A number of great and influential photographers captured jazz during the last century. Herman Leonard was not just a master of this art form; rather, he was the master. His iconic images visually define the music like no other photographer’s work has, before or after. To jazz lovers, Herman’s image of Dexter Gordon at the Royal Roost with the smoke swirling about him is the portrait of a major innovator of the tenor saxophone. But to the world at large, it is the defining image of jazz itself. This is how they will imagine jazz for all eternity.
Historically, photographers are judged by their iconic images, and it often turns out that when their work is examined closely they have few photographs that stand the test of time. Herman, on the other hand, produced an extraordinary number of timeless photographs. I remember a fan looking at an image from one of his books and saying, “Oh, I think Herman must have just gotten lucky.”