I first became familiar with Herman Leonard‘s work during my Sophomore year at Mizzou. 2001 or so. Periodically, the school would host a poster sale, and to their credit, regularly included a large selection of eclectic prints and fine art pieces…along with the requisite “college” humor posters and bikini models, of course.
Given my affinity for jazz, I would always check out their collection of vintage concert posters and album cover prints (generally after visiting the “college” humor and bikini model sections. Sue me.)
On this particular day, I came across a BRILLIANT black and white photograph of Dizzy Gillespie. I was immediately taken aback at how well the photo was captured…you could almost hear Dizzy’s trumpet just by looking at the picture. As my eyes moved down to the poster’s lower right hand corner, I read the words “The Herman Leonard Collection.”
Oh, ok. Cool.
Turning the poster-sized page, I saw a familiar face: Duke Ellington. Right behind him? Benny Goodman. Both men’s faces expressed awe at the shadowy figure belting out tunes on stage: Ella Fitzgerald. Wow. Star power notwithstanding, the photograph was AMAZING.
Right below Duke’s table, those familiar words were printed once more: “The Herman Leonard Collection.”
I don’t know who this Herman Leonard guy is, but he’s good.
I purchased the Dizzy Gillespie and Duke/Benny/Ella posters, along with one other of Charlie Parker (all three of which I still own to this day) and went on my way.
As I began my photographic journey, I started appreciating Mr. Leonard for more than just his choice of subjects, but for his style as well. Furthermore, I firmly believe that Herman Leonard was second to none in his ability to capture the mood and the moment. You didn’t just see his pictures, you felt them. You weren’t just seeing what happened or who performed at the Downbeat in NYC in 1949 - you were THERE.
I could go on and on, but I’ll leave it at this: Herman Leonard is, and likely forever will be, my primary source of photographic inspiration. His loss is a great tragedy.
I hope he accepts this photo, “Crescent,” as a humble attempt to pay tribute to his greatness.