Aug 16, 2010 5:19 PM by Melissa Canone
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Jazz scene photographer Herman Leonard,
famous for his smoky, backlighted black-and-white photos of such
greats as Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Louis
Armstrong, Miles Davis and Frank Sinatra, has died. He was 87.
Leonard, who moved to Los Angeles after Hurricane Katrina
flooded his New Orleans home and destroyed thousands of his prints,
died Saturday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, family spokeswoman
Geraldine Baum said on his website. The cause of death wasn't
Leonard was considered one of the great mid-century jazz scene
photographers. He started in the late 1940s and left a rich
chronicle of a musical era with photos taken in New York, Paris and
London through the 1960s.
The Smithsonian has more than 130 Leonard photographs in its
He was studying photography at Ohio University when he was
called to duty in the U.S. Army during World War II. He returned to
college and graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1947.
He moved to New York the following year, after an apprenticeship
with famed portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh taking pictures of
Albert Einstein, Martha Graham and other cultural icons.
He then became immersed in the jazz scene, making deals with
club owners to photograph rehearsals and giving them photos for
Using a large 4-by-5 Speed Graphic camera, he shot Art Tatum,
Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan and countless other jazz greats in
the smoky haze of jazz clubs. In 1956, he was Marlon Brando's
personal photographer on a trip to the Far East.
While his prints were lost in the New Orleans hurricane, his
60,000 negatives were safe, having been sent before Katrina to the
Ogden Museum. His return to New Orleans was chronicled in the 2006
BBC/Sundance documentary "Saving Jazz."
In 2008, he was the first photographer to be granted a Grammy
Foundation Grant for Preservation and Archiving, enabling him to
digitize, catalog and preserve his collection of nearly 60,000 jazz
Last year, Leonard was the official photographer for the
Montreal Jazz Festival, photographing legends such as Tony Bennett
and Dave Brubeck.
Leonard is survived by children Valerie, Shana, Michael and
David; and six grandchildren.