Herman Leonard

b.1923 - d.2010
Herman Leonard’s photographs are an unparalleled and unique record of the jazz scene in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s. He left behind a small and extraordinary archive of original hand-signed photographs that are now available to collectors. Please see a selection of these below, and contact us with any questions!

Born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1923, Leonard served as a medic in Burma during World War II. After earning his BFA from Ohio University, the only school in the United States that offered a degree in photography, Leonard apprenticed with Yosef Karsh, the famous Canadian portrait photographer.

He then moved to New York and opened a portrait studio in Greenwich Village. In addition to photographing the city’s dancers, singers, and actors, Leonard worked for Life, Esquire, Look, Cosmopolitan, and Playboy. He spent his free time in clubs, documenting the most influential musicians during jazz’s heyday. Making the most of the ambient light in dark and smoky venues, Leonard’s dramatically lit images of Nat King Cole, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, and Duke Ellington in the 1940s and 50s immortalized both the artists and the rapidly disappearing clubs on 52nd Street. Leonard also captured the dynamic performances of Louis Armstrong, Dinah Washington, and others at the annual Newport Jazz Festival.

Leonard relocated to Paris to work for Barclay Records and then branched off into fashion photography and photojournalism. He and his family moved to Ibiza in 1980. In 1988 Leonard returned to the United States, settling in New Orleans.

For over five decades, American photographer Herman Leonard was a part of the international jazz community. Too poor to afford the entrance fees to jazz clubs in the late 1940s, Leonard traded prints of the performers for access. The musicians were very pleased with the results; Leonard’s images have appeared on over 200 album covers and he is regarded as the preeminent jazz photographer.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed the photographer’s studio as well as thousands of prints. Most of his negatives, however, were saved. Leonard resettled in Studio City, California, where he worked with musicians and filmmakers, until his death in 2010.