His "hobby" of shooting portraits of the jazz immortals of the 1940s and 50s has landed his photographs in the permanent collection at the Smithsonian Institution. He counts Quincy Jones and Tony Bennett among his closest friends. He has done photo shoots in the Himalayas, lived on an island with no electricity, traveled the Orient with Marlon Brando, and photographed the most beautiful women in the world on commercial shoots around the globe.
By all accounts, Herman Leonard has led a remarkable life. Narrated by Tony Bennett, Frame After Frame: The Images of Herman Leonard tells the story of the life and work of this renowned photographer through interviews with Herman and his friends and, of course, through the extraordinary photographs he has produced.
After getting discharged from the army and graduating from Ohio University in 1947, young Herman Leonard went north to Canada to apprentice with world famous photographic artist Yousuf Karsh. While working with the master, Herman assisted in shooting portraits of Albert Einstein, President Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, General Dwight Einsenhower and Martha Graham.
When Herman Leonard arrived in New York in the late 1940s, jazz was king. Trading his photographs to club owners to gain entree to the clubs and the music he loved, he captured the smoky essence of the New York jazz scene as few have before or since. Herman's elegant portraits are a reminder of a simpler and more stylish era. Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie "Bird" Parker, Theolonius Monk, Charlie Mingus, Sarah Vaughn, and Billie Holiday are just a few of the jazz immortals captured by the visual artistry of Herman Leonard. His photographs often involved just a single streak of light with the subject's face in silhouette or peering through a cloud of smoke. To pay the bills, Leonard photographed the major stars of stage and screen at his portrait studio.
Now living in New Orleans, Leonard and his jazz portraits have been "rediscovered" in recent years and he is in demand for showings around the world. One recent show in Washington attracted the interest of President Clinton, who conversed with Leonard at length about jazz music.
Frame After Frame: The Images of Herman Leonard is the story of a man whose art has finally received the recognition it deserves, even if it took almost 50 years for it to happen.
This documentary was produced and directed by Tika Laudun for Louisiana Public Broadcasting through a grant from SECA. It was written by Al Godoy, edited by Randy Ward and photographed by Rex Fortenberry and Tika Laudun, graphics design by Lee Barbier.
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