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The Jazz Image

Seeing Music through Herman Leonard's Photography

Heather K. Pinson

Publication Year: 2010

Typically a photograph of a jazz musician has several formal prerequisites: black and white film, an urban setting in the mid-twentieth century, and a black man standing, playing, or sitting next to his instrument. That's the jazz archetype that photography created. Author K. Heather Pinson discovers how such a steadfast script developed visually and what this convention meant for the music. Album covers, magazines, books, documentaries, art photographs, posters, and various other visual extensions of popular culture formed the commonly held image of the jazz player. Through assimilation, there emerged a generalized composite of how mainstream jazz looked and sounded. Pinson evaluates representations of jazz musicians from 1945 to 1959, concentrating on the seminal role played by Herman Leonard (b. 1923). Leonard's photographic depictions of African American jazz musicians in New York not only created a visual template of a black musician of the 1950s, but also became the standard configuration of the music's neoclassical sound today. To discover how the image of the musician affected mainstream jazz, Pinson examines readings from critics, musicians, and educators, as well as interviews, musical scores, recordings, transcriptions, liner notes, and oral narratives.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi


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pp. vii


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. 3-15

Herman Leonard’s photographs are some of the most recognized images in jazz history. His depictions of predominantly African American jazz musicians in New York City have created not only a visual record of jazz in the 1950s, but have also become the standard by which the musical style of jazz was, and continues to be, visually represented. His photographs have, in...

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CHAPTER 1. The Formation of the Jazz Image in Visual Culture

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pp. 16-62

The general consensus of a mental picture of a jazz musician would be a well-dressed African American man playing an instrument, most likely a saxophone or a trumpet, with smoke wafting about the stage on which he is playing at a nightclub. With majors ranging from nursing to corporate communication, my own university students described their ideas of...

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CHAPTER 2. The Construction of Signs in Jazz Photography

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pp. 63-98

How can a picture represent a style of music? What image comes to mind when we think about a musical genre? With classical music, one generally imagines an instrument such as a flute or violin, the thunderous sounds of a symphony orchestra playing the music of Beethoven, or Mozart at the clavichord in the movie Amadeus. With pop music, one imagines the facial makeup of Kiss, the Beatles’ album covers, or jeans, a cowboy hat, ...

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CHAPTER 3. Ceci n’est pas jazz: The Battle for Ownership

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pp. 99-141

After the free jazz and fusion eras of the 1960s and 1970s, the pendulum of musical taste shifted from the avant-garde scene to more traditional norms of mainstream jazz. The fusion era seemingly ran its course, and a new generation of musicians pursued the musical standards of bop in the early 1980s and dedicated their albums to past heroes such as Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, and Lester Young. This resurgence in the 1980s of the classic...

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CHAPTER 4. A “Style Portrait” of the Avant-Garde

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pp. 142-181

The image of jazz today is a complex one that comes from several sources. As we have learned in the previous chapters, Leonard’s resurfacing photographs have played a significant role in determining the current composition of the jazz image today. Complementary to Leonard, neoclassicism has blossomed under the support of the jazz community and the general public through endowments, documentaries, commercials, recording contracts, ...

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CONCLUSION: The Visual Image of Jazz

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pp. 182-185

Music is always changing. It changes because of the times and the technology that’s available, the material that things are made of, like plastic cars instead of steel. So when you hear an accident today it sounds different, not all the metal colliding like it was in the forties and fifties. Musicians pick up sounds and incorporate that into their playing, so the music that they make will be different. New instruments like synthesizers...

APPENDIX A: Herman Leonard Timeline 1923 to 2008

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pp. 186-190

APPENDIX B: List of Exhibitions for Herman Leonard’s Photography

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pp. 191-196


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pp. 197-223


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pp. 224-235


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pp. 236-240

E-ISBN-13: 9781604734959
E-ISBN-10: 1604734957
Print-ISBN-13: 9781604734942
Print-ISBN-10: 1604734949

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2010