iconic jazz photographer Herman Leonard. He moved to Los Angeles from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina damaged his home and studio there. Leonard was 87 years old when he died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on Saturday.

An oft-reproduced photo ushers viewers into a bygone world. The setting: the dimly lit Down Beat jazz club in New York. The year: 1948. The personnel: Singer Ella Fitzgerald at the mike and, sitting at a ringside table in rapt adoration, bandleader and pianist Duke Ellington, clarinetist Benny Goodman and Broadway composer Richard Rodgers. The photographer: Herman Leonard.

This and other black-and-white images sealed his reputation as the man who documented great moments in music through indelible portraits and candid shots. Leonard’s photographs helped to spread the popularity of jazz from the 1940s on, and they fetched top dollar at galleries.

The Smithsonian Institution’s permanent collection includes more than 130 Herman Leonard photographs, including portraits of Dexter Gordon holding his sax and his cigarette, and of Billie Holliday, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett.

Leonard credited his success to following his passion for live music and figuring out how to light dark places that intimidated other photographers. In an interview with a jazz blogger last year, he said, “It is amazing how an image can revive the feeling of the moment. The thrill of actually being there has never left me.”

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